In my life I have had an interesting relationship with prayer. As the new girl at Catholic school aged 5, prayer made me feel like an outsider as all my classmates recited the ‘Hail Mary’ as one and I had no idea what they were doing or what they were saying. As I grew older, prayer became an integral part of my Primary school life. There were prayers at the start of the school day, prayers before lunch and after and prayers at the end of the day. In addition, we started to attend Church on a Saturday so I encountered prayers there too.
At this early stage in my life, prayer felt serious and mysterious. Really, I had no idea what I was saying, or what it was all about, but I knew that prayer meant you had to look at the floor or close your eyes tight, press your palms together and look serious. I knew what prayer was supposed to look like and sound like but I didn’t really feel anything. I would say the words, but I didn’t understand them.
For years when reciting the prayer for the dead, instead of saying ‘May perpetual light shine upon them’ I would say ‘May the petrol light shine upon them’ but even once I realised my mistake, I found it hard to connect with words that I didn’t understand and that seemed alien to me and my life.
It was during my teen years that prayer became something that I actually felt. When I was really struggling in the midst of a depression and anxiety that threatened to drown me, I learned for the first time that in the depths of that darkness, calling out for help could bring me comfort. Something made me begin calling out to God when I felt all other options had been exhausted and this brought me a very special kind of peace that even now I do not really understand.
Since then, prayer has become something much more personal to me and even though I am unable to express exactly what I believe about God in words or even get it clear in my thoughts, prayer is a very significant part of my life. Sometimes, I am still drawn to using the words that formed the religious backdrop to my Catholic childhood as the words themselves bring comfort through familiarity, but more often than not, my prayers have become more spontaneous and free. Now my prayers are less focused on concepts and theology and more grounded in reality and emotion. I really try to feel what I pray for.
Today, I often pray while I am in the car on the way to work and my prayers are informal and personal. I ask that those I love are kept safe until we meet again and feel how much I love each person I am praying for. I ask that they are given strength when they need it and comfort during challenges they may face during their day and really try to feel the strength I hope they will have.
I am praying whenever I think of those I love who have gone from this earth, as I send them my love and reflect on how much they have meant to me. I am praying as I think of injustice, poverty and pollution and reflect on how I can possibly try to make a difference. I am praying as I think through what direction our family should take next – should we stay or should we go. I am praying when I stop and pay attention to the beauty that is around me, in the natural world and in the people I am privileged to know.
Personally, I feel closer to God and more at peace when I am walking at the beach, looking at the clouds or noticing the fine details in flowers or plants than I do when I am at a traditional place of worship but I believe there is beauty and peace to be found there too.
More often than not, my prayers take the form of gratitude. I say thank you for all the blessings I have been given and really try to feel how grateful I am. I am still here, still able to love and be loved, still able to grow and evolve, learn and change, still able to forgive and be forgiven and still able to live. There are so many things about my life and about this world that I do not yet understand and probably never will but I am so grateful to be here, still trying to understand further.