Oh God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul. — Joseph Ernest Renan, French philosopher and historian
Prayer helps us to identify our motives, our pains, our cravings, and joys. As we come to know ourselves, we are changed beyond selfishness into harmony with those Presences from which we spring and to which we return. Prayer is not a request to shape the future to our desires, but a way for us to offer ourselves to the Larger Process. Martin Luther said that we pray not to instruct God but rather to instruct ourselves. — Vern Barnet, minister emeritus, Center for Religious Experience and Study (Kansas City, Missouri)
Christians pray, Buddhists pray, Jews pray, Muslims pray, humanists pray, atheists pray, agnostics pray, philosophers pray, the righteous pray, the unrighteous pray, some Unitarian Universalists pray and some do not, in the formal sense, but I believe, in the broader sense, Unitarian Universalists, of all the people I know, pray hard and long. We are praying people. Emerson, remember, called prayer "the soul's sincere desire." I've never heard it put better. — Rev. Thomas Mikelson, in a January 7, 2002 sermon at the First Church in Cambridge (Massachusetts)
DURING TODAY'S SESSION...
We tested Unitarian Universalist versions of prayer practices based on a variety of religious traditions to discover what felt comfortable and useful in our personal search for truth and meaning. We used our bodies, words and music in different ways to open ourselves to a sense of awe and wonder, exploring the use of prayer and meditation practices to connect with a larger force inside or beyond us. From the story, "Letter to Nancy ," the children learned that three purposes of prayer and meditation are to express thanks, regrets and hopes.
EXPLORE THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Talk about...
Ask your child what a labyrinth is, its purpose, and how to use the finger labyrinth. If your child has not brought home a finger labyrinth, find one online . A labyrinth offers a journey of self-discovery. Because there is only one path in and out, a labyrinth does not require you to think about anything in particular.
Ask your child about the prayer stations they experienced today. Which were memorable? Comfortable? Challenging? Satisfying? At which stations did your child feel most open? Most loved?
Talk with your child about prayer in your life. Mention any prayer practices or rituals that have meaning for you. If this is the first time you have shared with your child something as intimate as your relationship with prayer, this could be one of the most important conversations you ever have with your child.
EXTEND THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Try...
Talk with people who use various prayer or meditation practices to learn what they do, why they do it, and the rules or customs related to the practice in its faith or culture of origin. The children received a handout today, Respecting Others' Spiritual Practices. Review it together. If prayer does not offer you any possibilities and you do not intend to explore or practice prayer or meditation with your child, do reinforce ways we can show respect for others' prayer traditions.
A FAMILY RITUAL
Whether or not you pray or meditate or have ever found such a practice meaningful, consider how you celebrate gratitude, reflect on regret or focus on your deepest hopes. Talk with your children about ways to be intentional in these expressions. Perhaps there is a prayer ritual your family can practice together. Ask your child whether they discovered a practice in this session your family could try.
Many families say a grace or blessing at mealtimes. If you do, do you consider these words a prayer? Make a conscious choice of grace or blessing words to use. Talk together about how the words are a prayer. Why, and to whom or what, do you say them? If you are looking for words, one multi-faith resource is Simple Graces for Every Meal by Ingrid Goff-Maidoff.
Search "prayer" on the UUA online bookstore website for Unitarian Universalist prayer and meditation resources. The online UUA WorshipWeb provides blessings and meditations, searchable by topic. On the Beliefnet website, find guidelines for prayer practice in a "Family Prayers FAQ."
A FAMILY GAME
Play Hide and Seek to practice listening to one another and listening for clues about a person's location. In some ways, prayer and meditation can be like playing Hide and Seek with the Divine, a deity or your deepest self.
Choose a daily prayer practice that everyone in the family can do. Make a commitment to follow it for 30 days. Discuss your goals and expectations for the practice and how children and adults can help each other try it. At the end of 30 days, evaluate how it felt and how it met your expectations. In what ways is a regular practice different from a practice you try just once? How is a commitment to pray different from other motivations, such as emotional urgency or spiritual need? Family members may wish to continue the practice, or try another one.