Regina's essay from How Do You Pray?: Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists and Other Lovers of Humanity
by Celeste Yacoboni (Editor),
I use several forms of prayer, because I love forms. We’re incarnated and that’s a great gift, so to be able to use form is a great help in sacramentalizing all aspects of our lives. My essential form of prayer is more a “resting in being prayed” rather than an active praying. In the mystical Christian, contemplative tradition, they might call this “passive contemplation,” but it doesn’t really need any formal label to it. It has more to do with deeply resting in the source of all, whatever one might call that. For me, it’s a ground of love, as the ground of existence. What emerges or arises from that is a spontaneous upwelling of silence, praise and gratitude, and perhaps a sense of expansion. A numinous experience, for sure; difficult to capture in words.
From my background in Catholicism, as a nun, the whole idea of “me” doing the praying always took a backseat to attention on that “One” who is always already praying. Prayer might be called the breath of the universe. For me it’s aligning with that breath, surrendering in some way. If I have any “goal” in my prayer it might be availability as a transformational vehicle—to serve in creation, in whatever way I am called to do. I know that prayer affects creation. How it does this, well I can only speculate.
The forms of prayer that I’ve been instructed in from my recent spiritual teacher (since 1985) come out of the more Eastern Hindu tradition. I’m very partial to praying the Name of God. Let’s face it, like anybody in this chaotic world I run around from appointment to appointment, I drive around here and there, my mind obsesses and focuses and gets drained of its attention so easily. So, in this particular age and time, the use and repetition of an internal prayer is extremely useful, keeping the highest intention possible. I use the Name of God repeated, much like the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer. These forms keep the pilgrim focused on his or her intention, focused on the source of all. It is my experience that the sounds of the various Names of God do have an impact on the neurological system of the body and do align us to an energy that does open what needs to be opened and align what needs to be aligned.
Prayer at specific times and in specific places is a part of daily practice. But prayer also spontaneously arises when, for instance, one hears in the news that there are fires raging in New Mexico, or wars in Afghanistan. What can I do from my desk in the office, or my post at the kitchen sink, except to hold my intention for those afflicted, and to breathe and to repeat an internal prayer in the Name of God to bless those who need courage in this particular time and energy to work that. I generally don’t find myself praying for things like, “Oh God, please make the fire stop.” I’ve never been oriented toward praying to ask for some kind of divine intervention. That always seemed really presumptuous. However, just holding in compassion and blessing the whole situation—the situation of the Earth, the situation of the individuals involved—is important because we all need courage and strength and joy in any kind of challenging situation.
Prayer really becomes a way of life. It’s possible in each relationship, with each person who walks in your door, and with each bit of news you hear. You “witness and bless,” as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi would say. You witness and bless in everything you do. Prayer can become how you breathe. How you communicate. How you align yourself with the ground of being, the ground of love. For me, prayer is also silent sitting for fifty minutes to an hour every morning, occasional stopping during the day for quiet periods, contemplative reading of the great teachings, the use of prayer beads—I always loved the rosary when I was more ardently a Roman Catholic—I love to have something in my hands because I love form. I use mantras, I use prayer beads, I love to do yoga, because for me, that’s the body in prayer—it’s exciting to know that prayer is not only the mind; it’s the work of every cell in the body. Singing, chanting the psalms—the psalms are really wonderful—are other great forms of prayer. Song and chant create a vibration within myself, certainly, but I also experience that this vibration touches something in creation. I don’t know how; we don’t know the technology of this, but I just know that the ethers are full of static and getting more and more all the time, and that filling the ethers with chant, with the Name of God, with blessing—well, it wouldn’t hurt!
I love going on retreat. Prayer retreat is an essential part of my year. What a privilege to take a couple of weeks to go away and do nothing except to practice in the sense of devoting the whole day to prayer and study of the great teachings and to immerse myself in what lies at the center once again.
I would like my life to make a difference—I think we all would. Some of us will do this through our active lives, as we are like the finger cells in this great mystical body. And, some of us are quieter, more contemplative cells, and our prayer will be our contribution to creation. I really truslt the great contemplative traditions, East and West, which have sustained the Earth for as long as they have, and certainly have served as sanctuary to vast numbers of people throughout the world. Just knowing that there are people in prayer throughout the world sustains us and provides a counterpoint to the insanity that we live in.
For me it’s not about doing “the big praying thing.” It’s about relaxing into that which already is. And, it takes awhile to learn. But, we are up to it.