The title is short and might mislead someone who is unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalism. This is about how a specific UU prays, because there are very few things about which anyone can write which can apply to all UUs. This is how a UU prays, and I am that UU, speaking only for myself. If you do things differently, I welcome discussion of how and why. If you don’t do things, then maybe my way will give you a starting point. If you just don’t see a need, please check out our Facebook page, where we will be sharing links about prayer all week.
This is going to be somewhat longer than our usual Monday Meditation. I hope you find it informative.
So, I want to start with a recap of why I pray, because knowing my background and my motivation is important to understanding the process and making adjustments for yourself.
I was raised in a Protestant home. We went to several different churches, and visited family often in still other denominations, and so prayer is what I am used to. I later learned to cast circles and call corners, and I do that, too, for different reasons. I also learned about meditation, though I cannot say that I am practiced at it. For me, it helps to imagine a perfect listener, and then to listen for the subtle reply, wherever that originates. I pray, because that is what it is called in English, and in the cultures that are native to English, and that is what is both familiar and easy to say without needing to explain in detail, if detail isn’t warranted or requested.
So, I pray. I have adapted my prayer to compliment my UU identity and the importance I place on my covenant with my Congregation and our covenant with the UUA.
I begin the whole thing by trying to put my mind in a state outside of the immediate, the worldly, and the distracted. I find that taking even a moment to focus on the act of prayer makes the experience more fulfilling and gives me more confidence in the answers generated. I start with a light. I like to use a chalice and flame when possible. Any candle will do if no chalice is available. I am also fortunate in being able to mentally visualize the lighting of the chalice if I cannot even light a candle in s given situation. This is important to my focusing technique, and it helps me to root my practice in my shared community.
I then spend a moment being thankful. Thankful for having the moment, for living at all, for the lives I have touched and been touched by. I try to always start from gratitude. That makes it easier to make hard or unpleasant choices and it amplifies the joy of choosing the fun things.
Then, I ask for guidance, often in a certain situation. I never ask for what I want when I can get it by effort, except in terms of “how do I get from here to there”. On the other hand, when there is no amount of help I can give to a situation, it often feels good to put positive thoughts out into the universe on behalf of someone who is ill or who is facing their own troubles. Even then, I always ask that I be open to ways in which I can provide real, material aid should it be possible.
Then, I listen. I listen to that best part of myself, whether it is connected to the divine or the akasha or just that part of my brain that remembers the details I cannot bring to the surface and the subconscious that knows the truths that I don’t want to admit. I listen for that voice and I talk with it about the options I see, and those that seem almost within reach, and I ask for tips, for clarity, and for the removal of internal obstacles to success. I listen, and I respond as needed and as I am able. Sometimes this takes an hour, sometimes I can give it only a minute. The important thing, for me, is often putting that part of myself to work on a specific problem.
I rarely end a single session feeling that “Eureka” moment, but I always close, again, with gratitude. I express thanks to the Universe for the things I have and the time I am able to enjoy them in. Even emotional pain often stems from the fact that we grew attached to someone or something, and I try to remember that I am lucky to have had the experience that opened me up to pain. I may not always reach a conclusion, but I try to be thankful for the chance to learn, to heal, and to do better things in the future.
Those are my essential 5 steps. The situation and the motivation can change the amount of time I spend on any one of them, but I try to touch them all, even if it is just for the purpose of ritual and completion.
Do you pray? What are your essential steps, in their most basic form? Why are they important? Where do they lead you that you otherwise have trouble going?