I can remember being a part of a guild in church, called the Daisy Guild after a wonderful woman in our church who was such a good influence on so many women. In the course of one year, they decided to do a study on prayer from a book by Evelyn Christensen, called What Happens When Women Pray. At the end of the year, I could no longer pray. Not that I did a bang-up job before that. But all I could think about was ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
According to the author, that was what God wanted when we prayed. And we had to make darned sure that we had confessed all our sins because otherwise God wouldn't listen. That was why so many prayers went unanswered: we hadn't adhered to the formula.
It did make me take notice of prayer from that moment on, though. I began to notice whether or not the pastor, or leader of whatever group I was in, was praying the formula. And odds were good that they weren't. What they did, in reality, was design a prayer that made them look good. And if I was in a group where everyone was expected to pray (which I absolutely hated and which made me quite nauseous) then I didn't pay the least bit of attention to what anyone else was saying. I was trying to come up with a prayer that made everyone murmur in agreement. The louder the murmur, the better I felt about myself.
My belief is that people pray outloud for the benefit of other people.
Who knows what they pray for in private?
So what do I do now? I light a candle for the person I am thinking about. I simply say their name and when I am done lighting candles (or run out of candles) then I light the tall taper and say my goddess's name, Brighid. I don't see the need to tell her something she already knows. I just let her know that I am thinking of them and sending my energy in the form of flame up to her. And if she passes it on to the Great God, or takes care of it herself, then that's in her hands. Not mine. It's my job, or duty, to feel compassion and send my energy up to her or whatever god is receptive to it. It's not my job to get all flowery and try to impress deity with my wit.
Prayer isn't about me at all. It's not about how I do it. It's not even about when I do it. It's about why I do it. Nothing else matters.
But what is prayer? I think it's as magical as anything out there. I don't think anything out there is more supernatural than prayer. We don't know how it works. Or why. We just know it does. But why does it seem so selective?
I remember in my fundamentalist days feeling completely dejected because it didn't seem like God cared a fig about me or my prayers. I felt like everything I said bounced back to me off the ceiling, that God was more concerned with people who tithed, giving them gracious gifts because they were lining his pockets and I wasn't. Or maybe I wasn't being as faithful so I didn't get to be teacher's pet. Or maybe I just wasn't praying to the right god.
I don't worry about the effects of my prayers anymore. I don't worry that maybe there is a caste system out there in the world of Christianity, that God, indeed, does have favorites after all. I know my goddess called me. And I know my god, Lugh, called me, too. The Great God doesn't deal with us on a personal level. He never did. The god of the Old Testament, isn't anymore the Great God than Loki is.
What we have are those in the divine realm who call to us and gather us into their embrace. If we don't find comfort in our spiritual realm, maybe we're not in the right god's arms.
Yet, I still love Jesus, even if I don't believe him to be god or even divine. I can love what he represents. And I can love the ritual of my church which I still maintain has a deep and ancient pagan fragrance to me. I can appreciate the myth of Easter and Christmas as much as I can enjoy the myths of the Celtic pantheon.
For me, I'm finding the Great God in the beauty of the universe and in the wonder of nature, but he's not so egotistical that he demands I must spend every waking moment worshiping him and him alone. I think he finds that kind of attitude rather childish.
I know I could be wrong. But what kind of an afterlife would heaven be if it were run by someone who threw tantrums because he couldn't get everyone to adore him?