How Do You Pray?

How Do You Pray? Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists & Other Lovers of Humanity (Monkfish Book Publishing, July 2014) was born from a vision in which Celeste Yacoboni was guided to ask the world, “How do you pray?” She reached out to family and friends, then to leading figures from all walks of life and schools of thought. Culled from those responses is an original and deeply personal collection of prayers, essays, and offerings that encourages readers to contemplate the intention of prayer in their own life.

Composed essentially of prayers and short biographies of its 129 contributors (leaders of diverse spiritual and religious traditions, as well as those who do not claim any particular walk of faith), How Do You Pray? is an interspiritual prayer book and resource guide to an emerging global spirituality, which embraces our religious and spiritual diversity.

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Excerpts from

How Do You Pray?

Roshi Joan Halifax

At Upaya Zen Center we feed many people and some of what we offer our students and guests is food from our land. Before every meal, we make a food offering. This is a way of expressing our gratitude for the food before us, and as well to vow to return this gift by serving the world. The prayer is thus:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space
combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors that we may eat.

May we be nourished,
that we may nourish life.

Regina Sara Ryan

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.

James O’Dea

A Rwandan woman sits in a circle telling her story of great family loss in the genocide. She is overcome with tears. Words fail. Her grief pulls her to lie face down on the ground. An African American woman who has dedicated her life to racial healing comes and lies down on the floor beside her, also face down. Then a third woman who has given most of her life to working with children of war and others who have endured great trauma, also lies down beside her. The spirits of so much hurt and wounding crowd around the three prostrate women. A Hopi elder, a grandmother, rises and prays over them with simple dignity. Light enters the story.

This is how I pray in circle after circle. I offer my heart’s capacity to open. I allow the molten lava of suffering to flow through it. Then when it is ready, in silence, in stillness, this heart becomes witness to the incomparable beauty of healing. And everything within me becomes a song.

Chris Deckker

…you have this collective, exponential power toward this intention of prayer, especially if everybody’s focusing on the same thought at the same time, which is what we call a prayer for peace in Earth Dance. In the moment of movement, and through the kinetic movement of dance and energy, the joyful expression of coming together and dancing and celebrating, you create this moment of stillness, which we call the prayer for peace, so all that great kinetic energy is focused and directed and as a community we get to affirm peace on the planet and the intention of that. We can actually live in unity together as a global tribe. That’s the essence of how I’ve been using the technology of prayer to ignite this sense of global affirmation and global collective intention, which is a potent field.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

And sometimes in that ordinary day, as in the ceremonial dance, I come to my knees and struggle to rise. And where I am unable to get up, my prayer is in the curve of my back and the tears in my throat, in accepting the limits of what my small will can do. I ask for help, I surrender, and something lifts me, holds and carries me. Sometimes this happens all at once, taking my breath away with instantaneous transformation. And sometimes it is a slow and gentle lifting, almost imperceptible, until I find myself back on my feet once more, filled with gratitude and renewed faith.

This is how I pray. One day at a time. Dancing until I cannot and that which brought me here lifts me up and carries me forward. The prayer is in the life lived with awareness, in the intention and even in the forgetting so the remembering may come again. It is in the joy and the sorrow, the struggle and the surrendering, in the opening that comes as we move more deeply into life, over and over again.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Whatever moment of the day, whatever outer activities, when I look within I see this mystery that is praying, the silence and wonder of how the heart is a place of prayer, an altar of love. I feel the tenderness, the sweetness, the power of this prayer. This prayer is the essence of my being, a covenant of love, a remembrance, a meeting and a merging. It is a living oneness within me that belongs to every moment of the day and night. This prayer is my practice, an offering of my self, my own most intimate way of being with my Beloved. What else can I do in this world but pray? We are love’s prayer.

Ruth King

While I have a daily sitting practice, I pray continuously—on and off the cushion—walking, standing, eating and sleeping; in breathing, speech, thought and action. When I pray, I am notrequesting help from a higher power. Praying is a gentle and ongoing reminder for myself to live in alignment with my highest intentions: respect for life, true contentment, pure love, caring speech, deep listening and wholesome nourishment and healing. I believe that all beings, without exception, benefit from my practice. This includes enemies, strangers, teachers, elders, children, loved ones, all sentient beings and the planet. The Buddha shares these intentions.

Prayer is the act of loving awareness—a noble presence—and you don’t ignore, reject or over-identify with what is revealing itself. In mindfulness meditation, I am able to stay close to the truth of the moment without the suffering of the moment. I can notice, for instance, that awareness of anger is not angry, and awareness of fear is not frightened. Awareness is simply aware and is not attached to the story I add to the situation. Most additions to the story contribute to and prolong suffering.

When I feel perplexed by the sorrows throughout the world and how Earth is suffering because of our greed, hatred and ignorance, I pray not so much to fix the problems but to wake up the minds of those who are ignorant of how they contribute to the suffering in the world. I ask that I, too, wake up to my own ignorance. I pray with my breath by inhaling the difficulty and exhaling peace. This prayer practice may happen several times within any given hour and throughout the day. My prayer mantra is: May all beings be safe from inner and outer harm, happy and content, healthy and strong, and live with ease.

My mindfulness practice has been good medicine for my heart and mind, and for living with good intention. It also challenges me to embody my spiritual practice by serving in ways that nourish the planet and touch, shape and heal the global human heart.

Katherine Woodward Thomas

I find that the moments we most need to be connected to a force and field of Life greater than ourselves, are the very ones we are apt to shut down and withhold prayer. As we often forget to breathe in a time of disappointment and despair, so too do we forget to pray. As though to say to God, “If you are not going to play on my terms, then I am just going to take all of my marbles and go home,” refusing to accept Life on its own terms.

The holiest moments of our lives are when we make the choice to turn towards Life, rather than away, in the face of all of life’s topplings and shocking losses. To say a prayer that aligns us with all that is good, loving, beautiful and true in the midst of the rubble and despair, and rather than ask God to make this better for us, to declare instead who we will be in the face of it. It is in this sacred instant that we awaken to ourselves as the generators of life and love, and begin to understand prayer as the holy act of co-creation.

How Do You Pray” is a rich tapestry of the ways in which people communicate with the Absolute, however it is named. It beautifully portrays humankind’s eternal desire for transcendence. This book is a loving accomplishment — more like a prayer than a book.

Larry Dossey, MD

One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters

I am sure you will find expressions in this book that represent your own predilection for prayer. Then, hopefully, you’ll feel recognized, and celebrated, and included. You will most probably find here expressions of prayer that never occurred to you as possible in your wildest of dreams. And then, hopefully, you will come to learn to recognize, and celebrate, and include others.

Arjuna Ardagh

The Translucent Revolution

In this dazzling collection of praises to the One, an array of spiritual practitioners shares intimate glimpses into their inner lives. What a privilege! What stunning beauty, naked humility, startling insight. This is no standard collection of established devotions; it is a full-bodied, broken-openhearted love song to the Great Mystery.

Mirabai Starr

God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam