awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow

Prayer and Contemplation

If you're new to this newsletter, or just reading this one after a while, hi! I usually write about technology and learning here, and in Season 2 I'm exploring different topics through 4 week/newsletter long expeditions. We're just starting a new one!

First a couple disclaimers. The topic for this time, prayer, is a little bit outside my normal range. It's also a intertwined with religion which can be a pretty shifty ground for a lot of people. I understand if you want to check out until we return to less fraught ground! (if you [unsubscribe]({{ unsubscribe_url }}) using that link, I'll add you back when we do)

Also, any time I talk about prayer in here, I'm talking probably about my experiences with Catholic prayers. Would love to know how/if you're experience differs!

Anyways, lets get into it. This week I'm going to be doing a little recollecting, and laying out some of the questions that are puzzling me about prayers.

My relationship with prayer

Prayer has been a constant, and unexamined part of my life, in the form of Sunday Mass, grace before meals, family prayers, prayers before bed, blessings...

I, like I think many young people, grated against the practice and I never really managed to pray un-self-conciously. There was always a certain amount of friction to it.

I never outright disliked it though, and prayers before bed especially became a stable, structured personal ritual, really unlike anything I've had in my life since.

That being said, throughout all those years, and in my upbringing in the church, I never felt like I understood prayer. So here's this thing, that took up a chunk of my life, that I really know very little about. Where to start?

What is a prayer?

It kind of seems all over the place! Some are to give thanks, others to repent, others to request intervention. I'm not even sure if it's useful to think about all of them as the same thing.

If there is a uniting factor, it's probably that prayers are addressed to God. This makes them different from things like mantras, or poems.

If you take that at face value, it's really something quite remarkable. It's a mundane practice meant to put you in contact with the divine. The only non-secular practice that I can think of that comes close to that in sheer ambition is meditation.

Put a different way, for non-secular folks, what would a daily practice that puts you in sustained contemplative contact with the single most important entity/idea/concept in your life look like?

Honestly, even within secular bounds, how do you do that, if you don't already have prayers you can fallback on? How do you write (or design?) a prayer? Where do prayers come from?

In the bible stories I know, they seem to spring forth unpremeditated from holy mouths. Possesing only regular facilitites, and having meditated and come up short, I feel like there must be some other way. Perhaps this could be an interesting place for some discovery fiction?

What are the categories of prayer?

There's at least two axis of prayers in my mind, social vs private and spontaneous vs premeditated. (oh my, is this going to be my first 2x2??)

I have no idea how different points on these axis relate to each other. What are the properties of spontaneous prayers vs premeditated ones? Are social prayers serving a fundamentally different purpose than private?

What is Prayer for?

Is it to bring you closer to God, however you define it? Or to cause you to reflect on your life? Perhaps you can view prayer as a kind of attention director, causing you to notice the things that the prayer considers important. Or, perhaps they're a way of training your thoughts, to work in a certian way, or move in a certain direction subconciously?

I really am not sure here, perhaps all of the above?

Why Prayer?

To summarize, I have many questions, and more I didn't get to in here.

I feel like there's something incredibly valuable in the practice of prayer, outside of a institutional religious context, but don't quite have a grasp of the practice's foundations, and the way it works.

Throughout these next couple weeks I want to start praying again, in whatever form that takes, and dive deeper into history and theory of prayer.

I have a couple requests. If you know of any books, writing, or resources I should check out on Prayer, I would be appreciative. I've been having some trouble searching myself.

Also, if you have any thoughts, or directions you'd be particularly interested in seeing this go, let me know! Again, I know this is out of the wheelhouse of this newsletter normally, but this topic is a fascinating one, and I hope I can convey some of what fascinates me about it to you!

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