What I Mean When I Say I’m Praying

I’m definitely not ‘talking’ to God.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

There is a sense in which I am communicating with God when I pray. But this sense is not equatable to a spoken-word conversation.

No words are spoken. But there’s still communication. Communication without words.

What does this mean?

You have probably had plenty of experience in non-verbal communication, you just weren’t consciously aware of it at the time.

That time when you were convinced that your partner was angry at you because you forgot to put out the trash, she was telling you that she wished you had remembered to keep your promise, she was also telling you that she wants you to say sorry and promise that you’ll not make the same mistake again.

She said all that and not one word was spoken. You just felt it. Her emotions spoke a thousand words that language couldn’t muster.

Communication without words.

When I pray I use my feelings to speak.

With my feelings, I ask for help and guidance.

This is easier said than done.

Sometimes I will think I’m using my feelings when really I’m using my interior monologue.

Dear God, please can you make sure I’m a financial success in the future.

This isn’t prayer because your feelings don’t speak the English language. So to pray as if they do is to fool yourself into believing that you’re trying to speak to God when really you’re just talking to yourself.

Because feelings can’t speak through language, the things that language have to say have no meaning when you pray. Things like:

Money.

Success.

Material possessions.

They have no place in prayer.

When I pray, the response to my prayer comes to me in the form of feelings.

When I am the recipient of a feelings-message, I know that it has come from somewhere/someone else. Where exactly? I’m not so sure.

When someone delivers a message to you using the spoken word, you know that this message came from someone else and that you didn’t dream this other person up.

It’s with equal certainty that I am sure that the response I receive from my prayers is coming from somewhere else.

But, there is no way of me providing evidence for this claim.

If I wanted to prove that someone else communicated with me using the spoken word, I could perhaps have a third party witness the conversation, or I could record the event using a voice-recorder or video-camera.

But when I receive a message in my feelings, I have to accept that it can’t be captured by video cameras, voice-recorders or anything beyond my own sense that it occurred.

This also rules out the possibility of other people bearing witness to my claims of feelings-based communication.

If you watched me praying there wouldn’t be much to see or hear. You’d probably think I was sleeping while sitting up.

This lack of available evidence doesn’t matter to me when I am praying, it doesn't stop it from ‘working’.

However, it does make it hard for me to talk about the act of prayer in a way that is articulate and believable.

I realize that I’ve got to this point and I haven’t really told you why I think that prayer is so good.

I’ve kind of been avoiding this question.

Not because prayer isn’t good, it’s great.

But because — surprise, surprise — it’s really hard to answer in an articulate manner.

I could tell you about how prayer helps me to enter a peaceful state of mind that lasts long after the prayer has finished, or how it helps me to access emotions like love, compassion, and empathy. Lastly, I could tell you about how prayer helps me to realize what is truly important in life and what truly is not.

But that’s all just words, and unless you trust what I’m saying, why should you believe me?

If by some miracle, I have persuaded you to give prayer a go, I have some advice that I feel might help you in your endeavors. This advice comes in the form of a poem, written by a man who could articulate prayer’s nuances a whole lot better than me — Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:

As my prayer become more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
– which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking,
Prayer involves becoming silent,
And being silent,
And waiting until God is heard.

Søren Kierkegaard, quoted by Joachim Berendt in The Third Ear, translated by Tim Nevill (Shaftsbury, England: Element Books, 1988).

I have found this poem to be a useful reminder of what is required when I am praying.

It reminds me to be silent; in voice and mind.

It reminds me to listen.

It reminds me to be patient.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it reminds me that what you ‘get’ from prayer is not a spoken-word message delivered from a white-bearded man sitting in a throne in the clouds.

Prayer is hard. I don’t want to pretend it isn’t. I frequently struggle to pray.

Pride often gets in the way for me.

I find it hard to be silent and await a message in my feelings when all I want to do is appease my ego. In the loud din of the world, it’s so easy to look past the humble act of a silent prayer.

We have all grown accustomed to the spoken and written word. These forms of communication can be wielded to attain fame, wealth and power of all kinds.

A Word after a Word after a Word is Power. (Margaret Atwood)

The language of prayer isn’t of any use in trying to attain these worldly things, which is perhaps why this form of communication is so readily cast aside.

We are drowning in a sea of writing and speaking. We are far away from the dry land of our feelings.

Making our way back to shore is hard.

However, becoming reacquainted with the language of our feelings is possible.

It’s like learning any other new language — when you first start it feels impossible and you can’t even string two words together. But, if you persist, one day you could be living in a foreign country that speaks this language you are learning.

Through persisting with prayer I feel as if I am getting closer to that day when I will know this language well enough to move to prayer’s motherland. I couldn’t tell you where that is exactly, or what it looks like, I just feel certain that it’s a good place to be.

Thanks for reading,

Antony Pinol

Twenty-nine years old. Living in Carlisle in England. Graduate in Philosophy. Caregiver. Christian. Writer. Contact: antonypinol22@gmail.com

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