Anoushka Shankar , Stephen Mitchell and Roberta Bondi —
Approaching Prayer

Americans are religious and non-religious, devout and irreverent. But in astonishing numbers, across that spectrum, most of us say that we pray. We explore the subject of prayer, how it sounds, and what it means in three different traditions and lives.

 

 

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Guests

is a musician, actress, and author of Bapi, The Love of My Life.

is the author and translator of many books, including the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita.

is professor emeritus of Church History at Emory University and author of A Place to Pray.

Pertinent Posts

Our executive producer experiences rehabilitative yoga after a foot surgery.

Selected Audio

Chants of India

Sanskrit chants from the Vedas, Upanishads, and other texts have been handed down through the centuries by Traditional Scholars in India. In these renditions, Ravi Shankar reconfigured existing forms and composed new numbers to convey the spiritual force of these Sanskrit mantras and chants.

Selected Poems

"The Summer Day"

by Mary Oliver

About the Image

A Hindu Holy man offers prayer at a temple in India.
(Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers pray during mass given by Christian Riders Ministry in Florida.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A Palestinian greenhouse worker bows in prayer during a break.
(David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

Feminist Muslim author Asra Nomani prays with other women during a rare mixed gender, woman-led prayer service in New York City.
(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

(Prakash Singh/AFP, Spencer Platt, David Furst/AFP, Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

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Reflections

Greetings and Happy New Year,

For me prayer is a foundation, along with worship of my faith and how I bring my faith to live in everyday life. When I was experiencing the dying and then the death of my wife about 9 years ago now, I was looking for a short prayer that might lift my spirits. I researched and found St. Patrick's Breastplate, also called the Deer Prayer (I believe) and adapted a short phrase - Christ within me, Christ around me, Christ beside me. I could say this prayer while stopped at a traffic light, grocery shopping and helping me sleep. It was also, for me very visual. I would often try to 'see' Christ beside me in any person who might be beside me at that particular moment.

Today, in my new marriage and life that prayer still offers peace and assurance. I treasure the words, meanings and imagery.

I am in wonder and awe of the universe and God's creation. A ceaseless prayer of thanksgiving, gratitude is so very important. Yet, I struggle with prayer. I do not spend enough time in prayer and too often while in prayer my thoughts stray so I bring them gently back into focus.

I think it is wonderful that so many people pray in any religion. I can only hope and wish that more people would spend even a few moments a day in prayer. My hope is that one day the whole world can prayer, be silent for one minute at the same time. Just one minute for all the world to know peace.

Many thanks for this opportunity to share.

Peace to you on this New Year,
Bruce Lugn

I do not have sufficient tech knowledge to post a visual. Perhaps we could sit in silence for a moment and bring an image to mind to reflect on. Imagination can be very enlightening and vivid.

Listening to your program, I was once again moved by the power of prayer in its myriad manifestations yet, at the same time, how complex an issue it is for our society. I could not help flashing back to watching soldiers and Marines bow their heads in prayer before going out on missions, at memorials, during a chaplain's visit to their post. With my film partner, we were documenting the work of chaplains in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one of the issues that came up was prayer -- how chaplains should pray in public, how do they support troops who pray very differently not just in form but in content, how do they ensure that troops who do not share the majority faith not feel excluded.... One thing that came clear to me was that prayer can be deeply healing yet also divisive, and that we need to engage with both aspects when figuring out its role in such settings as the military.

I learned about Hasidism in an intellectual way first. It might not have been ideal, but I had read a quote by a Hasidic master that, "All is God." Hasidism has a much broader image of God than Stephen Mitchell was exposed to. I realize that this depth of Hasidism wouldn't have been discussed with a newcomer, but it changes the conception of Hasidic prayer.

Prayer is the way we Love the world and God as Being the All of Life and then our giving back to become who and what we are as One with the "Universe"!

Krista, I've listened to your show for some years and I believe this is the first subject you've really gotten sidetracked into nonssnse.

To hold with the idea that prayer is just highly focused thought is painting a nontrue generality.

Prayer, and I come from the Cahtholic faith and tradition, has many parts of thanks and praise and request. It is not simply a meditation unless you're saying something repetitive like a Rosary. Take the Our Father, a standard and prototypical prayer, an example to those on how to pray. it is quite varied.

Personally, when I pray I just reach out to God regardless of the activity I am involved with, often while driving, sometimes in business meetings, and even during the middle of a conversation. So no one could claim that I am highly focused ONLY on that activity.

I think somehow you mixed up, "feeling good", through spirituality with the concept of prayer.

I begin writing with the help of all of Allaah's (God's) names; He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

Peace be upon those who follow Guidance.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was that 'prayer' for a Muslim is a little different than most. We have essentially two kinds of prayer; a formal and highly ritualized prayer which is performed AT LEAST five times a day, and an informal prayer which can be performed at nearly any time. Informal prayers (which is what I will discuss) can be from the Words of Allaah (i.e. the Qur'aan) or the statements of His Last Messenger and Prophet (Muhammad bin 'Abdullaah, peace and blessings be upon him). It can also be from one's self and in one's own tongue (i.e. NOT Arabic). A few things come to mind when I think of my 'pocket prayers'. First, a verse of the Qur'aan which reads, "Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allaah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allaah hearts are assured." [Ar-Ra'd (The Thunder) 13: 28]. This is so true! Then I have two VERY regular prayers I say (I actually say many more, but that would make this too long). The first is from the Qur'aan; "My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to work righteousness of which You will approve and make righteous for me my offspring. Indeed, I have repented to You, and indeed, I am of the Muslims." [Al-Ahqaaf (The Curving Sand Tracts) 46:15]. The second is from the teachings of the Messenger of Allaah; "O Allaah, verily I ask You for Guidance, Constant Awareness of You, Chastity, and Contentment within myself." I hope this helps with bringing about even greater perspective on prayer. I pray that Allaah guides us and you, and helps us rectify our affairs. Amen.

I have a pocket prayer to share! I have many, but I'll share the one I have set up in my office. I keep it tucked out of the way, so mostly only I see it. The shrine is a constant reminder of how I end my daily prayers. Often I'll say this portion when I get to work:

*****
I am grounded in the here and now
I am grounded in the here and now
I am grounded in the here and now

May every word and every breath open my heart so Shekhinah may flow through me, so my actions are more aligned with the life I want to live

May every word and every breath open my heart so Shekhinah may flow through me, so I am better able to do the work I am called to do

May every word and every breath open my heart so Shekhinah may flow through me, so I honor and cherish the Divine in all that I meet through the day

May every word and every breath open my heart so Shekhinah may flow through me, so I may see the Divine light illuminating the path before me

amen
******

I suppose in a way, this prayer is a pocket prayer in itself, since I keep it on Google docs (http://docs.google.com/View?id=dhq23dsp_2789f4c7hp) and can access from anywhere including my blackberry. The shrine has Kohenet bumper sticker to remind me that even being a marketing strategist is a job for a priestess, and an prayer bag/amulet that I made during one of my Kohenet training sessions. The bag contains many little objects that reinforce the message of the prayer.

Everything thing I do is an expression of the Divine flowing through me. I just need to be reminded of that. Sometimes, I need a lot of reminders of that. :)

Once again, the value of your unique programing shines through! I found myself identifying and expanding as each of your very different speakers explored the rich experience of prayer. I especially was touched with the reflections by the Emeritus Professor from Emory when she reflected on Genesis 32 as a paramount image of prayer. Years ago, in my mid-twenties, while making a Directed Retreat with John Foley SJ -this passage was presented to me for several days. In many ways I think it is a vibrant, very valid image of my spiritual journey. Once again, thank you for the creativity - quality - and boldness you live out in offering this wonderful weekly program!

Blessings...and best to you in your own 'wrestling with God'.

I was driving home this morning on the snow-drifted roads & this particular poem just struck me as simple & true, & exactly how I feel!
Thank you for waking me up this morning from the usual humdrum stuff I listen to...more please!

Dear Krista and SOF,
Stephen Mitchell gave a wonderful interpretation of Psalm 4 today. (12-31/09) Is there any way to obtain a copy of same or to be directed to a book or other resource that might contain this interpretation. Having lost my daughter and a friend having lost his daughter, this reading would really bring much peace to our struggles.
Thank you very much,
Gail Brown

I had just received a miracle in the form of a blue and white police car driving up to arrest the man who had taken his promise to love me, 'til death do us part, way too seriously. I was broken. Broke and alone. I had 72 cents in my pocket, a few clothes and my faithful golden retriever, Ellie, who had endured that five year ride through hell with me. I was desperate for help.

My sister came to get me and suddenly, I had a place to stay. A safe place to stay.

And I was broken.

I went to bed that first night desperate for peace, for a cessation of the roaring in my head that had haunted me for most of that relationship. I cried and I cried and finally, out of desperation and exhaustion, I began to recite the Lord's Prayer in my head.

I kept reciting it. Again and again.

It drove the crazy-making thoughts from my head and filled me with peace, and grace.

It still does.

Sharing Prayer How should I pray as I bow before the Lord God today? Should I pray for the lost on life’s path that they may escape consequences wrath. Perhaps a prayer for those who lack something to eat as the morning, evening, and night they greet. Always one should pray for peace that the wars in the world will cease. Maybe I could pray like one of mine friends “awash with gratitude” for vocation, family, shelter, and food. For the better part of my career I prayed for the physically ill that with God’s healing power they would be filled. Dare I pray for the schizophrenic or depressed that God their illness would address. Can one pray only for their home land or should we pray for the world to be blessed by God’s hand. Well I suppose there are a myriad of questions about prayer so I will strive to pray for all things and people with whom the experience of life I share. VRC

The Space between the Words

In the space between the words
the things left unsaid, not spoke aloud
in the musings of our hearts
deep within our souls
These are the urgent,
the fervent prayers
the callings to our king
The petitions too painful to give voice
the struggles of our souls

January 15, 2010
Title 1/2/2010
�Speaking of Faith: Approaching Prayer�
http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/approaching-prayer/
December 31, 2009 program,
Speaking of Faith
http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/
http://www.raymondafoss.blogspot.com

Prayer is my friendship expressed - between God-Daddy, God-Brother & God-Friend. It is an ongoing thing - "pray always", Paul of Tarsus. I do not understand most of the time what I need or what others need, nor do understand how God does things: Teach me your ways, Oh God, Friend - teach me your ways not mine! The programs of Speaking of Faith always hit home for me. This one is about how others express their friendship with God. There are as many ways to pray as there are people.

This has been a very enlightening broadcast for me. What stood out to me most was Anoushka Shankar's interview, where she said that her mother and her would chant sanscrit payers when she was a child, but they stopped because her mother believed it was up to Anoushka if she wanted to pray. This is important, because for many of us, religion gets passed on or pushed on us from our parents. We may feel the need to follow their faith because we are showing respect, or don't want to hurt them by being different.

Her second guest Stephen Mitchell is a person who spent a lot of his life studying spiritual writings and translated many books. He finds that prayer is not religious, but is when you give your absolute attention to something. This is a bit different from what I had thought prayer to be, which was more of giving praise and thanks etc. to God.

I also liked her interview with Roberta Bondi, a professor emeritus of Church History at Emory University. She says that she always tell people that there is no right way to pray. Some may believe that you must sing, be silent or like Shankar did in her Hindu tradition, chant. What's most important is finding the way you pray and working with it.

I find it interesting that all three guests feel the same way about prayer, it's not what is said, but what is behind the message.

Anoushka Shankar says it's not the words but what is behind them. She says that a sound can be more powerful than prayer. It's the power behind the prayer, the breath, the meditation. She also states that prayer in Hindu is just a "universal energy that we pray to, and people have to put a different image on it to make it easier".

Steven Mitchell mentions that one does not need to be relgious to pray. Actions can be a form of prayer. Mitchell states that "it's what shines through the words that I really care about". I like that he says that being appreciative of everything in the present is a form of prayer. Many people say they are religious because they pray, but then their every day actions prove otherwise.

Roberta Bondi believes there is no right way to pray, "just find your way". I think what she means is not to think about how to pray, just do it. Don't get caught up in what is being said, jus feel. She says, in a way, like Mitchell, prayer is about every day life.

Many resort to prayer in a time of need or grief, I believe that any time is a good time to pray, and like Shankar, Mitchell, and Bondi believe, it is not the words themselves, but what is behind the words. I grew up going to Catholic schools and prayer was a type of memorization with no mention of listening to what was behind the words. Looking back, if I were to be taught more than just words, perhaps I would have a deeper understanding and respect of religion and prayer.

From the December 31, 2009 broadcast of SOF: Approaching Prayer. One of the three interviewed was Roberta Bondi. The part of the interview that really caught my attention was when she mentioned the image from the scripture she's always had in her mind since she was a child was "Jacob wrestling with the Angel (God). God sneaking up on Jacob unexpectedly in the night. Prayer is long periods of ordinary shared life together with intense periods of wrestling with really serious stuff that can scare us to death, but can also bring us into real life with God and real life with ourselves into a way that we can't otherwise have it."

I find myself struggling with prayer alone at night. I feel like I'm not including everyone who's in need of seeking prayers within my own conversations with God. I need to hear and seek out to others who are in need and include them in my nightly prayers. My son and I do the "now I lay me down to sleep..." prayer each and every night before he goes to bed and I am so glad he's been able to pray along with me and also include blessings of his baby brother, and his mommy. I am including others, but he tends to question why some of these people are hurt or not feeling well. I don't want to tell him the full details of what's wrong with these people, but rather say God needs to look over them instead leaving me feeling better in the end.

I'm trailing off, but I feel it's so important to have these thoughts challenging me each day as I want to raise my children with the understanding of God, and the knowledge of Jesus Christ as well, just as my parents raised me with the same upbringing of faith. I am a Catholic, and am a God fearing man...

I found the three perspectives on prayer helpful and enlightening. I was very excited to see the Book of Job brought up. The first time I read it, I couldn't put it down (and hearing part of it read really brought out the amazing poetry of it). I laughed out loud when I got to the end: what a surprise! Taking myself seriously as a seeker but who was I to think I could understand or even question God! I also loved the image of wrestling with God--I wrestle all the time, all the time--might try more to persevere to reach blessing. All fed my soul. thank you for this and your many programs! God's blessings.