I Suck at Prayer

Every day when I wake up, I light the candles and incense at my small shrine to the household gods at the back of the house, then I light the official shrine on the hearth in the living room. The smaller shrine, which has pictures of Hestia, Hera, and Hecate, was started shortly after we moved into this house. I have that ritual down pat. An offering of honey, wine, and usually some baked goods (or at this time of year leftover Halloween candy… what? It’s a thing! Women like candy!), then I light the candle and incense and say “Thank you for your blessings and your bounty, I ask for continued prosperity and harmony in our home.” A simple petition and expression of gratitude, right? It took me MONTHS to come up with that. The main shrine is a much more elaborate set up. Our wedding swords hang over the hearth, replica statues of the Norse gods (not those ones that look like props from Conan the Barbarian) adorn the mantle, the ADF Fire, Well, and Tree, Moroccan candle lanterns, the ashes of my grandparents and pets, objects representing the different elements, offerings of nuts and fruit, etc, etc. It is a manifestation of a lifetime of acquisitions and considerations, and it looks damn sharp if I do say so myself.

The hearth shrine on Samhain, 2012

For this shrine, I wash and refill my Well, offer some sort of food item, light the main candles and incense, recite the basic verse from the ADF prayer, “The Fire, The Well, The Sacred Tree, flow and flame, and grow in me”. Then I try to meditate… or pray… or something. Usually, that something never comes. It’s very strange to me that I feel so much more in tune and in touch with my gods when I am not praying. It almost feels like that awkward moment when you go to kiss the person you have been courting forever, only to find you’ve been “friend-zoned”. The proverbial high-five left hanging.

Oddly, I don’t really have this problem when the moment is less of what you might call a “prayer” moment. Before each ritual, I like to take a few minutes alone to clear my mind and focus my energy. At these times, I can almost feel dozens of hands at my back, buoying me up like a big cosmic stage dive. I have had many moments where I have spontaneously felt the divine beside me and been guided. You would think prayer would be easy under those circumstances. Any attempt to translate my devotion or respect into actual language ends up feeling stiff and fake. Writing any liturgy for ritual makes me feel like someone at a Ren Faire jumping around yelping “HUZZAH!” It just never comes out dignified or, more importantly, truthful. In my mind the most comfortable way of communicating with the gods has always been in a very casual and conversational way. “Yo, Wodan, you rock, dude” may not sound impressive, but it feels genuine and sincere. Ultimately, isn’t this the goal? To have as sincere and real discourse as possible? Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions.

Interestingly enough, this was one of the things that drove me from Catholicism. Keep in mind, I was not raised in a devout household. My father is an atheist and my mother is sort-of quasi-pagan and married to a staunch Pagan. I was only Catholic because my family heritage was Catholic. Even as a child I knew I had very spiritual proclivities, but every time I tried to pray? Nada. Whenever we went to church? Zip. In Catholic school? Donut hole. For years I tried. It wasn’t that my experiences with Christianity were bad, they were just nonexistent. Complete flatline. As I grew, I had many spontaneous spiritual encounters that lead me to the path I am on now, but now I find myself staring the same issue in the face. I feel more often than not like I am trying to call the guy I met at the club last night and only getting voice mail. “Are you there? Sorry, I thought I heard someone pick up… oh well, if you get this message and you aren’t too busy give me a call. I really had fun hanging with you last night, so… you know… er, k, talktoyoulaterkthanxbye…”

So, I continue to light my candles, offer honey, and stand dumbly in front of the effigies, just waiting for that spark to come. In the meantime, the dreams of talking horses still come to me, signs and portents, minor prophecies fulfilled, and an awareness of that unknowable “something” when I least expect it. I guess I really can’t complain, I just wish the act of deliberate prayer was more fulfilling.


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