As children, Christians learn to pray using words. To make it easier, some of the prayers even come in rhymes. In churches, ministers and priests also pray using words, often to direct and control the thoughts of congregations and publicly negotiate with God. These prayers can happen in free form as well as through liturgy. Spoken prayers have a place, but there is a continuum of consciousness with prayer.
Praying to God using words instead of listening for God in silence is a little like someone having the opportunity to meet the most important person in the world and then not letting her say anything. Where the religious exert dominance when they pray, spiritual people will favor contemplative prayer that is more like mindfulness meditation. They listen and watch instead of talk and direct.
Jesus called those praying publicly in the synagogues hypocrites. He taught that instead,
When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.(35)
Meditation is growing rapidly among Christians. According to the 2018 Religious Landscape Study, many Christians, including 49% of Evangelical Protestants, 40% of Catholics, and 55% of members of the historically black Protestant tradition, say they meditate once a week or more. Among those who said they prayed at least weekly, 50% said they meditated regularly.
Prayerful meditation is an important part of a conscious Christian practice. Our unconscious minds are like muddy ponds that are all stirred up, and when they become still, the mud can settle, and the water can become clear. One of the joys of prayerful meditation is realizing that we are not our thoughts. We don’t need to try to influence the outcome but simply be present. Rather than clinging to our thoughts, we can lovingly watch them come and go. Spiritually, through emptying the clutter in our minds, we can connect to our direct experience.
Even though Christians learn to pray by talking, it’s more spiritual and wiser to transcend this. When we don’t pray through words like children, we can become more conscious, and more fully engage in the present moment with greater love and gratitude.
35. Matt. 6:6–8, NIV