Breathe, Don’t Plead: An Idea of Prayer

Breathe, Don’t Plead: An Idea of Prayer


“Prayer, to me, is more about silence than words—or as Jefferies says—it’s about being ‘rapt in the fullness of the moment.’”

“Do trees pray?” This is a question I recently posed to my husband as we sat on our deck several days ago. The look on his face suggested my question made no sense. He even suggested I had been sitting in the sun too long. But I was serious. The idea of prayer is something with which I’ve struggled over the years, and I’ve often wondered if humans are the only creatures who pray.

If prayer involves words, then maybe prayer is limited to humans. But I’m not sure a prayer needs words. I was up early enough this morning to see the light of the full moon flooding our entire yard. Just appreciating that moment felt like a prayer. The tree next to the driveway seemed to be appreciating the moment as well. There were no words; everything was silent. Maybe silence itself is a prayer. Poet Mary Oliver seems to think so. In her poem “Praying,” Oliver tells us that praying is “a silence in which another voice may speak.”

Many people turn to prayer in times of worry and stress. The statement about no atheists in a foxhole comes to mind. When we find ourselves in situations of extreme danger or fear, we often turn to a higher power to save ourselves from harm; we plead for safety. And when faced with seemingly helpless situations, we turn to prayer for divine intervention. We may even try to bargain: “Dear God, if you get me out of this mess, I promise I’ll be a better person.”

My ups and downs with prayer have taken me to a different place. I no longer think of prayer as words. I still pause before each meal to reflect on the many blessings I enjoy in life—but I don’t use words. I try to build other “pauses” into my daily life as well. The pause gives me time to breathe, to be mindful, to check my inner compass for guidance on which path to take.

I learned a lot about prayer by reading The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies: “Go higher than a god, deeper than a prayer. Go straight to the sun, to the immense forces of the universe, to the Entity unknown.” Jefferies' advice to go deeper than a prayer, for me, means going beyond words, to enter a place where being present to the moon and the stars and every aspect of our lives is more important than trying to describe what I’m feeling or pleading for a change. Prayer, to me, is more about silence than words—or as Jefferies says—it’s about being “rapt in the fullness of the moment.”

I still ask, “Do trees pray?” From the trees themselves, I discern an answer. Trees do what trees do. For me, just breathing can be a prayer. While trees don’t technically breathe, they do inhale and exhale air. And the process makes it possible for all of us to breathe! That, I believe, is a beautiful form of prayer.

So, yes, I do believe that trees can pray—that is, if we think of prayer as being truly present to the life we have, rather than pleading for a life we want.

Read more on how to pray better.

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