Praying without Praying

Image Source: Dominican Sisters of Peace

Can we pray without praying? Do we need words to pray? Can there be prayer without words? Meditation and contemplation are non-verbal prayers but are not free from thoughts that are linked to words. Prayer being a relationship with the divine, us and creation do not need words alone. It is love. Love is also non-verbal. Words cannot fully contain our love. No symbol can fully represent our love. Rose is inadequate to become a channel of love. Love succeeds to communicate love by failing. We give love without giving. Love belongs to the impossible. Real love does the impossible. This is because love does not belong to the order of the exchange of the market nor does it belongs to the force of the law. No law can force us to love neither we love only to give and to get. There is excess as well as a transgressive sides to love. Love exceeds all measures or benchmarks. The measure of real love is to love without measure. Love is intensively excessive. Love is also transgressive. It is not bound by law. It stands beyond the law.

In the same manner, prayer cannot be fixed to some words alone or to some rituals alone. Words, rituals are important but they do not fully constitute prayer. There is something more. This something more cannot be substituted by words or rituals. This is why one can pray without words or rituals as well as one may not pray with words and rituals. Prayer stands between and beyond words and rituals. There are excessive elements in prayer. They cannot be imprisoned in our words or rituals. Since prayer moves beyond words and rituals, there is a transgressive dimension to prayer. Like love, prayer seems to succeed by failing when it has no words nor rituals to back it. No law can make us pray. We may fix times, places and demographics of prayer but we cannot pray just because we have come together at a fixed time or place. Prayer cannot be simply generated by liturgical laws and traditions. This does not mean liturgical norms and traditions have nothing to do with prayer. Liturgy is not simply an empty ritual. It only means that prayer cannot be reduced to the liturgy.

There is more to prayer. This more is an excess that we cannot be fully articulated. This is the wordless and trans-ritual dimension of prayer. It constitutes our prayer. It being wordless, we can pray without praying. We do not always need words or rituals to pray. This is why we can think that our tears, hopes and anxieties are also prayers. We can pray with our tears, hopes and anxieties. Tears, hopes and anxieties speak without words. They speak without speaking. There is a language of tears, fears and hope. We can sense it and understand it. So do God. God knows us and loves us. This is why prayers with words, rituals, tears, hopes and anxieties are on the same side. We cannot put prayerful words and rituals against wordless prayers that are prayed through the alphabets of tears, hopes and anxieties against each other. They are two sides of the same coin. Like two sides of the same coin, they are not siding against each other. They do not stand against each other and are thus closed and exclude each other. They are inclusive and open and stand together. They stand for each other. The side of the words and rituals in prayer is on the side of wordless, tears, hopes and anxieties.

Tears, hopes and anxieties cannot just be seen as another language, we may also see them as another form of ritual too. This thinking may take us to a movement of transcendence that some of us might call post-prayer. Post-prayer is affirmative. It does not negate nor deny verbal as well as ritual prayers. It only extends its embrace by affirming non-verbal and tans-ritual prayers through modes of the intimacy of life like tears, fears and hopes. Hence, we do not think of prayer through an either/ or structure of our thought. We think of prayer affirmatively and inclusively. Either/ or logic leads us to think negatively and exclusively. We negate one pole of our thought and exclude it to affirm the other pole. Prayer cannot be one that affirms and negates at the same time. It cannot be simultaneously saying yes and no. Real prayer is yes all the time. It is the yes of God and the yes of humanity. There cannot be a shade of no nor there can be a duality of yes and no in prayer. Prayer is not monarchical and monological. It is dialogical. It is the yes of God and the Amen of humanity and the entire creation.

The creation prays by blooming and becoming fruitful. The mango tree prays by giving a mango. The coconut tree prays by giving coconut. The creation is saying yes to the creator and becoming a prayer. Creation becomes an amen to God. The creation manifests the signature of God as it prays. We, humans, pray by becoming fully human and fully alive. By being fully ourselves, we pray without praying because we allow God’s signature to shine in us and the entire creation. We praying by getting the best of ourselves and the creative order. This is why letting be is the best payer. It lets God be God, humans be humans, creation be creation. This prayer saves us from playing God and oppressing humans and exploiting creation. God, humans and creation can join together through prayer that says yes to each other.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao