Mindful Prayer and Speech

Long ago, I learned to listen and reflect on the words I said.  At the time, my teacher was speaking about saying prayer mindfully, instead of rattling off words in an unconscious stream.  This was a lesson that stayed with me through the years, not only for prayer, but also for speech, in general.  When we are mindful of the words we are using, then we are more capable of saying exactly what we mean.

To illustrate, let us look at the words to the Serenity Prayer written by the theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. An acquaintance once mentioned that they loved this prayer.  I asked why.  They were unable to articulate what it was about the prayer that resonated with them.  Many people know this prayer by heart; however, they have never reflected on the exact meaning of the words.

The prayer is:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

A multi-volume Latin dictionary (Egidio Forcel...Image via Wikipedia
First, this is a petition to the Almighty.  We are asking for help, but not just any type of help.  We are asking specifically for serenity.  

Webster tells us that "serenity" comes from the Latin word 'serenitas' meaning, "...a state or quality of being calm, tranquil or peaceful."  We, therefore, are asking for peace.

As we continue the prayer, we note that there are three sub-petitions, if you will, that go along with the prayer for serenity.  First, we want to be able to accept the things we cannot change.  This is not an easy achievement. Especially since,  society expects us to be in control.
Acceptance is a practiced discipline. As in most things, the more you practice the better you get. The more we accept the unchangeable, the easier it is to let go of those situations.

Second, we ask for courage to change what we can.  Don't say these words lightly!  In saying this part of the prayer, you are making a commitment to DO something.  You are saying that when things get nuts or unbalanced, and you can change them, you will.  This takes courage, which is what we need to face adversity, pain, and difficulty without fear. 

Finally, we ask in this prayer to be able to tell the difference between what we can change and what we cannot. Discernment is another practiced discipline.  Few, if any, have been born with the ability to discern.  Most of us learn this through trial and error.  We try something. Oops! It doesn't work, so we try something different.  Eventually, when faced with decisions, we are able to take what we have learned both through experience and through accumulated knowledge and figure out the best course of action.

Prayer Flags over Meditation Pond
Peace Pagoda - Leverett, MA

By being mindful of our prayers, no matter how rote they have become,  no matter what path of faith we follow, we begin the practice of being mindful in our speech. As with any contemplative practice, being mindful grows with the practice until, we need not think about being mindful, we simply are.



Unknown said…
Linda, I think you wrote this for me. I have been saying this prayer almost everyday for the past year and I thought I knew it well "the more we accept the unchangeable the easier it is to let go." This really resonates with me Your insights are a gift for me when I need it the most it is found.
Your words are comforting ....
Love you,
Love you, too, sweet Mare! I am joy-filled that this post touched you and gave you comfort.

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