The closest practice I have to prayer now is maybe more akin to meditation…but I don’t think those serious about meditation would concur.
I tend to quiet myself down, quiet the voices in my mind, try to detach from the details of my life and open my heart to love (I’m hoping it’s open to Love). It’s more listening than talking, but not listening for words. It’s pushing back the debris and noise of my life connecting with my own essential spirit and trying to align it with a higher, more loving, more mystical, more joyful, lighter, deeper, Most Beautiful Spirit.
If I’m troubled about something or asked to pray for someone else who is troubled I sit before God, Most Beautiful Spirit, and hold the situation, the feelings, the person, open. I try to hold it open with faith and sense the beauty and peace and comfort available. I try to see God in the situation. Sometimes I say words. If I do they’re very few. “Bring hope.” “Bring comfort.” “Let them feel your love.” “Lord have mercy.”
If the trouble is my own situation, or one that closely affects me, I sometimes tumble out a bunch of words. It feels like panic. It doesn’t feel like faith. It feels like digression. So I try again to be quiet, to sense God, to feel Love, to hold onto faith for goodness to prevail and if it doesn’t, for Comfort to come in the midst of grief.
Praying words in personal prayers feels manipulative to me these days. I lack so much confidence in my ability to know what would be good (“God help me get that job” etc) that any words I say to that effect ring hollow. It also feels more like incantation to believe that my words could steer events. I haven’t been able to reconcile praying for outcomes. I would if I felt incredibly compelled to do that. I’d say that’s happened a handful of times – at most.
Joining in corporate prayer is very intimate (it used to be we prayed with anyone and everyone). I have a very hard time in evangelical settings being open to praying with people. That’s when I most feel like my activities of communion with God are definitely not prayers at all, because what they are doing, I no longer do.
I admit that I feel much the same way. To say that I "pray" in the way most people mean the term sounds very alien to me. Of course, I have prayed in that way, and sometimes still do, but often for me to say that I am praying means something far more inchoate than the idea that I attempt to verbally express a set of thoughts directed toward God.
And really, I'm not sure that's what prayer needs to be. As I recently said to a friend, when I pray for something, it's as much an expression of my emotional or psychological state as it is a set of words that exist either in my mind or on my lips. I think that this is at least in part what Paul means when he talks about the Spirit interceding with "sighs too deep for words" -- that prayer sometimes, and perhaps sometimes at its most profound, takes us beyond the need to express ourselves in any verbal way, and simply allows us to lift our cares to God. To try to express what those cares are or what I want God to do with them does feel, as Tracie puts it, "manipulative."
At the same time, I do occasionally lead worship, and this does involve verbal forms of prayer, and when I pray in those settings, I do try and allow the Spirit to move through me verbally to express the cares of the congregation and allow us to lift all of our cares before God. So in that sense, I most certainly do pray in the traditional sense. But in my private prayer life, it is almost entirely a matter of just quietly meditating on the problems or the blessing that I carry, and without thought, seeking to express my need or my gratitude.
In the end, I agree strongly with Annie Lamont's comment that she really only has two kinds of prayer: "Thank you, thank you thank you!" and "Help, help, help!" So often, those seem to be the only prayers of which I'm capable, or which are required.