I am an atheist. And I pray.
I recognized some time ago, long after I’d finally admitted out loud to the world that I neither believe in the existence of nor worship any personal Supreme Beings of any sort, that the one thing I missed about my religious upbringing was prayer. Why? I’ve struggled with this for a long time. It is too bound up in the usage and meanings of others. I’ve had to pick this thing apart piece by piece, knowing that if I could first identify and articulate what I meant by prayer, maybe then I would understand why I, an atheist, need it.
A significant part of this journey was reconciling, in both my inner and outer worlds, that I believe in things that may not fit most people’s definition of atheist. I am an animatheist. Animist and atheist. Suffice it to say that while I don’t worship any gods, I am deeply steeped in the spirit, and my life reflects that. We can get into this some other time. Preferably around a fire with a good hard cider. We will talk about strange phenomena, lucid dreaming, plant energy, daoist witchcraft, folk magic, hylozoism, Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus, and the delightful and dark world of the subconscious. I promise, it will be fun.
And so here we are at the point where I tell you what prayer is to me. Prayer is a sort of meditation, one that works for people, like me, whose monkey minds cannot abide staring at walls with their eyes half closed, silent and still. The words of a prayer recited or chanted calm the monkey and unlock the stillness within. Prayer is a key. Prayer is also a gateway. By using an external mechanism, a symbol, such as prayer beads, in conjunction with the often poetic or heartfelt language of the prayer, the conscious is bypassed and the subconscious is tapped. Through prayer, we tuck our rational, linear conscious mind into our back pocket for a while and allow the subconscious to take over and to guide us, to speak freely from the deepest parts of ourselves. Prayer is a lens. It allows us to focus our intention and will. Through prayer we identify problems and ask our deeper selves for solutions. Prayer is a ritual reminder to be mindful, to be thankful, to be good, to be aware, to be better. Prayer is an acceptance of our humble state in this universe. Through prayer we acknowledge that we are not in control of all the things, and at the same time we acknowledge our connection to all the things and our responsibility to do what we can. Through prayer we practice and reinforce learning how to ease up and go with the flow. Finally, prayer is the yin to the yang of Action. Prayer is reflective and restorative. It allows us to still our thoughts, heal our spirits, focus our intentions, and gather our potential energy so that we may then go into the world and act with wisdom and kindness and understanding. Prayer helps us get our heads on straight, to get right with ourselves. So, even though I do not pray to any gods, I pray for these reasons.
I wanted to make prayer beads specifically because I wanted something to hold in my hands—not only to help me focus, but also as a reminder that Prayer and Action go together. That the same hands that pray for something must then go make it so. And so I made what I very tongue-in-cheek call my “witch’s rosary”. In reality, as witch is not exactly a title I claim, it is simply my chantstrand.The beadwork was set to a prayer of sorts that I’d written a long time ago and is not symmetrical. It is made of handpicked white Job’s Tears and polished copper ore on red thread. There are more in the works, by request and also to be set to other prayers and chants. I think writing one’s own prayers can be very liberating and healing and can bring a great deal of clarity and solidity to one’s practice.
Many blessings to you all as you find your spiritual center. Remember that you can carve that out for yourself.