Sometimes I pray using other people's words. Sometimes I pray in silence. Sometimes prayer feels to me like the last resort, an act of throwing up my hands and saying, "You take over now!" Sometimes it feels like a cry of hunger or thirst. Rumi says, "Don't look for water. Be thirsty." Prayer is allowing ourselves to be thirsty; it is a longing for something we just cannot seem to find. The Sufis say that our longing for God is God's longing for us. In this way, prayer is like a conversation between friends separated across time and space.
One of the reasons I love prayer is that it is an antidote to guilt and blame. If we are unhappy with the way we have acted or been treated, instead of stewing in self-recrimination on the one hand, or harboring ill will toward someone else on the other, prayer gives us a way out of the circle of guilt and blame. We bring our painful feelings into the open and say, "I have done wrong," or "I have been wronged." And then we ask for a vaster view—one that contains within it all the forgiveness we need in order to move forward.
Sister Wendy Beckett, a marvelous Roman Catholic nun best known to the world from her books and television shows on art criticism, says this about prayer:
You can find prayers everywhere to help you move beyond "the pleasures of guilt," and to stimulate conversations with God—poetry and song, hymns and common prayers, your own language of longing. Here are some words taken from a variety of traditions that help me enter into a state of prayer.