Common Mistakes and Other Advice:
- Don’t make your prayer too long (particularly if other people have to listen to it)
- Don’t use exclusive language (I mentioned language in the 1st part of this, but its worth looking at again)
- If your prayer is part of a larger service or ritual, make sure it fits the theme! Nothing worse than writing a prayer about the wrong thing…unless its reading it to a couple dozen people
- Use simple language that evokes a particular image
- Stick with a single extended metaphor and make you wording fit that narrative
- Some repetition is good, too much is annoying
- Keep it simple, and remember who its written for (prayers are after all for gods, before they are for people)
- Read it aloud to yourself, written prayers should sound good too!
- If you get stuck, go prayer or poem hunting online for inspiration on your topic
So…when we have all sorts of historical prayers, why bother to write your own?
Because prayer is a conversation with the divine, and conversation from a couple thousand years ago isn’t always relevant to the problems of today. Sometimes they are, and in those cases, use them! There is a power in repeating words that have bridged from antiquity and survived the trials of time. But sometimes, they aren’t applicable–in their entirety…so adapt them! In fact, sometimes modern prayers from other religions might be perfectly applicable in terms of what they are praying for, just not who they are praying to…they can be adapted too. An example of both is my Prayer for Clean Air, which uses a historical phrase and heavily adapts parts from an originally Christian prayer.
Or…why not just go free-form and improvisational?
Because prayer is a conversation with the divine, we should want to make it as powerful as it can be, and IMO, we should share powerful words for those that share a powerful vision. The word that is repeated is believed, and the word that is believed is lived–the more people that repeat words of power, the more people that are living them. The more people that share that power, more more likely we are to manifest it. Free-form and improvisational prayers are awesome and they can be very powerful–but they are powerful in the short term and they are limited to the people that are there. A written prayer travels better, and longer, and can be visited in a way that a poem that arises in the moment cannot (unless maybe its recorded and put on youtube…but even then, improv prayers are constructs of the moment).
Why should anyone go to all this work, if prayer is just a conversation with the divine?
Because its a conversation with the divine! Would you mom rather have a phone call or a card on Mother’s Day? Don’t you wear nice clothes to a job interview? Take a housewarming gift to a housewarming party for your best friend? If you are speaking with the divine for a formal purpose, shouldn’t it be with your best words? When you want to talk about something important, writing it down is generally a helpful thing to do. And…if its a public conversation as part of a ritual with others, shouldn’t it be in a way that moves your audience as well?