Empty prayers in old buildings

I love to go out into the city, to be among the people (while I’ve been suffering of agoraphobia!), to strike up random conversations, to observe the world and life around me and to soak up some vitamin D (the best anti-depressant there is). As an archaeologist and art-lover, I like to visit old buildings and explore the hidden places and architecture of the city.

I often study Buddhist literature in my favourite coffee house, which happens to serve the best coffee in the Netherlands. I was sitting there some time ago, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book ‘Prayer.’ It deals with the value of prayer in the modern world. Afterward, I decided to visit the old basilica across the square for some meditation and prayer of my own. A place like the basilica is not only a beautiful building, it is also a safe haven, a place of peace and contemplation in the middle of a busy city. I have written about these places in a previous entry.

Anyway, I went there for quiet meditation, but when I entered the cavernous building I saw that a small prayer service was being held. I knelt down in the pews, accompanied by six others, all elderly men and women (people my age don’t generally visit churches here anymore, which is quite a shame). They started praying and unfortinately, as is often the case nowadays, they did not pray or even contemplate. They just started droning the words of prayer in rapid succession. It was as if they were making a challenge out of it in which they should finish their prayer as fast as possible. This is the kind of ‘prayer’ I see very often. There is no meditation, no mindfulness, just the repeating of words. Wasn’t it Jesus Christ who stated: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:  for they think that bthey shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew, chapter 6, verse 7).

I am currently sitting at the coffee house again and I’m reading a book on Catholic Catechismus from my birthyear, 1987. It’s an older book, but it’s remarkably progressive, exploring the common and universal truths of all religions. When reading the chapter about prayer, it stated that prayer is a form of ‘answering belief’ by confronting ourselves with our mind. It confronts us with our own perishability, desires and thoughts. It is a form of mindfulness and reflection. When we turn our hope toward God in our prayers, we beseech him to help us. Since we are all parts of the divine element or idea we call ‘God’, we are actually asking ourselves for help, we are looking for answers within our oen mind. The book on Catechismus also stresses this. This also holds true in Buddhist psychology and religion as a whole.

Our words are our main way of expression as Homo sapiens and words can be very powerful. So don’t let your prayers be empty words in old buildings, instead let them be moments of contemplating awareness and mindfulness. Contemplate on the words and turn them into words of power. This way, prayers will complement your life and hold true answers to questions. There’s a deep, interconnected meaning in those words! Don’t wait for answers, look for them within yourself and in your words. God or the divine aspect, according to the books I read, meets us in the world around us, especially through other people. In that respect, we can recognise the divine in each other! This teaches us that the ‘Namaste’ greeting, really is a recognition of the divine aspect in our similar soul, whether we meet people in the streets or online. Just speak and write, communication is the key to everything and prayer is, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, communication with the absolute, a ‘universal world-wide buzzing’ that connects everything in the world.


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