Jeanette Rusk Sefcik: Even without religion, we need something like prayer

(AP Photo/Michel Euler) Priest Edouard Dacre-Wright, left, holds the processional cross as priest Marc Lambert speaks to a video camera during the Way of the Cross ceremony at the Saint Clotilde church in Paris, Friday, April 10, 2020. Way of the Cross ceremonies are common across majority Catholic in France, but not this year.

Nobody is going to church during this pandemic. But everybody is praying.

This brings me to the dilemma that I’d like to explore here. In our increasingly secular society, we need an alternative to religious words like “prayer” and “revelation.” Many of us have left religion, but we still have a need to connect to something greater than our conscious selves, even if we don’t know what that is. And we certainly are able to access “inspiration,” which is perhaps the secular equivalent of “revelation.”

We commune, meditate, yearn, beseech, plead, implore, pour out our hearts. And maybe it’s just to the universe. But it fulfills the same basic human need as a prayer to God. It’s an earnest and humble expression of thoughts and feelings.

I really like what I read that an atheist said: “I pray daily, but I don't know to whom.”

The more expansive definition of prayer is actually conveyed in a popular Mormon hymn: “Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.”

But, more commonly, in the religious context, prayer is a verbalized “request” or “supplication.” Religious prayer conjures an image of clasped hands, seemingly begging for something.

There is another kind of prayer which is more affirmative. My equivalent of praying happens when I am outside, and my communion is with a mysterious power I feel in nature. Call it “Great God Mother Nature.”

Maybe I’m just covering my bases. Mostly, I am giving thanks for good things in my life. I am expressing my earnest and intense thoughts of gratitude and harmony with the universe.

I believe in the power of positive thoughts, and when we put them out there, as in prayer or communion, they lead to action, whether by an individual or group.

I can’t really come up with one word, so I will have to put up with the discomfort I feel when religious people around me are saying “I’m praying for you,” for example, when someone is ill, and all I have is, “I hope you get better,” or, “You’re in my thoughts.”

Maybe I am being a bit deity-phobic, as “pray” has, in our secular society, taken on a non-religious meaning as well as its original religious meaning. For example, “But pray it never happens.” That’s like “hope.”

Now about that other deity-conjuring word “revelation.” I'm sure even among religious people there's a lot of variation in the experiences they describe as revelation. And, I submit that it can be difficult to distinguish from what we non-religious people call “inspiration.”

I guess if you see a God-like personage, then that’s a revelation. But how about when you’re walking or just basking in a natural setting, and great ideas come into your head, or you solve problems? It doesn’t come from God; in fact, it probably comes from your own subconscious. And you can put a religious spin on this explanation if you believe that it is God who made it possible for you to dream and think.

Anyway, it can surely feel like a revelation. And it makes you want to thank something out there (or in there) for the intuition.

Call it prayer and revelation — or communion and inspiration — the key elements in these pursuits are humility, awe, gratitude, seeking. When those forces are present, good actions are bound to follow.

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik, Glendale, is a retired newspaper reporter and editor, having worked at newspapers including the Tucson Citizen, Daily Spectrum in St. George, Southern Utah News in Kanab and Lake Powell Chronicle in Page, Ariz. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.