Most people think of prayer as words, usually words addressed to God.
Others understand it as a listening silence—a
space opened within us that connects us to a deeper way of being.
Within my faith tradition, we say “service be our prayer,” for we aspire to a spiritual practice that is expressed in acts of service at least as often as words or rituals.
Our call as spiritually
mindful people is to engage our hands in building a more just and compassionate world.
For the only hands that God has are ours. Ours are the hands that feed a child, that embrace the grieving, that give shape to community.
All religions emphasize compassion and a concern that goes beyond our own narrow personal interests.
Jesus of Nazareth taught that it was not saying, “Lord, Lord” but giving care to the less fortunate that mattered at the end of the day.
The Bodhisattva vow is to work for the end of suffering until all sentient being are freed.
Jewish prophets challenged secular powers that did not take seriously their duty to the well-being of the less fortunate.
One of the five pillars of Islam is giving a portion of one’s worldly goods to the poor.
Only when undertaken with humility and mindfulness is service truly a form of prayer.
I am reminded of a woman coming out of a $100-a -icket charity ball, where she had danced all evening with a variety of charming partners. As she reached the sidewalk, a gaunt young man on crutches approached her, asking for a dollar to buy a cup of coffee. She drew away, protesting angrily, “How dare you? Aren’t you people ever satisfied? I just spent the whole night dancing for you!”
To say “service is our prayer” means that we serve in awareness that we are interconnected with all beings. It means that being of use can transform us —can give our lives a context of meaning to anchor us in a chaotic world.
It takes us beyond the drama of our small, intense lives into a more spacious, less self-centered and therefore more serene reality.
We can be of service to our families, to faith communities and other associations, to our local community or the community of humankind – to all beings—to the earth itself. There are actually studies showing that doing regular volunteer work dramatically increases life expectancy. No, I didn’t make that up!
Service as a spiritual path is profoundly relational. When we gather in spiritual or other service-oriented communities, we enrich our own lives and are be strengthened in our ability to be a blessing to the world.
Articulating a vision
and working towards it with others can be a source of great creative energy, empowerment and hope. People in our world are yearning for hope. Can folks of all faiths work together for a shared vision of mutual respect, a just and compassionate society and a sustainable planet, rather than focusing upon our differences?
If we can do that, and if we take seriously the call to be of service echoed by so many spiritual teachers through the centuries, there is a realistic basis for hope.
Recognizng service as a spiritual discipline, we can see it as a form of prayer — an activity that connects us to deep roots of wholeness, meaning and creativity within and among us. An activity that flows from and strengthens our sense of interrelatedness with all beings. An activity that grounds and anchors us and gives life purpose even when our own small worlds might be falling apart.