If you are new to the concept, it can seem daunting. A long, fixed prayer that you say daily? What even is the point? Isn’t prayer supposed to be a reflection of your up-to-the-moment feelings about things? An outpouring from your heart? Where do we even find fixed prayers for a tradition? If we write them, will anyone bother using them?
Though it can take a lot of work to get started, these pieces of liturgy, which have been adopted by many religions around the world, are powerful and, I believe, an important tool to consider when building a devotional practice.
You Can’t Always Be Passionate
Do you find that there are some days when you just don’t feel anything in particular about your gods? It can feel like floundering. You stare at your altar, thinking, “I ought to do something.” You feel uninspired. You know some chants, but getting into an altered state of consciousness just feels too involved for right now. You’re mystical, but a real conversation would take both concentration and quiet, and that’s just not going to happen. So maybe you light some incense or half-heartedly pour out some vodka. And it all just feels sort of “meh.”
Imagine if you could take the energy and spiritual momentum from your inspired, passionate days, and stick some on a shelf for those days when you are just not feeling it. That is exactly what fixed liturgy can do you for you.
Each time you say a prayer, you are connecting to several things. You are connecting to the person who wrote it, and the state they were in when they wrote it. You are connecting to every moment you have said that prayer. You are also connecting to all of the other people who said, are saying, and will say that prayer. Each of these things: the composition, the moments you have spoken the prayer, and the other people speaking the prayer, are all done with the intention of connecting to the deity. You have access to all of the emotion, inspiration, and feelings of devotion connected to the words of that prayer. It can really help you to feel connected when you’re otherwise tapped out.
If you come to associate the words of the prayer with an expression of devotion, then saying the words of the prayer will call that up for you, and make you feel that. The longer the prayer, the longer you spend in that state.
Effort Is Worth Something
I’ll preface this with a caveat: plenty of Polytheists have deities that don’t care at all about human thoughts, feelings, or activities. This is very foreign to me and I don’t understand it. I have no idea how you even do a relationship with a deity like that, or what motivations for that kind of practice look like.
Greek deities care. They notice who you do work for. They notice how much work is being done. They even get competitive with one another about it. #HelleneProblems — But I bet Hellenic Deities are not alone in appreciating efforts made to honor and connect to them.
Assembling a prayer book for yourself, writing prayers, researching prayers, memorizing prayers and saying prayers are all things which require effort. That effort is being made for the purpose of honoring and connecting to the deity or deities. In my experience, it is something that they see and appreciate.
Repetition Can Be Personally Transformative
I get that some people think “daily affirmation” and dry heave a little. I actually understand that sentiment, even if I don’t share it. Some affirmations fall into the category of, “shit I viscerally disbelieve and refuse to sparkle-wash my life with.” My personal take is that if you tell the same lie often enough, you come to believe it.
When you are reminding yourself of things you actually believe in, and things that you value, it’s a completely different ballgame.
Consider why religions might have “a statement of faith.” It’s there to remind you of what is essential. As in, not whether the person next to you makes khernips the right way, or whether a person you meet is Recon enough for you, but what’s actually important in your own personal faith.
We know what we believe, by and large. Sometimes, however, we get angry reading something on the internet or flustered by someone making a side-point that is of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. If we were to repeat what we believe tomorrow morning, it would give focus to our day. If we did it every day, it would eventually emblazon itself into our minds, we would commit it to memory, and those words would be the first words to spring to mind when we asked ourselves, “Is this worth getting upset over?”
During those days when you are not wholly certain why you are working with a particular deity, a prayer wherein you remind yourself is useful. It can be an opportunity to re-commit to a deity, or to whatever principles you live by. And if you should hear those words coming out of your mouth and suddenly feel that they are wrong, you will know that it is time to re-evaluate your practice.
Maybe there are things that you think you believe or wish you believed. Prayer can be an opportunity to encounter those beliefs, too. And maybe, if your heart wants to believe them, and you encounter them enough, your head might just follow suit. Or perhaps your heart will follow your head’s lead, and you will stop wishing you believed it.
Consistency and Unity Make Our Prayers More Noteworthy — For Better or For Worse
Lift a 5lb weight once, and it won’t do much to build muscle. Do it twenty times, every day, over the course of a few months, and you might soon notice that you are able to do quite a bit more.
Tell someone, once, that you believe something. They will probably soon forget. Say it all the time, and it will start to become a part of who you are to the people around you.
Eat a salad every meal for one day. Your tummy will probably thank you for the better part of a week (unless you have a medical issue which makes eating a salad a bad idea), but it will be fleeting. Eat your greens every day, and you’ll see much more dramatic results.
Express your intentions in prayer once. Your deity will hear you, and you might start to see some motion. Express your feelings every day, but change your mind every day or two, and you may see even less in the way of results than if you only did it once. Say the exact same words and hold in mind the exact same intention for a few weeks? Now you are cooking with gas!
It should also go without saying that a message means more when spoken by many voices.
Deities have been dealing with humanity for a longer period of time than you are capable of imagining. Deities know that we say things in the heat of the moment that sound very earnest, but that we actually don’t mean. Deities know that we pray for things that we will later regret. Deities know that each individual human always thinks that they personally know what’s good for the whole world and that frequently, the human in question is incorrect. If it’s an everyday message, spoken by many people, it’s going to be taken more seriously. Though be careful.
Humans frequently pray for things that are unjust — having ten thousand humans praying for the same unjust thing isn’t going to change a deity’s mind. Prayers for vengeance against former community members, for example, are going to catch a deity’s attention, but probably not in the way you hope for. Nemesis may not always take your side in a dispute. Pray to Hermes for vengeance, and he will almost certainly play irritating pranks on you until you learn to emotionally self-manage. And don’t. No matter what you do. For the love of all that is holy. Don’t ask Hekate to help you hex someone. She has a bad side, and that is how you get on it. Praying for nasty things to happen to other people can cause Agos (a Greek term which means that the Eye-of-Sauron-ish attention of the gods) if you are dealing with the Greek pantheon. A single unjust person can fly under the radar. A community of unjust people generally does not.
If you do accidentally get on the bad side of a Greek deity, it’s generally not irreparable. You just need to figure out what injustice you committed, apologize to the deity and any wronged parties, and offer a tasty food item by burning it completely in a fire. Offerings which are burned completely in a fire are rare, and were generally reserved for this occasion in particular.
History and Connection
Think of someone whom you look up to. Imagine that you discovered that they actually practiced your tradition, and that they had a big book of prayers that they wrote for your deities. How utterly chuffed would you be? What if it wasn’t a historical figure you admired, but a beloved ancestor, a departed loved one, or a spiritual teacher who has passed away?
That is a gift which you can potentially give to your future students, beloveds and descendants. The poems you write, the prayers you pour your heart into, the words you are accustomed to say to your deities are important parts of your spiritual life, and, whether it seems this way or not, someone, some day, will find comfort and meaning by reading, or even saying, the prayers that you said.
Just as praying the same prayers as other people in your worship group connects you to people in the present, a written prayer book can connect us to the past and the future as well.