Thursday, September 22, 2011

With Prayer, the Medium Is the Message

Marshall McLuhan.

A few years ago, and then for about a year or year-and-a-half, I sought to recite Jewish prayers every day. I would perform the prayers around waking up and getting ready to start the day. I would do the morning prayers, following my Chabad prayer book, or Siddur. I did afternoon and evening prayers as well.

Maintaining the dedication to pray daily, and over the course of the day, was difficult, but the practice was enjoyable enough. The content of the meditations was by and large unobjectionable, although those who are familiar with Jewish prayer know that some content can easily be construed as insular, bigoted, and nasty.

Self-reflection is a good thing. People should make time to quietly contemplate their genuine desires and priorities. People should review their behavior and their wishes to grow and improve as moral agents.

My point is that the general activities of prayer can be separated from gods and from religious prescriptions. One way to illustrate this separation is to view prayer activities across different religious traditions. As the videos below show, prayer most always involves the petitioner gathering her or himself as a humble, vulnerable human being. The activity sometimes involves a demonstration of submission or devotion. Often, prayer makes use of a script and/or a song.

These features all suggest the point of prayer is the act itself. The point is to use one's mind, body, and emotions in performance; the point is not really any god and it's not even the hope of being answered. Prayer, then, can be understood as McLuhan-esque, for the medium is the message.

To the videos....

An example of Jewish prayer, with prostration:

Zoroastrian prayer:

How to pray like Jesus:

Rationale behind Greek Orthodox Christian prayer, including "The Jesus Prayer":

Prayer in Islam:

Hindu prayer:

Buddhist prayer:

Jain prayer:

A Wiccan prayer:


  1. Anonymous1:26 AM

    Woops! Looks like the Wiccan prayer is just the Zoroastrian prayer repeated. Now I know that fundamentalist Christians wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two, but I have higher hopes for you, Larry!

  2. Whoops, indeed. I replaced the Wiccan prayer with a new one.

    Thanks for paying attention!

    I actually couldn't take more than a few seconds of the original Wiccan one. The sugary music was awful. But I offered it for my more masochistic readers, of which you appear to be one!


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