On Prayer: With Our Whole Minds
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
Ever had the feeling that your personal prayers were bouncing off the ceiling, if they even got that far?
I am sure most of us have at one time or another. There’s a reason for that feeling, rooted in the way our brains work.
Most of our conscious life and our everyday conversations with others happen while our brains are functioning at a relatively high dominant frequency, greater than 30 Hz (called Beta waves, or if over 40 Hz, Gamma waves). At this frequency, we tend to feel like we are communicating only with those we can see or who are in a relatively close range to us. We’re in a kind of “tunnel vision.”
This is great when you’re trying to solve problems, or work hands on with a team.
It’s less helpful when you’re seeking to address someone who is not visibly present or whose voice you cannot directly hear. Or when you’re trying to express the longings of your heart, unless at the time those longings are accompanied by a good deal of fear or anxiety.
At those brainwave frequencies, that may be about as far toward "longings" as you can get. While it’s not necessarily the case that your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling in such times, it might be that your brainwaves are!
So for us to feel our prayers moving “from the depths to the Depth,” we need to find ways for at least some part of our praying to arise from slower brain wave frequencies. Relaxation, meditation, and slow deep breathing for 15-20 minutes are all ways to slow down not only our bodies, but our brains. Freed from fear, anger, anxiety and the need for control that may be experienced at higher frequencies, the more relaxed brain (lower Beta and Alpha ranges, 10-25 Hz) is more open to awareness, encounter and listening.
Psalm 131 expresses prayer from this place perhaps better than any in the collection.
A Song of Ascents. By David.
131:1 Yahweh, my heart isn’t haughty, nor my eyes lofty;
nor do I concern myself with great matters,
or things too wonderful for me.
131:2 Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with his mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
131:3 Israel, hope in Yahweh,
from this time forth and forevermore.
(World English Bible. Public Domain)
We have been given brains that function at many frequencies, and we can pray at all of them. Remember that the next time your prayers seem to “hit the ceiling,” and take the time to still and quiet your soul -- and your brain!