Awaiting a midterm, I was sitting in my lecture hall freaking out. Of course I studied, but the nerves were getting to me, and I cycled through all the material in my head. I got so nervous that I decided to say a little prayer, hoping that my brain wouldn’t fail me on such an important day.
I looked around the room, and I wondered what was going on in the heads of the other students. Do my peers pray? And aside from scoring well on exams, how is prayer used on campus?
To get as many perspectives as possible, I asked various religious groups around the university, why do you participate in prayer? I received answers from members of Hillel (the student Judaic center), Davis Christian Fellowship, the UC Davis Meditation Club and the Islamic Center of Davis.
First, I asked a fourth-year why he likes to observe Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) at Hillel. In response, he said, “It’s like a form of centering myself and removing myself from the rest of the week, setting aside problems and anxieties.” For him, prayer was finding “a moment of peace.” In addition, the communal aspect of hanging out with friends and eating Shabbat dinner added to his experience. On the whole, respecting the tradition separates him from the worries of the week.
Second, I heard from a fifth-year psychology student and member of Davis Christian Fellowship. For him, prayer helps him focus on a righteous life. He responded, “As a Christian, I follow Christ and His life serves a model on how to live mine.” And to follow Christ’s model, he voiced, “I pray because it allows me to have a time to re-focus and I also come away with a perspective that sees things through the lens of God.” To emulate Jesus, prayer is a way to talk to “God,” and keep at the forefront his teachings.
Next, I listened to a member of our school’s meditation club. She said that she practices meditation to “untangle [herself] from the drama of everyday life.” For her, it’s a mindset, “keeping presence in the present” and putting one’s energies in the now. The nickname of the club is “Simply Being,” and for her, that summarized the freedom and truth she knows to recognize.
Lastly, I contacted the Islamic Center of Davis, and I corresponded with the recently retired Imam. For background information, he shared that “when Muslims say prayer, it is usually Salaa (structured prayer) that comes to mind, specifically, the five times a day required prayer.” He adds that, “the beauty of Salaa is that it comes from the Arabic root word ‘Sila,’ which means connection.” For Muslims, saying prayer at least five times a day is the “connection that we maintain with God.” And this practice is vital for the link with holiness, because “we, as people, generally tend to be distracted, busy and caught up in life to the point of losing focus or spirituality, or even becoming heedless of God and our purpose in life.” In his opinion, we often get distracted from our goals, and reconnecting to “true reality … is a source of rest, peace, love, clarity and guidance.” For him, “prayer is priceless.”
For all these individuals, it seems clear that their practices and beliefs hold great personal importance. Furthermore, it appears that prayer influences their frame of mind, coloring the meaning of existence.
But for those who don’t have a routine, what is a secular view on prayer?
One student said, “I can understand how prayer makes one appreciate life, but I think its repetitive nature makes [it] lose meaning.” Acknowledging that prayer works for some, he stated, “there are ways of accomplishing the effects of prayer for different individuals.” For instance, he says he habitually contemplates the priorities in life. But overall, he makes clear that “[he] try to reflect on the beauty of life all the time.” Whether listening to music, exercising through sport or enjoying the company of others, it can be accomplished in all settings if one has the intention.
Regardless of religious affiliation, it can be said that time could be well-spent focusing on what is important in one’s life, whatever it may be.
If you want to find the meaning of life with DANIEL HERMAN, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.