I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to totally “get” HBO’s The Young Pope. But something about the style and visual eye candy (and I don’t even mean Jude Law, I mean the gorgeous Italian sets within the Vatican gardens, etc) and probably my own desire to better explore and learn about the Catholic faith keeps me coming back to it. I’ve yet to watch that I haven’t needed to take a head-clearing walk outside just to mull over an episode.
Most recently, I finally learned how to pray thanks to the show. You read that correctly. I didn’t know what I was doing until I watched a television show on HBO. In my lifetime, I have received the sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, and marriage — and had my daughter Baptized. Not to mention that I have “prayed” hundreds of thousands of times over the course of my life, but I was doing it all wrong. Well, maybe not every single time, but in times of difficulty when I prayed for help, I was definitely doing it wrong.
My favorite yoga teacher, Rebecca Pacheko of Om Gal, always starts class with the setting of an intention for our practice. It’s such a simple mindfulness tool but really keeps me in the moment throughout a 75-minute class. When my mind wanders, I come back to the intention I set at the beginning of the night. Often it’s as simple as “keep space” (and might involve a mudra, which is a symbolic hand gesture reminiscent of clasping my hands in prayer now that I think about it), but the simple act of just setting the intention makes me feel like an active participant in something that can easily become a routine “thing you just do.”
I mention this because prayer was like that for me. I beam with pride each time my 2-year old extends her hands to my husband and I at dinner for a prayer of thanks and melt each time she lovingly gazes at us and exclaims, “Sam-i-ly!” [family. But aside from the whispers of thanks for a beautiful meal and time with that family, my prayers for a while have tended to be more along the lines of: Oh God, things are really bad right now. Please help. Followed by some auction-worthy- fast recitations of the Our Father and Hail Mary I’m embarrassed to admit.
On a recent episode of The Young Pope, the Pope teaches Esther how to pray. They kneel and she begins aloud. It reminds me of one of my own prayers. He gently interjects with what has forever changed my approach to prayer and probably my own relationship with my faith:
“…prayer shouldn’t be a list of requests… it should be an occasion for understanding. While we pray, we reflect. In the most elevated way we can. So that someone can whisper thoughts into our ears. We call that someone God.”
Esther quickly gets it and successfully prays, but this time, reflects. I won’t go so far as to say that she masters it because she hints that she wants to be unfaithful to her husband in her desperation to have a child, but I can share that since hearing the above guidance, my prayers remind me more and more of those intentions we would set at the beginning of yoga practice. Instead of lamenting whatever trial I’m in the middle of, like when Emilia suddenly wouldn’t sleep in her crib anymore, my prayers lean more along the lines of I’m trying to understand why. It’s a total paradigm shift that has made me far more… receptive. Because now that I’m actually reflecting on the challenges in my life instead of turning my face to the sky and wailing: HELP, in desperation, I can honestly say that ideas and answers and new perspectives and even just positivity just flow to me in ways I’d not experienced before.