When sailing on life's stormy sea, 'mid billows of despair, 'tis solace to my soul to know God hears my secret prayer.
When thorns are strewn along my path, and foes my feet ensnare, my Savior to my aid will come, if sought in secret prayer.
May my heart be turned to pray, pray in secret day by day, that this boon to mortals giv'n may unite my soul with heav'n.
- Hans Henry Petersen, 1835-1909
I can't say it better than the words of that beautiful hymn. Prayer is the way we have been given to communicate with our God, our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ. It is, remarkably, a two-way conversation.
In my life, as part of my faith, religion, and especially as part of my relationship with a real, living God, I have many opportunities to pray. We have prayers of gratitude over meals; we say prayers as a family; we join faith with others in prayer at church or in other circumstances; and I get to have personal prayers to express my own concerns, needs, and gratitude. There is little formal structure to these prayers: as patterned after Christ's teachings, we pray to our Heavenly Father, then express the feelings of our hearts - gratitude, faith, desires, and needs, and finally we close in the name of Jesus Christ, who acts as our intercessor with the Father.
Personal prayers are some of the greatest blessings in my life, and as the hymn "Secret Prayer" so sweetly says, there is a special power in private, secret prayer. I want to share with you my favorite, most sacred form of secret prayer, and why it is so important; it is part of how I pray in the temple.
For my friends and family who have never attended the Mormon temple, let me give you some background information. (And please, use the links I'm giving in my words to learn more.) We, Mormons, build temples to be holy places to the Lord. In fact, in the stone of each temple is engraved "Holiness to the Lord." We build them and restrict who may enter NOT, as I recently read, because we believe we are superior to others, but because we believe God is superior and that He deserves the very best we can give, the very best we can build, and the very best we can be. Thus, our temples are built with the finest materials and craftsmanship that we can possibly give. We do not reveal the cost of these temples because it is not something to brag about - it is an offering to our God, and all God cares about is that we give Him our best. In the same spirit, the reason we require people to honor and follow certain commandments and laws of God in order to enter His house is because we honor Him, and to be in His presence, we must offer the very best we can be. We are not perfect, but we are striving to be our best.
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We hold our temple worship sacred, however, and so restrict how casually we talk about it so as to retain a spirit of reverence regarding God's temples. We will not lie to you about what we do in our temples. On the contrary, we are anxious to tell you about our religion, the crown of which is our temples and the sacred ordinances and teachings there. There we learn of God's plan for us, which has existed since before the world was created and which is designed to bring us eternal happiness and salvation. There we bind marriages and families together for eternity by the authority and priesthood of God.
There is a point when we pray in the temple. At this point, the women are asked to use their veils to cover their faces. At first, I thought this was old-fashioned and sexist, like asking women to hide. And I confess, I don't fully understand the symbolism of this. One of the beautiful things about symbolism in the temple is that, much like the scriptures, it is simple and unchanging but we are left to interpret it as needed in our own lives and in different circumstances.
Finally, we get to my point. Here is what the gesture has come to symbolize for me. When I pull that veil over my face, even though it is so sheer I see through it clearly, it becomes a literal barrier between me and everything and everyone else but God. Inside that personal space, the only things that exist, the things that are allowed to matter are my private self and God. Just me and God. In theory, every time I pray that is the case, but there is something in that physical action that makes it feel so much more real. Yes, I am "hidden" from others, but that is exactly what I want to be when I am silently baring the most vulnerable parts of my soul to God. The other beautiful part is that God is in there with me, with only me. That is what "secret prayer" means to me. I wish I could feel that always.
I am no expert on other religions. I have not taken the time or opportunity to study other religions thoroughly, but it is a goal of mine (maybe when I leave the toddler-stage of parenthood). But there are several other religions where people cover their heads and/or faces to pray. I can only assume they feel a similar purpose in the gesture. Old-fashioned? Maybe. But how beautiful and how sacred a gesture!
Prayer is special. It is sacred. Let's make it, in whatever way we deem appropriate, more sacred, secret prayer.
"May my heart be turned to pray, pray in secret day by day, that this boon to mortals giv'n may unite my soul with heav'n."
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You can also chat directly with me. I would love to tell you more about my faith.