The Energy for Prayer: Formal vs Informal

The past week has been a blur. Although I didn’t have much on, I was constantly exhausted from chronic pain and it disturbed most my sleep. As a Shintoist, I usually pray at the kamidana at least once a day, usually in the mornings. This week I found myself forgetting to on two days and unable to even stand up for more than a minute or so on others.

If you don’t know, Shinto prayer is usually very formal and done in front of a kamidana (or local shrine of course). It is customary to be fully washed and dressed before praying – this means brushing teeth, having a bath or shower and then getting dressed as if you were to go out for the day. Directly before praying, you should also wash your hands and rinse out your mouth. The norito are usually recited from books or paper scrolls, or by heart if the worshiper knows them. They are also read in Japanese in a type of chant.

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Japanese instructions on how to pray at a kamidana (‘God Shelf’) Image credit

As someone with chronic illness, I do not always have the energy for this full process, as discussed further in my previous post here. I feel bad about it often, and I’m sure if I really pushed myself I could manage to stand up and recite the norito. When I do this I often skip lines, lose my place or find myself repeating myself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I feel that forcing oneself to pray – that’s not sincerity. The prayers are not coming from my heart, there is no power behind those words if I am merely reciting the text from my prayer book. Although I very much want to have a set prayer and worship schedule I find it impossible most of the time with the constant demands on my energy reserve, my ‘spoons’ if you will.

So now I am wondering, is it better for me to recite norito every day on schedule in an almost robotic way, feeling like I have to? Or should I pray with my heart and soul, even if it means only two or three times a week?

Recently, Loki came into my life and I feel that I can pray to him anytime, that he is happy with simply being acknowledged. Of course Loki loves offerings and rituals but he is not upset if I do not pray to him daily. He seems happy enough that I have welcomed him into my life and take his advice into consideration. Of course Inari is not angry either if I do not pray daily to her, neither are the other kami I enshrine. If anything, they seem indifferent. I still receive their blessings on a daily basis so I do not feel this affects them much – plus I believe that kami have a different concept of time to us mortals.

So I ask myself – who am I really trying to please? I realized it’s not myself, nor the Gods. Instead, it’s the Shinto community. I feel that ‘if so-and-so can get up at the crack of dawn every day and perform norito, make offerings and whatever else then so can I‘. It’s common to see someone query something on one of the English Shinto facebook groups, only to have a backlash from ‘higher ups’ in the community. (Of course not all groups are like this!)

This is not the Shinto I am drawn to. I have never been to Japan, I have never been to a Shinto shrine of any sort – of course I would love to but money dictates that wish right now. There seems to be an opinion that if you can’t pray every day, you are not a ‘real’ Shintoist. Again, I know that not all people feel this way but it’s something that makes me feel guilty.

Instead of formal norito I can always do other acts of worship such as artwork, research, tarot, playing music associated with that kami and other things. I feel that formal praying without a sincere heart is something I don’t feel comfortable with. Sometimes praying takes a huge amount of energy for me and I don’t feel any better afterwards than how I did in the first place. This is not what prayer should be. Prayer should be empowering, an act of gratitude and love.Ā 

So in my opinion, prayer doesn’t have to be formal – of course within Shinto it is seen as a sign of respect and praying and making offerings formally should be a priority, but when you can’t then informal prayer is acceptable.

Some of my most powerful blessings have been received after a ‘chat’ with Inari, rather than norito. I have received amazing advice in meditation in my inner grove which contains a small Shinto shrine. I have also found solutions to problems in tarot whilst asking Inari to pick the cards. Inari and other kami have also appeared in my dreams with advice and always call me back if I stray too far away from my faith.

Speaking of faith, I have faith in the Gods to continue with their blessings even if I don’t pray constantly. If I feel I won’t receive blessings when not praying, that shows that I am not trusting them. And of course I trust them over everything.

Finally, not everyone who is Shinto even has a kamidana. They still receive blessings daily and still revere the kami. By simply taking notice of Great Nature we can communicate with the kami and the Gods.Ā 

So I guess the message I am trying to convey in this rather muddled up post is – don’t worry if you cannot pray formally every day. Don’t feel guilty for it, or that you are not a ‘real’ Shintoist. Not all of us have the energy to do this, but the kami love us as we are.

So long as you respect nature and the kami, you are Shintoist. Remember that sincerity is one of the most important values of Shinto and do everything you can by that value.

I’d love to hear about your experiences too, readers! Do you pray and make offerings every day? Or do you perhaps pray only once on a full moon, or on sabbats? I’m always interested in other people’s practices, Shinto or otherwise. Feel free to comment below!

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5 thoughts on “The Energy for Prayer: Formal vs Informal

  1. Totally agree. I often just sit in front of my altar, thank Them for all they’ve done for me, and talk to Them. It’s yielded deeper connections with Them, and I’ve also received many blessings when simply asking for help or even after making up a poem for Them.
    Some people have a need for everything to be done ‘properly’ and enforce it on others, and while respect is due I can honestly say I’ve connected best to my Beloveds in an informal manner. Like you I chat to Them or ask Them to pull cards. I also sometimes ask for guidance through articles or posts that come to my attention, or as signs in the ‘outside’ world.
    When I’m unable to get out of bed I send up my prayers in bed. As long as they come from the heart my Beloveds really don’t seem to mind. In fact, it means I spend more time honouring Them by not doing things more formally because I can be spontaneous. Like you I have to be aware of how many spoons I use – spoons can be used up mentally too. So I prefer to speak from the heart, and it hasn’t had any adverse effects so far. Quite the opposite.
    Thank you for sharing, wishing you well.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I know what you mean, I love sitting in front of the altar by candlelight or even just in bed and thanking them for things. Just simple gratitude for everyday things, rather than elaborate ceremonies.

      And I’m glad someone else understands that spoons can be mental too – I run out of them fairly fast too! Gods forbid if someone calls me in the morning on the phone, that drains me for the entire day.

      I do feel that saying prayers and thanks from the heart is the most important aspect of any faith though sometimes I do get swept up in doing things ‘correctly’. It’s at these times where I feel that praying from the heart would do me better because I begin to feel stale.

      • Oh yes, mental allocation of spoons… it’s about self-care as well, but it can be difficult to explain it to others, especially those we care about.
        I find praying from the heart a big thing for me too. Sometimes we just want to talk to Them in our own way.

  2. I do a lot of informal prayer, for the same reasons as you guys – I’m tired! And, like you, I find that being prayed to and acknowledged is what They want. I have two short prayers I *will* do every day, even if they’re said in an exhausted blur, because that’s my way of saying ‘I will make time to thank You no matter what’. Not sure if They really care about that or if it’s just my stubbornness though lol. But full on, teeth-washed and fully dressed ritual prayer? Seriously, forget it. This morning I prayed in my pjs with hair I haven’t brushed for two days, and that’s not even unusual šŸ˜… I always plan to make a real effort on Everyone’s yearly ‘day’, but I’m not massively good at formality…and when I try, I often get the impression I’m being laughed at šŸ˜’

    • I think the fully dressed aspect in Shinto is partially due to the emphasis in the faith on cleanliness (spiritually and physically) as it’s believed messiness attracts kegare – impure energy. So obviously I want to respect this core aspect of the faith, but with Loki, Cernunnos and others, I get the feeling that they don’t particularly care too! They certainly feel like more ‘casual’ deities when it comes to talking to them!

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