‘Mantra’ is a big word we’ve borrowed from the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. In these original traditions, a mantra was a word or sound that people uttered over and over in order as an aid in meditation. And, in Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is an essential faith practice.
I am neither Buddhist or Hindu. I’m Lutheran (and I’m a pastor). Prayer, for me, works best when it’s a mantra. A prayer that repeats words, and builds its own melody and rhythym… that’s my favorite sort of prayer. That sort of prayer works its way into my heart- its easiest for my brain to grasp- and its repetition leaves a mark on my soul.
My habit of praying mantra-style is probably weird. 😉 My congregation only ever sees me praying prayers that are like a one-sided dialogue; they’re either pre-written prayers or impromptu leadership prayers in worship or at meetings. I had to learn how to pray like that and it has taken years to calm the butterflies that inevitably take off in my stomach right before I stand up to lead a prayer.
I spent four years in seminary and never had even one class session on prayer. Prayer is a mystery to me… and when I walk through the book shelves at any book store, I realize that prayer must be a mystery to most people: there are a LOT of books published about praying.
I know people who pray silently, with their hands folded. I know people who pray long prayers, out loud, in public. I know people who pray while they run. I have friends who pray when they drive. My dad prays whenever he sees an ambulance or fire truck with sirens blaring. I know families who pray at the dinner table. I know pastors who love reading and teaching about prayer. I never buy those books about prayer sitting so nicely in the book shops. And, I don’t often pray in the regular ways that people would expect a pastor to pray.
I pray through music. Music gets me praying because music is only one quick step away from being like a mantra. Nothing makes me happier than when I discover a few lyrics in a song (usually on the Current) that could be my heart’s mantra. When I pray musical mantras my thoughts fade away, my inhibitions are calmed, my word choice doesn’t matter. I can just be in a state of prayer… and the musical accompaniment lifts my soul.
If you’d like to try it out, here are some musical-mantra-type-prayers I’ve found and loved: “ordinary love” (by u2), “and grace will lead me home” (from amazing grace), “the sounds of silence” (by paul simon), “shine, unsingable name, over everything” (by mike doughty), “God is around you and all that’s about you shines with the light” (by mason Jennings).