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Prayer and Meditation: What is the Difference?

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

prayer vs meditation Lina Clair

Are there rules to praying? Sure, but who makes them? Same for meditation. Were you taught them by your religious upbringing? Or a practice you chose as an adult? Do you free form in prayer or meditation? Do you default to a traditional prayer learned long ago? Have you found a spiritual teacher or read materials? Is there a regular ritual or thought process you have created that you may be are over looking that is actually your own spiritual care routine? Like time in nature, journaling, lighting a candle, having tea, and having quiet time to reflect. There are rules, and rules to contradict those rules, and those rules! And then we have situations like the Pope and the Dali Lama canceling each other out: One faith says there is no such thing as reincarnation, the other says they exist by reincarnation. Where does that leave the rest of us who think about such things? Of all my studying of world religions, I have not found one right way to pray or meditate, although many will say they have THE WAY. They often have common elements though. Have you noticed? Think on these things and see if you would agree, add things, change things:

Love, Gratitude, Humbleness, Petition, Responsibility, Focus, Dedication, Commitment, Relationship, Community, Self-care, Kindness, Compassion, Service, Joy. Maybe Ritual and/or Routine, which ,ay or may not be the same. There can even be a lifestyle to prayer and meditation. Walking, breathing prayer and meditation. Carrying your prayer / meditation with you.

Prayer and meditation are related but not the same. Meditation, done alone or in a group, is developing a deeper relationship within as an environment, and to others, people, nature, creatures, weather, as interwoven, and in this way, like prayer it can also be more external, connecting us with something vast. It is contemplative, and potentially unifying with ourselves, environments, a consciousness, and so on. Prayer has a meditative quality, but it's always a conversation, always part of an intimate but external relationship. It can even be more of a petition - an asking. Chanting a mantra for a particular purpose may seem like a petition prayer, but it is different in that we are connecting with, becoming part of, a universal consciousness of collective energy, of a concept and state of beingness we would like to cultivate and even share or expand. There's a recognition of a cycle within the connectedness of all, what we contribute and experience, where as a petition prayer is an asking of a being to intercede on our or another's behalf for an outcome, like the Lord's Prayer, or a prayer to a saint. Prayer relationship is a release into a consciousness, a faith of belonging, and not a diminishment of any kind of self-responsibility, because there are behaviors expected, but rather an ideology and practice of full acceptance into the span of ability that supersedes humanity alone. Once we wrap around that, the dogma of whatever we've been instructed become more personal, our relationship, a dialogue. We can own prayer as an intimacy, even if it's a structured one we've been taught to repeat. It can still be ours, much like a mantra in a meditation practice.

WE CHOOSE. We define and decide, contemplate, and practice. We also decide if it is a fluid or rigid practice. We ask ourselves, are we as a being by design changing or evolving? How do we keep our practice up to date and meaningful?

We can step into the "Adulthood of Our Spirituality" which is a phrase I have come to use when talking with people about becoming more present and evaluating their spiritual and emotional needs. We look at their relationships with others, archetypes and expectations, and understanding their own actions or disappointments as they work within relationship dynamics. I think it's something to mention here because there are many reasons one might bring prayer and/or meditation into their lives if it has been missing for a while, or never there before and it's important to update yourself with a little grace and presence. Grace about the expectations we carry, any bias we may hold, and even any attachments or ideals from the past. Presence as we recognize we start where we are. By the way, I hear sooo many people wish they could meditate and feel like it is out of reach, but I believe we can reframe the understanding of what it is and the many ways it can be a part of life, just like prayer. And if a practice has been there all along, doing a little update once in a while to check in and keep up with our own growth, needs, interpretations and place for it is always good spiritual hygiene so we're not on autopilot. These are some things spiritual direction can be of help with.

When looking through the Adulthood of Spirituality lens, we can ask ourselves:

  • Why now? What is it I believe a practice will do for me?

  • If it's a conversation, it's a conversation with whom or what? Where do I place in this conversation? Will it comfort me, support me, strengthen me, connect me, provide something for me, heal me, ...?

  • Prayer and meditation are different types of relationships. What sort of spiritual relationship and connection am I wanting to create, develop, enhance, complement, etc.?

  • Why? What do I offer this relationship and what does it offer me?

  • What of prayer are we drawn to, when and why? What of mediation are we drawn to, when, and why?

These types of questions may lead to other questions and can help understand where we are in current day, we can understand what prayer or meditation mean to us, a particular practice, spirituality, or style we may want to learn more about or create or modify, a ritual or routine that would be helpful, or maybe release things that have served their purpose and can even be set aside. It can place where there is an intimate or convenient time in our day, week, month... or integrate within our activities, as the conversation it is with our inner person and our spiritual experience.

When we think about it, there are prayers of negotiation and pain, of gratitude, of hope, of change, of tradition, of rest and security, of bonding and love, of community and creation and service, of goodbye and loss, of so many things. There are meditations of focus, creation, connection, elevation, expansion, manifestation, love, endurance, contemplation, so many things.

nature's cathedral Lina Clair

Both are connecting us to our timeless human, communal, natural and spiritual experiences. Both are asking us to be present, engaged, responsible, alive, reflective, and current in our spirituality, our connections, our relationship with self and others. In that state of presence, we are able to assess, if prayer or meditation, as relationship building, within our present moments of spiritual adulthood, is in good conversation, good health for our intimate, current, spiritual being-ness.


Rev. Birdi Sinclair, D.Min

Interfaith Minister, Doctorate in sacred dialogue, engagement and activism

Spiritual Director, Master Spiritual Life and Wholeness Arts Coach


More questions or ideas? contact me and we can talk about how to develop or define a prayer or meditation practice or even schedule a spiritual direction time together.

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