Our English word "prayer" is derived from the Sanskrit word "prashna" which means "to question". The Prashna Upanishad is one of the "primary" sacred teachings in Hinduism. In the Prashna Upanishad six students bring big questions to their Guru; questions like, what is the soul, why do we dream, and what is the goal of meditation? Their teacher tells them to be patient, and to spend the next year in solitude and a deep contemplative study of their questions before bringing them back to the master teacher. At the end of the year, the questions have been resolved by simply patiently caring for them.
There is a lesson in "prashna prayer". In this form of prayer one merely cares for the problem in the presence of the deity. The surest way to find an "answer" to a prashna prayer is to slow down and approach the concern consciously and carefully.
Too often I view prayer as a method to find quick answers from a higher authority--demanding instant cures and snappy remedies. That is curing prayer--and it is a valuable form of prayer. But if the cure doesn't come, it may be time to experience caring prayer.
"If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty."
Consider a story from the Hebrew Bible found in Numbers 21. The Hebrews have just escaped Egypt and are traveling through a sweltering desert. There is little food and the going is rough--so they scream at Moses and his God. The story says that the LORD sent toxic snakes to bite them. Now don't get caught up in the literal, pay attention to the symbolism. The poisoned and dying people ask Moses to get them some help. Moses asks God what to do and this is what God says:
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
Even more fascinating is that Jesus uses this homeopathic illustration to describe how his toxic crucifixion would bring salvation (wholeness) to those who pondered its significance: John 3) It is through crucifixion that resurrection arrives; it is through our fragmentations that reintegrations occur.
Caring prayer realizes that the answer is in the question, just like the Hindu students who spent a year caring for their questions (prashna) before the answers could arrive--staring at the toxic conundrum facilitates the healing solution.
Ruminate on any words, insights or ideas. Hold the name and face of the person you despise, care for the emotions you are feeling, the item you don't have enough of or want more of. Listen, watch, sketch and write down any images, insights or revelations that "pop in". Research any words in a dictionary, or images online. Care for them as a sculptor cares for the clay s/he is molding.
Quite often, like the serpent on the pole, these words and their images mediate the solutions to our questions and the answers to our prayers. They will come when cared for, attended. Jot down insights. Draw images. Write poems. Put it to music. Dance it. Talk with it. Engage with the problem. Get acquainted with these profane and ordinary annoyances as "imperfectly perfect" manifestations of the numinous. Each event and relationship is potentially a container of soul-making activity.
However, this does not mean passive acquiescence to intolerable circumstances, nor does it mean surrendering to the will of some bully, human or divine, but rather conscientious and contemplative engagement with those things we often hastily pray to have removed or fixed.
Caring prayer suggests that I set aside instant cures, and focus on gathering what is right in front of me for careful attention--until it answers the question or provides the insights. Once that occurs, it will then leave of its own accord when, and if, it is done. In its own time, not ours. Some of these snakebites last a lifetime--but if cared for, will provide a lifetime of divine revelations and astonishing psycho-spiritual transformations.