In "Self-Reliance," Emerson regards the prayers of most people, which are prayers of petition for worldly goods or favors, to be "vicious." These prayers are wrong-headed, in his opinion, because they rest on the assumption of a dualism between God and humans. In this thinking, God is a benefactor, up in heaven, separate from us. As Emerson puts it:
But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness.
Actually, Emerson says, God is within us. We are united with God. Therefore, our prayers should be expressed through our actions, not our words. When a farmer, for instance, kneels in a garden bed to weed it, he is kneeling in prayer. When a rower kneels in his boat to pull the oars, this is prayer. When we show our oneness with God and our awareness of seeing life and the universe through the eyes of the highest good, this is prayer.
This connects with Emerson's idea that our life work should spring not from tradition, convention, or what our parents tell us to do, but from the divine source within us; then our lives become a form of prayer.