Meditation, at its simplest, is thought of as a focus on a “thing” — commonly your breath — with the goal of recognizing stray thoughts and returning focus to that thing.
That’s it. Really.
Many people practice meditation where the “thing” is a mantra — a single word — or a phrase, or even a short piece of prose (a “gatha” if I understand correctly). Same idea: focus on repeating the prose in your mind, and return focus to it whenever you are inevitably distracted.
Remind you of anything?
Prayer, at its simplest, is often thought of as repeating a specific piece of prose — a prayer — repeatedly, in your mind. And of course, as you get distracted, you return to that prayer.
This is so much like meditation that I think we can safely say that it counts as meditation.
This didn’t occur to me until long after I had started meditating.
I grew up in a Catholic tradition and have certainly done my share of praying, particularly when young. That declined over the years as I grew away from Christianity. The longest lasting prayer I would say was a short one as I went to bed. I can still remember the exact wording from my childhood.
The goals of prayer and meditation are different.
The former is a plea to a higher power for guidance, comfort, and perhaps specific bequests. The latter is a focus on the self, a practice improving a skill that allows us to become more aware of ourselves and the world around us, and operate more easily in it.
But while meditation might not meet the goals of prayer, I can certainly understand that prayer might have many of the benefits of meditation, even if only as a side effect.