Humans pray. In every culture, in every society, in every ethnic group, humans pray.
Huston Smith, 93, who has spent most of his life studying the religions of the world, writes that throughout recorded history humans have had some concept of “God,” and prayer has been a central part of daily life.
There are many prayer schedules and methods, which in many instances are unique to a given group, but all pray.
With this historical evidence, it would seem that our need to “get in touch with the divine” is innate.
Herbert Benson, in his book Timeless Healing, puts it this way: “We are wired for God.”
In spite of this innate longing for God, many feel that prayer is difficult, and they don’t know how to get started. This is not new; the apostles had trouble with prayer, and they asked of Jesus (Luke 11:1-4), “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Jesus responded, “When you pray say, Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us; and do not bring us to the time of trial.”
The operative words from the 11th chapter of Luke are: intentional, example, teach, bold, ask, seek, knock. The promise is that God is really “listening.”
Jesus gives us additional directions in the sixth chapter of Matthew when he says, “Don’t pray just to be seen by men. Instead, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. And, when you pray, do not keep on babbling because you think you’ll be heard because of your many words. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Operative words and phrases are: intimacy, avoid distractions, and get to the point!
From my orientation as an Episcopalian, “Prayer is responding to God by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”
Prayer is responding to God, not the other way around. Prayer is responding to our appreciation for the presence of God in our lives. How prayer “works” is a mystery, but it is a mystery that somehow involves our participation. We don’t need to be effective; we simply need to be present and intentional.
There are as many ways to pray as there are individuals. Too often, prayer is thought of as something we should do or wish we knew how to do more effectively, but that thinking is not helpful once we understand that there is no right or wrong way to pray.
Prayer is about a relationship with God and one another. St. Teresa of Avila said, “No one is so advanced in prayer that they do not often have to return to the beginning.”
Numerous modern scientific studies have testified to the positive effect of prayer. The father of transplant surgery, Alexis Carrel, was prophetic when he wrote in a 1941 article, “Prayer is a force as real as gravity. As a physician I have seen patients, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer. It is the only power in the world that seems to overcome the so-called ‘laws of nature.’ The occasions on which prayer has dramatically done this have been termed ‘miracles.’ But, a constant quieter miracle takes place hourly in the hearts of men and women who have discovered that prayer supplies them with a steady flow of sustaining power in their daily lives.”
Wow! Jesus said – and lived out – the same thing.
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.