May 31, 2014
Prayer: What do we really mean?
A prayer is a request, an asking to a higher being for something desired. Whether or not it is a monologue would depend on your beliefs and how you live them but prayer is a conversation. The most often connotation of the word prayer is in the Christian setting. The number of times the word appears, in one form or another, in the Bible depends on the version one is reading. The word “prayer” occurs one hundred and fourteen times, although revised versions have reduced that number to sixty-three. The word “pray” can be found three hundred and thirteen times, the word “prayed” sixty-five times”, and the word “praying” twenty times. One might deduce from these numbers that we are admonished how to pray three hundred and thirteen times and then that told in what form with actual reference to doing it one hundred and fourteen times. Evidence of doing it comes in at sixty-five times with the act of doing it at only twenty times. I would imagine that in real life, we pray many more times than is indicated by Biblical text.
It is commonly accepted that there are four types of prayer – adoration; thanksgiving; confession; supplication. How one prays also depends upon your beliefs and how you live. Hindus ere credited with the first use of prayer beads but the Roman Catholic Church has used rosaries in prayer for centuries and religious icons were very prominent in Asian cultures and the Middle East. It is an often over-looked similarity that most belief systems involve prayer of some sort.
Prayer connects us to the higher being upon which our belief systems are based but it also connects us to each other. Prayer groups or prayer chains are very common and there are established religious orders and groups whose sole purpose is intercessory prayers given for others. Prayer not only makes us feel a part of a greater system, it enhances the system we have here on earth among mankind.
But what happens when our prayers seemingly go unanswered or don’t result in what we wanted? How strong is our faith then? Do we really believe the petitions of a few in the present can affect the future? Recently a mother asked for prayers for her suddenly ill pre-teenage daughter. The child was immediately hospitalized and placed under excellent care but succumbed to her illness and died. The mother was angry and felt the prayers were either not given or fell on the deaf ears of an uncaring deity.
What does science say about prayer? That would depend upon what moves the universe, what created it, and our place in it. After all, if everything happens by chance, then a conversation with an invisible being will not make much difference. It is simply more hot air containing carbon dioxide, putting forth more molecules into the environment to effect greater change. How we came to be really has little effect on the effectiveness of prayer since people tend to believe what they want. [Personally, I could not care more for my beliefs if it was suddenly proven that I was the result of an atomic explosion or the offspring of an ancient fish that found itself lacking water or in water too cold to sustain life so it learned to live on the land resulting from low water levels. I would also not care less.] I believe our plane in the universe to be that of a nurturing caretaker so, to me, prayer is a kindness and faith.
A butterfly begins its life in a cocoon. Seemingly it sees nothing of the world outside and so it knows only itself. Chaos theory says that when the butterfly flaps its wings in Montana, it can affect a change in Spain, the wind currents caused by such fluttering being carried around the world and, gathering speed and joining others, becoming a part of a new reality for those in the Mediterranean country bordering an ocean that the butterfly in Montana can never imagine or will ever see. String theory links the forces of gravity and Einstein’s’ theory of relativity and relates the essence of the butterfly, how it came to be – DNA and all, and how it is effected by the rest of the world. [Understand that these explanations are very, very simplistic!]
The fact of the matter for me is that prayer breaks us out of our cocoon. What does the butterfly see when it first emerges? Is it happy or was it expecting something else? Prayer is like that for me. Sometimes my prayers seem to be answered but other times it would appear that they are not. I do realize though that maybe my prayers have been answered and I just don’t realize it yet. The mother wanted healing for her child and regrettably, the healing was an ultimate healing, a healing that ensured the child would never again feel pain.
Prayer to me takes the chaos of the world and helps me connect ot it. I realize that many people will not agree with my metaphor of the butterfly with chaos theory or string theory and that is okay with me. I welcome your comments but more importantly, I welcome the fact that you are thinking about it. Prayer makes us think and then engage in a dialogue. Dialogue? Wait – didn’t you begin by saying prayer was a monologue? Believing in prayer as a process makes it a dialogue. When we connect outside of our own mind, our own cocoon, then we engage our beliefs and live our faith. Prayer is an action and it will be answered when we live our faith.