The Need for Prayer
As I write this, a news conference is being held to discuss an active shooter situation that occurred in San Bernardino, CA today. I have never been to that state or that city and yet, this situation is very close to home for me. The incident took place in a facility whose primary function is to assist the developmentally disable community. An hour from now I will be involved in setting up and then tomorrow help host a party for children in this demographic. As events unfolded, it became apparent that the shooters seemed to target a banquet being held in the facility’s auditorium for county health department employees. As a former employee of a state health department, I sympathized for those who were present and just doing their job. Finally, I have been on the business end of a gun held by a threatening interloper in my workplace.
Many are tweeting and posting to Facebook a request for prayer and I sincerely hope that those reading those requests did take time to stop and pray. It begs an interesting question: Do we have a need for prayer? Easter of 2014 I posted a blog that drew sharp criticism from my friends in the Christian community. They were not happy that I indicated Easter was a time of celebration for all, not just Christians. This series will probably draw the same type of responses… and that is okay with me. Opinions are just that – opinions. Opinions are attitudes and beliefs; they may or may not be fact.
I am going to try to write this series from a universal standpoint, not just on the premise that only Christians and other Abrahamic faith believers pray. When the ancient Greek talked to the oracles at Delphi, one might say they were praying. The Celt who goes to the fairy ring to seek healing might also be said to pray. The Wiccan who dances in the moonlight could consider their movement prayer.
Prayer is a request and not all prayers are spoken or whispered. Some are done through art while others are illustrated with actions. There is historical evidence of several spiritualities and faiths making prayer a find-raising type of thing. I would disagree that answer to prayer requires financial investment but they are free to offer what their congregation will accept.
Prayer at its most basic is a dialogue – person to spirit. Human beings dislike complete solitary. I firmly believe we have a need for prayer because of that dislike. We also, in spite of how some act or might claim have an innate sense that we ourselves are not God or gods.
I am amazed and a bit appalled at the number of websites offering to teach one how to pray. For me, one prays when one thinks the request or note of gratitude. I never knew there were so many different procedures or steps to prayer. I think they may be going all the way around the block to take a simple step forward.
Countless studies uphold the idea that human beings are predisposed to believe in deities and religion. Some might propose that such beliefs serve to unite us, thus eliminating that solitary existence we disdain. However, a young child who has never been alone will believe in God without ever having been taught about any deity.
Psychologist Thomas Plante maintains that our belief in religion and the accompanying act of prayer helps us to “feel whole”. “We’ve had this long history of believing that the things of the spirit are in one camp and that science and technology are in another camp,” says Plante, professor and director of the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University and president of APA’s Div. 36 (Psychology of Religion). “If anything, this work reiterates that we are whole people; the biological, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual are all connected.”
Why do we pray? Why did people react to the news of today’s active shooter with flooding the Internet with prayer requests? Is it because it serves as a type of therapy? Does it help alleviate our guilt at being safe while others are in danger? For me, my immediate reaction to pray was something I could do. Whether or not prayer is therapeutic or perhaps even ridiculous, it is an action we can take. Sometimes just knowing we have done something positive can be a step on a journey towards peace.