I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction
that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed
insufficient for that day.
Reasons for Prayer
Prayer (from the Latin precari "ask earnestly, beg, entreat") is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with something or someone through deliberate communication. (1)
Prayer may be religious practice, though not necessarily so. It may be done privately and individually, or it may be done in the presence of fellow believers. It may involve the use of words, songs and music, or complete silence. It may be prepared or spontaneous. People pray for personal reasons, or on behalf of others.
Many anthropologists think that the earliest intelligent humans practiced a form of prayer. Today, most major religions involve prayer in one way or another. Some ritualize the act of prayer, requiring a sequence of actions or restrictions on whoever is praying. Others consider that prayer may be practiced spontaneously by anyone at any time. Some think prayer is simply being reverent and paying attention to the marvels of nature. (3)
Prayer is a centerpiece of today’s major religions. Prayer networks and prayer requests can be found in multitudes across the World Wide Web. Observant Muslims say five daily prayers, and devout Jews have even more.
There are different forms of prayer – petition, supplication, thanksgiving, or praise. It may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or a spiritual idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance or assistance, confessing transgressions, or to express one's thoughts and emotions. (2)
There are those who take prayer very seriously and practice it like an art. There are people who use it for healing, people who do it casually. Some people make a living studying it.
There are prayers to fit specific occasions, such as the blessing of a meal, the birth or death of a loved one, other significant events in life, or days of the year that have special significance.
Prayers may be recited from memory, read from a book of prayers, or composed spontaneously as they are prayed. They may be said, chanted, or sung. They may be with musical accompaniment or not. There may be a time of outward silence while prayers are offered mentally. Prayer can be incorporated into a daily "thought life". Some people pray throughout all that is happening as the day progresses.
There are many different postures for prayer – standing, sitting, kneeling, lifting hands, looking upward, bowing down, and placing the head between the knees. The origins of many of these were the positions taken by supplicants before royalty. (4)
Some people consider that physical positions prepare one for prayer, usually individual preference. Contemporary attitudes consider prayer as less a physical posture and more an attitude of the mind. Gandhi said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Prayer taps into the same neurological pathways that meditation uses. It produces a peaceful feeling. Some think that prayer asks that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of the petitioner. Sometimes people seem to come up with a prayer technique that appears to bear results – in wellbeing, or stress relief. (5)
While some claim that prayer helps people to get in touch with the supernatural, today psychologists and physiologists think that results are based on the way brains work – nothing supernatural needed.
There are benefits in the act of praying which have been clearly acknowledged by physicians, psychologists and philosophers in countless writings over centuries.
Prayer slows the mind, calms the spirit, and centers the heart. It removes the mind from the constant changes and allows focus on something greater and more important. It calls for connection with desires and values.
Prayer offers all the benefits of solitude with an added dimension – asking for things that are the most important, the deepest values. True prayer provides focus on families, friends, health, significance, and the greatest ambitions.
Atheists and Agnostics pray
Many think that prayer is religious, or spiritual and therefore atheists or agnostics cannot pray. But many do indeed feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and see themselves as "spiritual but not religious." (6)
Some atheists and agnostics pray often. They may have is a feeling of awe, a sense of peace brought on by nature, a moment of transcendence in the presence of music or art, or perhaps simply a moment of felt stillness. Their prayers might also be an overflowing of gratitude, a shout of joy brought on by being alive, a moment of connection with another’s pain. Or, they could also be cries for help from people who can’t help crying out even though they don’t think anyone hears. Or they just voice their pain because that’s what people do. (7)
Outside of Self
Prayer is any kind of thought that addresses something outside of Self. It’s a subtle but powerful shift in thinking mode. With prayer, people may feel relief at not having to work things out alone. It is often effective. (8)
Many people have experienced that through prayer, the subconscious mind provides answers, sometimes within minutes. If praying for the well-being of someone, a way to help that person might occur – perhaps a remedy that could help, or a book that might help, or maybe help more directly with time, money, advice. Some claim to have evidence that these practices can cause a lot of different changes throughout the body, which could have a healing effect. (9)
I was born and brought up as a Catholic and today I am spiritual, not religious. The Our Father has always been my primary prayer. When I was floating over the forest on a zip line in Costa Rica that was the prayer I said spontaneously. When I stepped devoutly into the waters of the Ganges in India that was the prayer I recited.
At 77, I’m blessed with good health, a loving family and good friends. I live in Carlsbad, California, directly on beautiful Carlsbad beach. enengageI sit on my balcony watching the waves and listening to the sounds of seagulls, with processions of pelicans passing, sometimes seals and spouting whales in the distance. For me, the sounds of the ocean reflect the voice of the Infinite. I pray a hundred times a day, giving thanks for my health, happiness, the people, love and joy in my life.
With this essay on prayer, I must mention one of my favorite songs – The Prayer, sung by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. Whenever we have a quiet moment, we listen to Bocelli and end with this beautiful song. There are many Youtube links to Bocelli and Dion performances. I’ve chosen one, which allows you to listen to the song with lyrics and thoughtful pictures.
Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog.
- Are you religious? Agnostic? Atheist?
- Do you pray? How do you pray? How often?
- Are your prayers directed to God? Or something else?
- Do your prayers always ask for something? For yourself? For someone else?
- Do you say prayers of thanks?
- How does prayer help you?
Add comments, ideas and suggestions.
- Wikipedia on Prayer: http://goo.gl/uVuMeS
- Prayer and Forms of Prayer: http://goo.gl/LNR4KX
- Origins of Prayer: http://goo.gl/nFy1oH
- Is there a correct posture for prayer? http://goo.gl/Ysj2Ig
- What Happens to Your Brain When You Pray? http://goo.gl/y3N2BI
- Do You Need to Believe in God to Pray? http://goo.gl/X4Jv82
- Some nonbelievers still find solace in prayer: http://goo.gl/4xUCLt
- Letting Atheists Pray, Too: http://goo.gl/RH87fg
- What is a humanist alternative to prayer? http://goo.gl/NGV5zc
- My favorite – Andrea Bocelli & Celine Dion – The Prayer: https://goo.gl/1OVlWw
16 June 2015