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62: What is Prayer?

How often we hear these words: “I’ll keep them in my prayers”, or, “pray for me.”

What exactly is prayer? What is one doing when praying?

Can prayer actually help in time of crisis? Does prayer make a difference when dealing with tragedy? Is prayer only for the religious? Is prayer a matter of daily repeating familiar words over and over? Is prayer a particular litany, chant, or ritual? Is prayer formulaic?  Is prayer reading the Bible or other sacred texts? Is prayer meditation? Is prayer best done in silence? Is prayer best done in a congregation of like-minded believers? Is prayer an emotional response? Is prayer asking God for help for yourself or others? Is prayer helpful, effective, remedial, altering?

Can prayer conquer fear, hate, disease, disaster, or depression?  Can prayer resolve, transform, save? Can prayer heal? Does one have to believe in God to pray? Is prayer a gimmick humans conjured up to cling to when they have nothing else to turn to? Is prayer useless? If you don’t pray, are you lost, bereft of hope?

Probably there are as many answers to these questions as there are human beings. We each find our way to God–or not. We each learn to rely on God for our well-being–or not. We believe in God to the degree we have experienced God in our lives as a trustworthy help, as we have known healing for ourselves or others, as we have seen evidence of God’s loving presence. Appreciating good around us, through whatever truth, love, and life we experience, we yearn for a relationship with the Creator of such good. We want to know God. We reach out to God, desiring to talk with Him/Her, listening for His/Her “voice.” In prayer we seek to deeply understand the Creator of all and our relationship to Him/Her. Through prayer we find comfort, direction, our place and purpose, our reason for being. Confidence comes in being spiritually attuned to God. Listening to God we find peace. And often healing.

When asked about prayer, Jesus said to go into your closet and shut the door. In other words, enter your sanctuary or inner refuge, a safe place, perhaps entirely mental not physical, where you will not be interrupted in grasping Spirit. The kingdom of God, Spirit, is within us (see Luke 17:21) and it is within this deepest place we pray.

With Bibles–there are thousands!–concordances, dictionaries, and other varied texts, we may gain much in hours of prayerful study. Or we may feel at home in a congregation. But neither place nor people is necessary.

Once when a busy young mother, frustrated that I had no quiet time for the devotion I sought, my Dad said to me, “You mean to tell me you haven’t time to declare the all-presence of God even at a stoplight?” His point was well taken. And more than once a stoplight has been my “closet” for prayer.

Even children–or especially children–get this. I recall visiting my parents in Boston with my two young sons.  We stepped into their high-rise elevator to the sound of wailing ambulances outside–nothing unusual in a bustling city–but my 7-year old son spoke up with clear conviction:  “God is with that person.” His words were a little prayer for whomever was in that ambulance; he knew they were not alone, he knew God was with them.

Every religion that I know of includes prayer as major to its cohesiveness. Hindus have the Gayatri Mantra which brings light and understanding. Buddhists’ rely on an 8-fold path to lead to enlightenment. Quakers have direct knowing of God through silence. Many Muslims pray to God, Allah, five times a day. Christians have the Lord’s Prayer. And so it goes. Mankind has many means by which to pray.

To me, as a Christian Scientist, prayer requires following Christ’s teachings and healing work. It means to live honestly, justly, compassionately, not in theory but actually. To practice, not preach, what God is. To the degree one understands–not merely believes–his or her true spiritual nature as God’s image and likeness, healing happens, a natural outgrowth of prayer.

Prayer is not always easy, though it can be as simple as a child’s statement: “God is with that person”. So, when someone asks you to “pray for me,” know what you’ve signed on for. Accept the challenge because right now the entire world needs your every prayer.


Pray for Me acrylic, framed, " x" $1,075 by Gwendolyn Evans

Pray for Me acrylic, framed, 37″ x 47″ $1,075 by Gwendolyn Evans

Artwork:  Pray for Me acrylic, framed, 37″ x 47″  $1,075. In this piece the central female character, in the triangle of light, is the only one truly praying. To her left is the oligarch of piety–representing any religious head–and to her right are the “do-gooders” so sure of their particular piety. Both sides would box her in. But naked, in humble, direct turning to God, she alone is praying for herself and her freedom which she knows will come. I used Rouault-like, stained glass-like, heavy black outline and a black-white color scheme to convey the depth of the theme. The title “Pray for Me” suggests irony, sarcasm, for indeed, she needs neither side to pray for her–though they, in their self-righteousness, are certain she must have their help.

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