Why Do We Pray?

Prayer is something that I have a very hard time understanding.

The idea of petitioning the Gods for a particular outcome feels very “off” to me. After all, my understanding of the universe is that it runs in perfect harmony with absolute justice. Actions have natural consequences and everything that we experience was a part of our fate to help our souls grow. Where does changing that narrative fit in? Why would begging change what happens in the world?

I can understand prayer in terms of it providing a more peaceful vibe in the world, good mind rays! But I’m not sure about directing that positive mind energy towards a particular person. Especially one I’ve never met. How do people pray for someone when they only have a name? Or just an image? And what does that prayer really do for that person?

I could understand a person healing or feeling better based on knowing that many people care about her, but I can’t see how God would change fate to fix or help the person.

Wouldn’t that send the universe completely off kilter?

It’s like I said in an earlier post, would the Gods really say “I was going to do this one thing but because enough people begged me, I’ll do this other thing instead”? (We do see this in the Jewish God, when Abraham negotiates with Him over Sodom)

I am not very comfortable with the idea of a fickle God whose mind could be swayed. How many people have to ask? Is there a metric to fill before the scale tips in favor of whatever person is being prayed for?

Yet it seems like all religions do have this aspect of petitioning the Gods (or God) for particular things. For help with a trial in life, to have an event turn out a particular way, to heal a friend, etc.

Why is that?

I really don’t know. The whole idea of prayer is very confusing to me. Not to say that I haven’t been guilty of begging the Gods to make something particular happen. My desire for a husband has been extremely strong for many years and I sometimes begged the Gods to make it happen already! I sometimes am in such pain that I ask why the Gods are picking on me. But life goes on and each thing happens in its time. None of these petitions changed anything (though I do enjoy the feeling that when I speak to the Gods, I am having conversations with friends).  For example, now that I have met the man I am going to marry, I know that it could not have happened in any other way. It is perfect.

I’ve known some people who pray for their own peace. In other words, they pray that God will grant them the inner peace to accept “His Will.” That makes more sense to me. I can see praying for the peace of mind to accept fate or the challenges that life presents even if we don’t understand them. But far more people pray for particular things to happen.

I would love your input!

Why do you think that we pray? What does it accomplish?

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • HARRY

    @ Ambaa

    I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at this point. I was going to ask god for a Ferrari, but now I can’t because of you. LOL .

    Lets start by a story, A man is praying in his usual position with is fellow followers when suddenly a voice comes from the sky and tells him that his prayers for the last 30 years is not accepted by the god. The position that he prayed on had marks on the floor from his prayers of all these years. He gets up laughing when two men besides him hearing the samething starts crying. Rest of the people are left stun by his action, when a men asks him why is he laughing when he should be crying because of his last 30 years of prayers are not accepted by god and he replies I don’t care whether he accepts it or not as long as he knows that I have been doing it for the last 30 years.

    The prayers in Hinduism is not for asking for things that are goods or stuff with value or to punish others or even for a good husband or a wife. The prayers have different meaning in Hinduism where one ask for direction in life when he/she is lost because somebody divine have walked this path before you and I who can direct you and I to the better way where you and I have not walked yet or we have forgotten the way to better life. It is also to ask for divine Mind Body and Soul. The mind for great thoughts and knoledge, the body for a good way of life and living and soul to recognise the path to divine at the end. We ask this from those who sits in our alter because they have lived the divine ways and can point us in the same direction as them. This is normally the prayer in most vaishnava purans. In vaishnava they also believe in dualism because those who reside in our alter will and maybe able to guide us to the same path of divine where our souls unites together in one light. This is why we need an Image in our altar because only an experienced can point you in the right direction and no one else.

    HARRY

    • Ambaa

      I’ve still seen Hindus pray to receive physical things before. I think in theory maybe that’s not why one prays, but in practice it often is!

      Story reminds me of the one where the guy is meditating and a messenger of God comes to him, the guy asks how many more lives he has until he is united with God and the messenger says as many leaves as there are on the tree. The man begins dancing with joy. The messenger asks why, when it is so many lifetimes and the man says because the number is finite.

  • http://aftertheecstasythelaundry Cynthia

    As a Christian, I was pleasantly surprised that we share many of the same questions about prayer and its efficacy.

    For example, I know people who earnestly pray for their sports teams’ victories, and yet I can’t imagine that God is going to “answer” their prayer, or, frankly, that God gives a rip about it.

    I also believe in a harmonious universe and so I’m actually even quite reluctant to pray about the weather! Am I right to ask God for a respite from hot weather if by so doing I limit the farm growing season? People often look at me like I’m daft when I mention things like that, but it just makes perfect sense to me.

    I do pray, for many things (for more compassion, that a child might be healed, for an end to violence, that I get some chocolate every day), but there are limits.

  • Jeramy

    As you know, I, an atheist, solicited for prayers on Facebook on behalf of my niece when she went into the hospital. I don’t believe there’s a powerful being that was going to intercede after he/she got their quota of prayers, but I do believe that there’s power to positive intent and that knowing that positive intent is there can do some incredible things.

    In fact, I feel rather as you do, that if I’m wrong about the non-existence of some non-zero number of gods, and the god’s or pantheon of gods’ original intent was for my niece to die, and it was only on a number of people begging them that their egos were sufficiently placated such that my niece was spared, then I’ll be having some rather severe words with those &*(#ers when I die.

    The thing that REALLY annoyed me about the whole thing was this:
    My niece and her surgeons rolled critical successes 30 times in a row and she came through open-frigging-heart surgery and was essentially like, “Psh, whatevs.” Several of my deist friends and family exclaimed, “Praise God!” No. Fuck that. You’re telling me that, at best, your prayers motivated a lazy deity into action, and he should be praised for that? At worst, he was going to kill my niece, and enough prayers sated his ego to the point where he chose not to kill her, and he should be praised for that? Incorrect.

    It’s things like this that make me happy I’m an apostate (man do I LOVE having opportunities to use that word :) ).

    • Ambaa

      Your niece is awesome! But then, you already know that.

    • http://niareligion.blogspot.com/ .Nia.

      Can you elaborate on the purpose of the prayers on Facebook? What is the positive intention supposed to do? I do not think I clearly understand what you mean.

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    I had a Christian Theology teacher in college who posited the idea that prayer was not for us, but for God, so that God would know that we still loved and cared about him enough to talk to him! (This was part of the “hey, let’s look at the idea that God isn’t all-knowing or all-powerful just for a minute, shall we?” section of the course.)

    I find it interesting how many people just assume God = omniscience and omnipotence. But that’s another story for another day!

    For me personally, I do think that prayer benefits us in that we are thinking of specific intentions, which changes the way we approach them, even if it doesn’t convince any other force in the universe to break down all walls on its behalf. It makes us kinder and more compassionate toward the person we’re praying for (how can we hope for the good of someone and still tear them down?). It may change our own attitudes in subtle ways so that others’ attitudes are also changed just by being around us, and those things we want to happen will happen just because at some subconscious level, we’re influencing them to happen.

    Or if you want to put it more supernaturally, those things that connect us all are connecting and working toward a goal. We don’t have to consciously think about it.

    • Ambaa

      I like looking at it as intentions!

  • http://Patheos Tracy

    As a Christian, I believe that God has given us and the angelic realm, free will. Open Theism suggests that there are some things that are set in the universe, and God leaves other things open. Our prayers, then, make a HUGE difference. We live in a battleground between good and evil. We as humans, feel the force of that war between God and Satan. It’s not all about us! When Jesus died on the cross, it was to defeat the forces of evil. Therefore as Christians, we now have authority over evil. This probably doesnt make sense to those who are not believers, but to those who accept what scripture says, you only have to take a good look around to see a war going on! We are called to fight, and prayer is a part of that weaponry.

    • Ambaa

      Okay, but how does prayer affect that change. Are we able to do things that God is not able to do? Are we as human beings using prayer as a weapon against evil where God cannot battle that evil? I have trouble reconciling this with the notion of an omnipotent God.

    • http://niareligion.blogspot.com/ .Nia.

      I don’t know that gives Christians “authority over evil”…it was supposed to motivated people towards and provide proof of God. I think through motivation and belief people were supposed to “defeat evil” actions…but I don’t know how it gives Christians “authority.”

  • N.B.

    Prayer is a sign a god speaks to you and you hear the voice of a god. Why would a god speak to you? Perhaps such a god has become your papa or mama. Mary the mother of a god say a prayer out loud after she find herself baby in her womb not by human . Jesus give model prayer for those in need of father
    Matthew 6
    This, then, is how you should pray:

    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    10 your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us today our daily bread.
    12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.
    A holy person just focus their mind and heart on a human or animal or plant and this is a prayer. A person with great power in war with evil one cast that mountain into see by prayer
    a father and mother have the right to protect their children from poverty. A saint has the right to beg his father to give him poverty so he or she can become very wealthy with something more than idols in the heart
    if you know you are loved the love you have for the one you love is a prayer, If you love your enemy you have gone through the veil into a mystery

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    I like the quote “He who sings, prays twice.” I think it’s attributed to St. Augustine but I forget.

    That’s prayer to me. Just rejoicing, not repeating some words that may or may not have any meaning to me. Sometimes it’s thinking-with-intention. Sometimes it’s singing. Sometimes it’s being silent. Sometimes it’s repeating words with other people, words we all know, and we are all intending the same things.

  • Jash

    I’m torn. I agree with you, Ambaa, that it seems fickle for God to have a change of heart because of our petitions. But I also think it’s fair for God to sometimes make concessions if we ask for something, just as a parent may bend the rules a little if a child asks politely and sincerely.

    If God does answer our prayers, say, for rain in a drought, I don’t think God ever does this purely because we asked for it. God might answer prayers if the outcome is good for us, if it doesn’t affect other things, and if we’re sincere in our prayers. Then our prayers would be one reason amongst many for God to act in this way. God, as the author of the world, can decide the reasons for making the world the way it is.

    Of course, there are many other reasons for prayer; to honour and glorify God, to ask for forgiveness for misdeeds, for comfort, etc. Just as we talk to our friends and family for all sorts of purposes.

    Namaste.

  • seeker

    I’ve given up trying to logically understand prayer but I’ve come to believe in it. It’s sort of like electricity; if I throw the switch, the lights generally come on.

    From what I’ve read, most religions pray both for abstract and concrete things. Draupadi prayed to Krishna at various times in the Mahabharata and he responded to her appeals.

    Praying makes me feel as though I’m not all alone in the universe and reminds me that there is another level of existence. I believe that I have received blessings in the form of material and emotional help. When someone of any faith says they are praying for me, I feel grateful because “many paths, one God.”

    • Ambaa

      I like that. The comparison to electricity is great!


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