Why Do We Practice Prayer?
Practicing prayer is coming across my screen a lot this year.
People ask for us to pray for them or someone they know on social media. We pray for people who are ill or injured, people who experience tragedy or loss. Some of us pray for relief from the fires in Australia or for people affected by violence. Many of us are praying for peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
We pray for people we know and for those we have never met. Praying may remind us of people we love who are no longer with us.
It is as if we think praying is a celestial customer service number we can call when we need help. We pray when some aspect of our lives will not work the way we expected.
Some of us grow frustrated and tired of the thoughts and prayers people offer when what we really want is change.
Many people experience prayer as a sort of last resort, a Hail Mary(in several ways) when nothing else works.
Our prayers take many different forms. Some of us follow established patterns people have been using for hundreds of years. Others of us extemporaneously share what is hidden within our hearts.
I know people who practice prayer by praying at particular times each day. Other people believe they need to be in a specific place to pray.
Do we believe our prayer will change the track of storms or keep people safe? Are there reasons for us to pray after something has already happened?
Is prayer about finding the help we need or getting what we want?
Can our prayer change God’s mind or God’s behavior?
What Does Prayer Do?
When I pray I am not trying to persuade or influence God. It is not as if I see things God might have missed or need to make sure nothing gets lost.
Prayer is how we recognize whether we are aligned with spiritual life. We bring our concerns and loves, our ideas and anxieties into the light of the sacred. Praying helps us develop and sustain our spiritual perspective.
We look and listen, discerning how our desires fit into spiritual life.
When we read about or watch some tragedy happening somewhere in the world we pray. It is not because we expect, somehow magically, the damage will not have happened. We bring the situation and the people directly affected by it into the sacred light of truth.
Prayer is an appreciation we want to do what we can. We are paying attention and sharing our time and energy.
Our prayer is not about influencing God, but about how spiritual life influences us. We open ourselves to its healing, loving presence. Praying is how we remember spiritual life within us and in the world so we can put our trust into it.
Prayer is not a magic spell or a formula to get what we want. My prayer is most often about recognizing and remembering I cannot control what happens.
We do not wield spiritual life like a wand or a light saber. It flows through us when we allow ourselves to be open and honest.
Practicing prayer is an opportunity for us to practice spiritual life.
When Do We Practice Prayer?
Some of us set aside particular times to pray each day.
It is not because these times are special and make our prayer more effective. Some of us who practice praying at regular times need to schedule reminders to pray throughout the day.
Our lives are filled with responsibilities and distractions. We would like to develop an attitude of prayer which we can practice throughout our everyday lives. The challenge is we get caught up in other things and forget how much we would like to be praying.
If it is helpful, we can set times in our daily calendars which remind us to practice prayer. Some of us practice praying in the morning and in the evening.
We do not need to go to a special place or say particular words. Our prayer practice may be simply taking time each day to listen to the stillness within us and around us.
Some people practice praying while they walk and others while they are sitting down. We may pray with our eyes closed or with them open.
Our practice is not about following rules, but about being open and aware.
The key is finding what works best for us.
What Difference Does Practicing Prayer Make?
No matter when or how we pray, praying changes how we experience our lives.
We take time to be open to the presence of spiritual life within us and around us. Praying is not an attempt to change our circumstances, but how we experience them.
Praying is not a substitute for taking action. We pray and listen to sacred stillness to discern how we will act. Our practice of prayer makes differences within us. Those differences change how we live our everyday lives.
Our praying is not a search for the answers. As we pray we listen for new questions and new insights to shape how we live our lives.
We do not pray to change the way things are, but so we are changed.
Like any other spiritual practice, praying becomes integrated into our lives over time. As we practice prayer we experience it helping us learn and grow. Praying is part of our lifelong journey into becoming who we can be.
Praying is more than an immediate moment. Our practice of prayer builds over time.
How will we practice prayer today?
What differences will our prayer practices make this week?
[Image by surrealpenguin]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.