The Paradox of Prayer in AARP Magazine

The Paradox of Prayer in AARP Magazine April 8, 2015

My mother handed me one of her AARP magazines to read about Bob Dylan, but I kept reading finding lots of good articles. I stumbled across this one about prayer and it was very interesting. It was asking the question why people pray more often as they get older when being older means also experiencing many more times that prayers seem to go unanswered.

Prayer is an interesting subject to me. I don’t relate to the type of prayer I see around me so often, the begging for something prayer, the begging God to change an outcome prayer. For every family with a sick child who rallied thousands of people to pray for them and had a healing, there’s another family who did the same and whose child died. I’m not convinced that it is our place to ask for changes in our life. Doesn’t God know what we need better than we do?

Then again I remember in Eat, Pray, Love where Liz Gilbert’s friend tells her that she’s a part of this universe too and deserves to have a voice. Knowing that we are all parts of the larger God, that perspective on prayer makes more sense to me.

But to me prayer has always been about climbing more deeply into our own depths to find the soft voice of God within. It is about listening more than speaking. Chants and formal prayers align our physical and subtle bodies so we can go deeper within. Singing hymns (bhajans) and prayers strips away our limited self, this little husk we think is our self, and opens us up to the larger Truth of our big Self who is God.

Irritatingly, though not surprisingly, the article has no mention of Hinduism at all. They interview Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There is a picture and a quote from a Buddhist. No mention of Hinduism at all.

But then maybe that’s because Hindu prayers get answered. 😛

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  • Aizlyne

    As a Hindu myself, I try not to ask for things when I pray beyond ” Please help me deal with whatever comes with wisdom and understanding”. I don’t know if prayer changes anything because the goddess already knows me better than I know myself, so all my doubts, fears and desires are known to her even before I can articulate them. Sometimes, when sitting in prayer I will mentally shrug. (“I don’t know what to say or ask for so I”m just going to sit hear and listen for a while.”)

    Also I wonder if there’s a different between prayer and meditation. Both require one to go within, although perhaps prayer is more of a monologue and meditation a dialogue. Listening seems to be much more important in meditation than prayer, where one is trying *to be heard*.

    As for no Hindus being featured in the article, it’s not that surprising. The most long lasting and important changes come the slowest, I find.

    • Ambaa

      Perhaps prayer sometimes transmutes into pure meditation. 🙂 I guess I think of it as prayer is speaking and meditation is listening but it may not be that way for everyone.

  • morris98

    Prayer should not be for begging God to change the outcome. Prayer is simply begging for strength or gratitude that are necessary for whatever the outcome. Hindu thinking is that in spite of all our honest efforts we are bound to face bad days and we must learn to accept them with necessary strength. There is a bhajan that says in essence that
    All of us pray in bad days but no one prays in good.
    If you pray in good days you won’t face the bad.
    That does not mean that there won’t be any bad days. That simply means that if you also pray in good days you will have enough strength to face the bad.

    • Ambaa

      Great point!

  • I think that the Bhagavad Gita chapter 7 is interesting as it says that there is some merit in prayer even when asking for things:

    BG 7.16: O best among the Bhāratas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.

    BG 7.17: Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.

    BG 7.18: All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider to be just like My own self. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he is sure to attain Me, the highest and most perfect goal.

    I think it is saying that even prayers asking for release from distress or fo wealth are better than not praying at all – though praying to seek knowledge is best of all.

    • Ambaa

      Very true! It seems to me that Krishna expresses an affection here for those who come to Him in distress. He knows that sometimes that’s where a person is at on the path.

  • morris98

    In practice Hindus are no different from others. They too pray for their desired outcome. Not only that some even try to bribe Gods by promising to do some good deeds or special puja or offering if the desired outcome is realized.
    I agree with Tandava that prayer by definition is good for any reason.

  • This post reminds me of something I read recently in an introduction to the Rig Veda. Apparent many of the prayers within, which are often interpreted as prayers for riches and protection, were allegedly originally (according to this interpretation, anyway) asking for something deeper/more abstract, which is described more below. I’m on my phone so I am attaching an image rather than typing it out. Maybe it will be of some interest to you and your readers.

    • This is cool. Can you please share the title of this book? I would love to read it.

      • “Modern English Translation of The Rig Veda Samhitaa” by Prasanna Chandra Gautum – Three volumes are in my university’s graduate library although I’m sure you can also get it online.

      • Sample passage (just so you can see the format):

    • Ambaa

      Wonderful! That makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of how almost everything we do has an aspect in the physical world and the mental world and the subtle world at the same time.

  • Ambaa, I completely get what you mean about prayer. But I’ve been praying out loud so many times – something I had never done before ever in my life. I pay a lot of attention to what I am saying, always knowing I am praying for someone else. I’ve heard a lot from others with whom I’ve prayed that ‘it helped make them feel better.’ I will not argue that one. Ever.

    Praying for myself has been very different. I didn’t realize this until I hit a very rough patch in my life. I was angry, supremely angry and guess towards whom all that anger was directed – Yep, my Ishvara. I realized I was having a very angry conversation with Shivji – our Ishtadeva with whom I’ve always had a ‘personal’ relationship. Upon reflection, this revealed a different aspect of the ‘personal God’ theme in the Hindu Dharma. Keeping aside all the mantras and shlokas, just this acknowledgement of always being in company of Shivji [for me anyway] – to converse with, be angry with, to share a joy with.

    • Ambaa

      YES! I think it’s great when you get to a point of having such a personal connection to a God that you can be angry with them. You can argue with them. There’s a depth of love going on when you are that comfortable with a God.

  • HARRY

    Prayer is not a Hindu concept. When you go to temple, you don’t go for a prayer. You go for Darsham. When you communicate with lord that is prathna not a prayer.

    Prayer is a Abrahamic concept. It’s normally for asking for forgiveness or help or something.

    Prayer was introduced in Hindu concept by outside infuence.

    • Ambaa

      That’s an interesting point. It helps explain why I have such a hard time with the way prayer seems to “work” in Abrahamic faiths. Yet, it seems like a human instinct to reach out to ask God for something. Do you not find yourself doing that?

      • HARRY

        Yes , I always wanted to ask God if I can win a lottery even when I don’t play. LOL

        I think when you understand the concept you don’t do it. You just follow your heart where the Lord resides .

        I do Puja and that is also different from the prayer.

        So for your information we don’t prey and if you do , than it’s same as a child asking for ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner from the parents every day.