Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Pray?

"What men usually ask of God when they pray is that two and two not make four."

Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.
Mahatma Ghandi

"Please God, make him call me. I promise to do all my homework, but please make him call me." That was the depth of my prayer for a while when I was in my early teens. It was intended to prolong a relationship with a young man, significantly older than I, for whom I had fallen head over heals, and who had the potential to have changed my life script immensely. At the time, I considered him my true savior and I would have done ANYTHING he asked. You may use your imagination to insert whatever you think "ANYTHING" entailed.

He didn't call and my heart suffered intensely for several months as a result of his blatant rejection. I failed to understand how God could be so mean. If s/he were really all powerful, this little request should not have caused any strain. Yet, my begging and bartering did nothing to make a difference. My prayer went unanswered.

Or, so I thought. Now I realize the answer was no. I can see that my prayer stemmed from immaturity and neediness. God's wisdom, like that of a good parent, superseded my perseverant plea. Today, my prayer goes up in a sigh of complete gratitude. I realize without a doubt (you know about hind sight) that God knew what s/he was doing.


It happened many years ago during a long anticipated vacation to San Antonio. In the middle of the fun, my husband came down with cold symptoms. The doctor first said it was the flu, then proceeded to change the diagnosis several times. Doctors visits were not on the agenda, but became imperative as my husband's health visibly declined. When we returned home, our first stop was the hospital where he was admitted, immediately quarantined and placed on the critical list.

Many non-conclusive tests were administered. The only possibility of eventually reaching some cure, was exploratory surgery - according to the baffled doctors. The underlying message was that they didn't know exactly what was wrong and that death was imminent if their intervention didn't quickly produce results. My life was in chaos as I tried to console my little daughter, who missed her daddy so much, and my thoughts uncontrollably asked what would become of us without him.

At the time, I considered myself an agnostic. I had officially repudiated the Catholic School indoctrination of my early youth, in favor of a non-religious, non-spiritual life in which I merely acknowledged that there must be a God but anything attributed to It was merely speculation. I was especially rebellious about religion, and actually enjoyed the freedom from rules and rituals. Arrogantly, I judged any religious affiliation as primitive and ignorant.

My in-laws were part of that primitive and ignorant group. One evening I accidentally dropped by as they were holding an emergency prayer meeting to ask God to heal my husband. I gasped when mother-in-law directed me to take "my place" in the prayer circle. I lacked the courage to stand by my convictions, so I obediently stood, held hands and prayed along with those misguided old people. To justify my action, I immediately rationalized that it would have been too rude to decline participation - since they were praying for my husband, after all. "Besides," I thought, "It can't hurt."

The following day, the surgery was cancelled! My husband's fever had mysteriously decreased and other factors that were being monitored were showing signs of rapid improvement. Doctors, who had been perplexed about the illness, were in awe at the recovery. There was no explanation. Within a few days, the only sign of his near death experience was the tremendous amount of weight my husband had lost. Luckily, this took no miracle to correct. Within months, recovery was complete.

I never talked about the prayer meeting after that - probably, because the obvious went too much against my preconceived ideas. For a long time, I put that piece of my reality in a closed little box inside my consciousness. I still believed something strange had happened, but as for prayer, it was still a practice for the less enlightened.


Universities and medical centers have repeatedly conducted scientific studies to test the effects of prayer resulting in growing evidence of its benefits as well as an increased acceptance of prayer by the medical community. Still, many consider prayer to be in the realm of superstition and ignorance. Happily, I'm no longer one of those. Prayer is an integral part of my daily life. I appreciate the science that confirms my practice, but life has actually provided the best test tube to prove its advantages.

Prayer continues to be the topic of much discussion, even amongst those who believe in its power. There are different types of prayers as well as methods and approaches. I used to engage in an internal debate about the superiority of personally worded prayers over the "ready made" kind. Now I don't worry. I have a feeling God listens to any prayer, in any way it's framed; and I accept that others, especially the masters, could actually compose a prayer better than I can and infuse their sacred energy within it as well.

Recently, I learned about Ho-oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian spiritual practice. It is mostly associated with forgiveness and reconciliation, but one of its major prayers seems to include all the identified types of prayers in a simple, yet sensible and sensitive manner. It seems not to include intercessory prayer (praying for someone else), but I suppose one can modify.

Dear Heavenly Father (Mother, God, Creator),
I am sorry. (prayer of penitence)
Please forgive me. (prayer of petition)
I love you. (prayer of praise and adoration)
Thank you. (prayer of thanksgiving)

I am convinced that what is important is to pray from the heart. It keeps us connected to the Spirit within and around us. I think it opens the door to grace, which encompasses the surprise gifts from Above.
My husband's best friend was an atheist. When he was ill and people offered to pray for him, he typically responded, "If it makes you feel better, go ahead." I chose to believe that those prayers did help him...somehow, even though our exact petition was not granted. I trust that God knew best. I think perhaps prayer, all prayer, is ultimately a request that God's Will be done - and his Will includes infinite possibilities. And yes, I agree with our friend, it does make us feel better.

I also think that prayer is not a request for God to contradict reason or nature. So, I wouldn't advise you to faithfully pray that God protect you when you jump from a plane without a parachute.
"Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

Indian Proverb

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