What is Prayer?

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends.” No, not Mitt. He can buy his own 😉 Janis Joplin co-wrote this song in 1970, and the phrase has stayed with me. I found it amusing as well as an interesting take on prayer.

Why do people pray? What do people mean by prayer? For us non-theologians, this is what Wikipedia suggests as the beliefs that underlay prayer in the various major religions:
• the finite can communicate with the infinite
• the infinite is interested in communicating with the finite
• prayer is intended to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, rather than to influence the recipient
• prayer is intended to train a person to focus on the recipient through philosophy and intellectual contemplation
• prayer is intended to enable a person to gain a direct experience of the recipient
• prayer is intended to affect the very fabric of reality as we perceive it
• prayer is a catalyst for change in oneself and/or one’s circumstances, or likewise those of third party beneficiaries
• the recipient desires and appreciates prayer
• or any combination of these.

I know people pray for those in need as well as for possessions. In times of tragedy prayer is used to comfort people. Yet to me it often has felt as if by doing so they were making God as Other, outside of themselves, some ‘Heavenly Father,’ who magically will make all that feels bad good, the cosmic booboo kisser so-to-speak.

Reverend Sonya Milton’s talk at San Francisco Unity (http://unitysf.com/) this Sunday, 8-19-2012, touched upon this issue. Paraphrasing an Indian Swami, she said something like, ‘it is very hard to imaging getting hugged by a Universal Principal.’ When one needs comfort, imaging a ‘Heavenly Father’ can be much more reassuring.

For me, at this point in my life, prayer seems to be expressing my desire to be attuned to the highest good. It becomes both an appeal for direction or insight, and a letting go of ego driven needs, wants or fears. I find this can be easing, and allow me to merge intellectual understanding with a felt sense. And sometimes, a clearer sense of direction.

What is prayer to you?

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5 Responses to What is Prayer?

  1. Jerry Keusch says:

    A very relevant post for me, because I just spent the last week putting together a blog on what the spiritual is to me 🙂 But to answer your question. Prayer to me is the means by which we make a connection with our spirit. Personally, I prefer the word contemplation or meditation, as while I am convinced of our spirituality, I am yet to be convinced that God isn’t a rather simple answer to a much more profound question.

    • One difficulty with ‘spirituality’ and related words, is that they are used to mean somewhat different things by different people. I have been meditating over many years. For me that is silent time, allowing the mind to empty out. Yet people meditate ON things, which sounds like a different process to me, perhaps contemplation. Or a valued oriented trance state. I question prayer since it seems somewhat different than meditation, and is a mainstay of many peoples practices. I think I have been missing out on something by not finding a way, valid for me, to directly use it.

  2. Jim Gordon says:

    Prayer exists on several levels: On the lowest level it is requesting God or the Universe to bring one something for oneself. On a higher level it is requesting a blessing for another person. On the highest level it takes the form of Enlightenment, in which one experiences one’s Essence as being the same Essence that is the Core of all manifest existence. On the second level ego is diminished, On the highest level it becomes transparent to all Being.

  3. Allen Klein says:

    Our friend, John Welshons (he stayed at our house when he spoke at Unity) wrote an interested book titled When Prayers Aren’t Answered. We hope our prayers will be answered and question why they aren’t.


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