Humans have the extraordinary capacity of knowing more than we can manage and imagining even more beyond that. Many empathize with needs that are beyond their ability to fulfill.
From ancient times we have had an alternative way to reach beyond our capacities which is widely debated and analyzed: spiritual power sent to needs we cannot reach by material means, a faith act which usually fits within the broad term “prayer.”
Some view prayer in terms of management hierarchy as a request submitted to Someone who is everywhere and all-powerful and Who answers either “No,” or “Yes, I will do the work on your behalf.” This is sort of like waiting for an answer to a loan or job application. Some go through the forms of prayers without actually believing in their efficacy making it more a cultural ritual used for bonding with one’s community.
I view prayer as our personal participation in the all-pervasive, on-going creation process which God is accomplishing through us and all elements. Prayer as a part of the creation process is unique to humanity partly because we can choose to do it, or not.
It is the believing part that makes prayer more than an empty ritual. Prayer believing the work is being accomplished in some form, in some time and place, is the intentional participation in creation’s progress. We usually cannot judge whether the person praying is actually believing, or “how much” they believe, whether they are praying “correctly,” or “enough.” One person may speak the prayer aloud while their group listens, each individual choosing to agree and believe or not.
But there is a continual flow of claims that “prayers have been answered,” that people of faith around the world have prayed when they could not physically deal with needs and those needs have been filled in ways those praying could not accomplish otherwise.
Note here the words often spoken by Jesus when he did an act of creation such as healing, “Your faith has made you whole.” In the setting of Love and compassion we believe and that connects the material with the Spirit of Creation.
Joining in Prayer
This is a matter of each individual’s heart attitude, attitudes that can relate to one another in mutual encouragement that inspires a group. Often a group believing together is inspired to act out their prayer in creative actions that benefit the world.
Indeed, it has been recognized by many over the eons that prayer is not just verbal, but everything said and done in faith that causes the progress of creation. Prayer can cause words and deeds of faith which, in turn, inspire more people to act in faith for a long chain of benefits to society. This is the spiritual power we can exert upon creation, an effect that some attempt to manipulate, but which happens in the freewill attitude of Love and compassion.
The Setting for Prayer
The environment of current Western Society complicates prayer with scholarship, performance, skepticism, the scientific method, hierarchies, systems, materialism and political passions. The skilled orator often attempts to mobilize high emotion to accomplish a strategy someone has determined is “best.” Thus, with religious fervor they anoint their cause, king or regime to overwhelm their opposition, claiming spiritual power that actually looks more like group-think led by emotional rhetoric.
When we are overwhelmed by these complications, we can just cry in the inner sanctums of our hearts the primal prayer, “Help!”
That is the first impulse of prayer, to be connected to the One Who is sufficient beyond limits. In this we acknowledge the unknown which we encounter, and confess we are neither dependent upon a people group, nor self-sufficient. This is a wonderfully liberating revelation: that we are not on our own, we belong to a beautiful reality that transcends boundaries, and that we actually participate in the growth of this incomprehensible universe.
It’s a Life
And this shows us that prayer is not only for getting or fixing physical stuff. Prayer can be a life, an outlook of faith moving ahead in word and deed. Last summer my wife and I read aloud to one another Angela Duckworth’s book Grit in which she describes what we recognize as “prayer living.” Although she is not promoting religion, we see key aspects of the prayer life in her research of people who accomplish much. We made a graphic for our wall which states three characteristics of our life as prayer in Duckworth’s words:
Growth Attitude —–> Optimistic Talk —–> Perseverance Over Adversity
(she says “mindset”)—–(she says “self-talk”)
This is faith working outward into action and the broader effect upon the world. The spiritual is manifested in our everyday, material lives.
To pray is first of all to commune with God, to be in fellowship deeper than materiality. This communion brings all material needs into peace and unity with our deepest, true selves, the union point of material and spirit. Then we behave accordingly in word and deed.