What is prayer, and why do we practice it? Nearly all religions have some type of “prayer”. All religions have a reaching out, so to speak, towards An OTHER that somehow gives a sense of completeness and wholeness that facilities it’s continuance through generations. Many of the prayers we recite currently have been around for thousands of years. But why? What is prayer? Is it simply dialogue? Communication with G-d? If so, it’s is almost exclusively one sided, so to speak. Is it a Petition? And yet we are told that G-d know what we need of Him before we ask. Why would it be necessary to ask G-d for something that HE already knows that we need. Does one type of prayer “work” better than another? What about repetition? Is it effective without emotion….or as Jews would say “proper Kavanah”? Prayer is indeed a mystery. It is a connecting of this world with another…with a world hidden from our perception of reality but never the less, very very real. Can we really know how prayer works? Why it works? Yet most religious persons agree that it is a necessity. Why?
In my personal experience prayer has been a very natural response to FAITH. Prayer is just saying “G-d, I know you’re here.” Even as a repetition, as a “habit”, a “ritual” prayer reminds us that G-d exists and He is personal and connected existentially to His creation. Muslims, Jews and Christians alike spend time, energy and emotion in connecting with a perception of something bigger , HOLY that is both Creator and Father. Often times prayers are mandated by the religion, such as saying prayers two or three times a day at set hours. Certain prayers may be required at certain events or experiences. Yet,.even when our prayers are seemingly unanswered we keep praying, believing that G-d will hear our prayers. It is an expression of our faith. It is an ascension, spiritually, towards something we neither understand nor can control. It is saying not only to G-d, but most admittedly to ourselves that G-d is in charge. G-d directs our path, aware of both the good and bad, but leading us, none the less, through it all. But, perhaps most important of all, more important than even G-d hearing our prayers is the idea that we…we… hear our prayers.
So, you may ask, why is it important that we hear our prayers? Surely we know what we are saying and want to say to G-d. But in actuality….we don’t always know. As we pray our faith turns our words into something miraculous, something inspired. They become statements of faith. Even our begging…our pleading…our tears…make our loads lighter and more bearable. We hear that we are not alone. We hear that our faith is taking us into another place of existence, connecting with more than who we are. This, in my opinion is the most miraculous of all encounters. We hear our prayers to G-d and suddenly we find within ourselves the very source of power and wisdom and ecstatically realize that G-d is here with us, with in us. We come to realize that He is not just a “part” of us, He is our existence. In Him we live and breath. The Alef…the breath of creation is as near as our own breath. When we block out the world and our limited perceptions we come face to face with the G-d who has always been with us….near us. Our problems have focus, our needs have answers, our questions are no longer hopeless. We pray because we need to know this. How else could we? This is the purpose of prayer.
Is it important to have the proper “feelings” when praying? Prayer is not about “feeling” it is about connection. In our humanity we have come to understand that we don’t always respond perfectly with those around us. There are times when feelings exist….and times when the don’t. I think the most important aspect of a “feeling” prayer is to remember that an emotional “high” so to speak, is hardly the purpose of prayer. Judaism teaches that prayer without Kavanah is still an acceptable prayer to G-d. But ideally, the Kavanah is to be present when we approach G-d. Just like any relationship wither it be between husband and wife, mother and child, etc., feelings are not what makes the day to day activities of the relationship. Every time you tell a bedtime story or wish a loved one a good day…feelings are not always present. Yet it is love that makes the relationship work…not feelings. We do the right thing because it is the right thing….not because we feel like doing it always. Yet, somehow, the more we open up to our connection with G-d the more emotions are touched. This is not the objective of prayer, but a natural response to prayer.
When are we to pray most? When our faith is weakest. When the G-d within us seems distant and uncaring. Pray…Pray and pray more. Talk with G-d. Tell Him He seems distant and uncaring. Look at the patriarchs of our faith. Many even argued with G-d! Accused G-d, Questioned G-d….not because of their lack of faith but because their faith demanded that G-d reveal more of Himself. Their faith demanded that G-d act as the G-d they knew HIM to be. And in talking and questioning and they received greater revelation. When are we to pray most? When Life is so beautiful we are about to burst and we feel a closeness to G-d that is both indescribable and undefinable. WE pray in song, in dance, in joyful tears. We pray unceasingly. We share with HIm our gratitude. When do we pray most? When the world is darkest and G-d’s light needs not to be hidden from our world. We bring G-d to the surface of our being until our face shines like Moshe when he left the Mischan. WE pray that G-d will allow us to be Him in the world. When do we pray most? Always. Christians should pray because that is the only way they can become the persons they are designed to be. Only a deep closeness and connection with our Creator keeps us on the Path of the Righteous and prepares us for what lies ahead of us. We pray because prayer changes the way we think. It gives us a “G-d” perspective that nothing else can replace. Prayer is not just a connection with G-d, but a connection with our own faith. Like shinning a light on a dark path, prayer gives us vision and perception. It stirs action! Not only on the part of G-d…but in us also. Prayer is like the song the birds sing on a spring day. It should be a natural part of who we are…as close to us as our own breathing. As Close to us as G-d.
In conclusion, prayer is our opportunity to be connected with G-d. Prayer has the power to change the world, change ourselves, and amazingly enough, to change our very understand of who G-d IS. . But, prayer is not something we initiate just when we feels inspired or needful. Corrie Ten Boom said of prayer, “Do not pray when you feel like it. Make and appointment with God and keep it. ” Prayer is something much deeper and more profound than just getting “answers”. Prayer is a partnering with God. It is our connection with heaven. Prayer increases our awareness of God in the world. It bring back balance and perspective. Prayer is the foundation for faith and faithfulness to the Christian. We enter prayer with the awareness that we are approaching an infinitely awesome God, Creator of the Universe. And yet, this God is also our father, our provider, our protector…and our friend. WE approach God with awesome respect and unconditional love. This is how He loves us. Shame and guilt are never permanent barriers to our relationship with Him. He is waiting with open arms to hear us and forgive us. Prayer is running to God in our humanity.. It is finding a way home in a confusing and sometimes harsh world. It is finding ourselves, once again…connected with God