Why do we pray? And how does it work? I’m not sure that these questions can be easily answered, or if they are even the right questions to ask. Not that I know what the “right” questions are. Given recent events, and after seeing the Facebook page of a non-religious friend, I did post the second question on Facebook, and was surprised to find over 50 replies in the comments! They came from a wildly diverse group of people, and not only from church-goers. The long, thoughtful thread that emerged moved me deeply.
Would any of the replies have satisfied the original question on my other friend’s page in the first place? Probably not, and for more multiple reasons. This goes back to my point about if “how does prayer work?” even being the appropriate question.
An internet search of that very question brings forth a lengthy and somewhat disparate list of results. It reminded me of using Google as a resource for my unanswered medical quesitons… it is not necessarily the best path. The ads on the right hand column were even more disturbing than the 109,000,000 search “results.”
So what is the best question? As we see many #PrayforParis or #PrayforBeirut images on social media, all I can say is that my own prayer life contains many forms. Some are active, like praying the Rosary, or attending mass, to the more contemplative, like sitting still. When I cook, I believe that I am praying. Writing is a prayer also. Walking the dog in the dark, repeating over and over again, in sync with my breath, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a poor sinner,” is yet another prayer. It is quite contemplative as I intone those words and watch the eastern sky lighten slightly, with geometric patterns of stars and planets complimenting the picture. And I can’t omit this wonderful way to “pray” based on a book title, “When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life” by Jane Redmont. (Yes, Jane is a dear friend, and yes, I recommend the book, it lives on my nightstand for constant reference and rereading.)
Speaking of walking, my Camino Santiago prep walks are a prayer. In my heart and mind I carry a long list of names and requests, some made specifically. I think of the many donors who have been kind enough to support my camino journey financially, and those who have donated their prayers and love to the effort. Each step is a prayer – and each step, especially when I am hurting, is me being carried by the prayers of so many others.
Most “questions” about why we pray, or about how it works, remain unanswered. Honestly, I rarely think about it. Over time, prayer growers more fully integrated into my life, and while I understand the query, I can rarely satisfy the person who asks. All I can do is… well, yes – I pray. And yes – I am praying for Paris, and for Beirut, and for all the violence and terrorism, be it coordinated attacks, or simply the slow motion roll of death by hate that is fulfilled in many terrible ways.
I’ll close with this song, one that was posted in the comment thread on my Facebook page. Who knows how prayer works, but this is often how it works out.