Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Looking at prayer again

Prayer comes from the Latin precarius, "obtained by begging" and precari, "to entreat" - to ask earnestly, beseech, implore.

Prayer means many different things to different people. At its most basic level, it is the manifestation of hope in human beings, our ability to say that we don't know everything, that there is something or someone larger and wiser than we are that can guide our lives.

Mahatma Gandhi, father of modern India, described prayer as:

      "Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening. There is no peace without the grace of God, and there is no grace of God without prayer.

      Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action. Undoubtedly, prayer requires a living faith in God.

      Heartfelt prayer steadies one’s nerves, humbles one and clearly shows one the next step."

"Prayer is", according to theologian Ann Ulanov and Prof. Barry Ulanov, "the most fundamental, primordial, and important language humans speak. Prayer starts without words and often ends without them. It knows its own evasions, its own infinite variety of dodges. It works some of the time in signs and symbols, lurches when it must, leaps when it can, has several kinds of logic at its disposal."

To L. Crawford,

      "Prayer is a cleansing process, washing our thoughts, feelings, motives, and will, purifying the entire being including the heart, thus enabling us to see God, for without purity no one can see God.

      Prayer is the greatest spiritual asset in the world."

Prayer may be individual or communal, private or public. It may be offered in words, sigh, gestures or in silence. Prayer may flow from the subconscious. It may even emerge in dreams, completely bypassing waking awareness.

Prayer is probably the world's most widely practiced visualization technique. Those who pray often begin with a relaxation ritual such as attending a house of worship or kneeling by the bed. Then they conjure a personal image of a God or some Higher Power and ask that the requests in their prayers be granted.

Many people feel profoundly calm after praying. Prayer is deeply relaxing, and those who do it regularly are, in effect, meditating. But science cannot explain some remarkable studies showing that to a degree that goes way beyond coincidence, prayer works.

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