Over the years, I have often had difficulty with the idea and practice of prayer. Virtually all spiritual practices include some form of “prayer” in their ritual and expressions. Prayers may be a very personal statement &/or request to that which one calls God (by whatever name); or a similar expression to one’s spiritual master (e.g. Jesus, Muhammad, a Buddha); or to the broader universe, angels, or spiritual teachers of no specific name. Or perhaps a statement directed to no one in particular – simply an expression of belief or hope with respect to humanity in general.
Broad-based statements expressing hopes for the well-being of humanity, or more specific pockets of people (e.g. disaster victims, emerging nations, or our country recovering after 9-11) has generally seemed appropriate to me. The broad audience that is the object of my prayer seems to inherently help me maintain my humility within my request.
It is prayers of intercession – praying for outcomes and actions directed to others – and prayers for a change in my circumstances or direction, that feel awkward to me. Prayers to change the course of the lives of others, or to try to focus God’s/Universe’s heightened attention to their needs, seems somewhat presumptuous (if not arrogant) of me. I may feel very sympathetic, if not empathetic, to the needs of someone else. When I pray to end that person’s suffering or adversity, how can I know what is truly “best” for that individual in God’s eyes, or what “contract” has already been established between his/her soul and God? How much of my expressed wish for that person is really more towards comforting me and reducing my suffering over that person’s circumstance, versus understanding that God has a greater good intended for that person that I cannot see from my more limited earthly view.
Similarly, when I pray for my own needs, how well do I truly know that Pathway A is preferable for the deepest aspirations of my soul than Pathway B? Am I praying to accomplish my plan, or to fulfill God’s better intentions for me – intentions likely beyond my recognition. This seems even more confusing when I read that “God knows [my] needs even before I do.” If that is so, why do I even need to make a request if God is way ahead of me already?
In the end, I believe that I do not pray to God to cause anything to happen that God is not already doing anyway. Nor does God need my help in becoming attuned to someone else’s need for divine comfort and help. God is already fully on top of this situation. Rather, the act of prayer forces ME to attune and focus MY self to other people’s circumstances, or to my own thoughts. It helps ME to catch up to where God already is. It is MY attention that needs awakening and focusing, and it is in prayer that my spirit is alerted to the task at hand.
Once I catch up, I put myself in a right position to think, speak, and act as God is already doing. In truth, I am not really praying for God to do anything. I am actually praying to bring the God that is inside of me to fulfillment. To come one step closer to seeing and understanding as God, to partner in God’s divine work, and thereby to help God to live on earth through me. It is not God’s light that we seek to call to shine; it is already doing so always. Rather, it is our own light within waiting to be called to shine. Pray to God, and by so doing, pray to myself.