Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Does Prayer Work?

I have spent a lot of time in my life praying. I obviously don't any more. (If you're new here, I'm a former Catholic, now atheist.) I have prayed for big things and little things. Prayed for strength, prayed for others, prayed for guidance, prayed for a boy to fall in love with me. (Ok, that last one might be a tipoff that it's been a long while since I believed in the power of prayer.)

But back when I DID believe in the power of prayer, I don't think I ever really thought about it. Now that I'm an atheist, I find it utterly bewildering. My list of questions about how prayer works has grown longer the more I've thought about it. He are some of the highlights:

Does God ever respond with specific intervention based on prayers? Why? Why would God help guide you to your lost wedding ring, for example, but not give the folks in Japan a heads up about the tsunami that's coming. If the tsunami is all a part of God's master plan, then didn't he have a plan that involved you losing your wedding ring? And if his plan also involved your finding it, doesn't that mean that He wasn't really answering your prayers so much as following the master plan He had already laid out? So basically, God really only follows His own master plan and will "answer" your prayers if it's something He was already planning on doing anyway.

Also very perplexing for me: prayers to saints. Now I have heard people say hundreds of times to pray to such-and-such a saint for assistance with some particular problem. First off, I thought the first commandment says to put no gods before me. If you're praying to someone other than God himself, that seems a little close to the line on that one. I've had a devoutly Catholic friend explain this to me this way: you're not praying TO the saints as though they are answering your prayers, it's more like you're asking them for help, like you would a friend. That sounds a little better to me, but I'm still a little perplexed. 1) I think there are a lot of people praying to saints who aren't making that distinction. 2) If you're gonna ask someone for help, why not go directly to the big guy himself? Why ask for help from some saint when you can ask God. You know He's listening anyway. 3) Why would you need help from a saint anyway if God's on your side. Is God swayed by a good word from St. Peter on your behalf? (I'm assuming not.)

Anyway, I just know that most everyone I know believes that God answers their prayers. I think that most people also believe that God has a greater plan that we do not fully (or even slightly) understand. It would seem to me that these are conflicting beliefs. I don't get it.


Just a reminder. I'm open to all comments, whether you agree or disagree with me, so long as you're respectful


Deacon Blue said...

Well, for what it's worth, from a guy raised Catholic but not all that devout and then borderline agnostic for much of adulthood and then born again in Protestant faith and being a non-aggressive kinda evangelistic guy and then morphing into a progressive believes Jesus is the son of God but doesn't think he cares much what spiritual path we take as long as a desire/search for enlightenment exists along with a sense of accountability, responsibility, remorse, compassion and desire to grow kind of guy.


Anyway, now that you know what chaotic mess my thoughts springs, my thoughts on prayer:

First, I have had prayers answered, and in ways that are too perfectly timed and too catered to my crisis or needs for me to believe random chance was involved. Does that mean God (or however you like to refer to the higher power) personally took an interest in my problems among billions of people? Maybe. I don't know. Could be He does that from time to time to give us signs. Could be more "psychic" and that at times we manifest our godlike spiritual selves in a way that moves God's power in the way we need.

But on a more global scale, I don't think prayers are intended to be for asking for stuff. I don't think God is a cosmic ATM. A source of strength and comfort and a spiritual touchpoint, yes? Our almighty generous uncle who gives us what mom and dad won't? No. I think prayer is for connecting. Connecting to ourselves and the the greater spiritual nature of things. That could be traditional prayer or meditation or a host of other things.

Prayer, as I see it,is a way of communicating. Sometimes the response we get back is subliminal and we don't realize we ever got it. Sometimes it's a shout. Sometimes, it just leads to epiphanies and further growth.

Bernadette said...

I think God can give special power or talent to anyone so don't you think God can give saints the power to answer prayers? Any power a saint or Blessed Mother or angels have to assist us with problems has been give to them by God. Why not just pray always to God? To me it's similar to why would I ask the CEO of a corporation every question when my immediate supervisor can give me the answer.

As far as the tsunami, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. these are natural occurring events that have been happening since the beginning of the earth. It doesn't matter if people are present or not they are going to happen.

The Japanese people know tsunami's have happened in that area. There were even warning posts placed to tell people that they shouldn't build below a certain point because tsunamis have hit those areas in the past. They were warned.

Bernadette said...

Oops forgot to send you the link to this blog.

RaRa said...

I don't know 'how' it works, all I know is that it does. If there was a formula for which prayers were answered, it wouldn't be faith, it would be fact. And I agree with Deacon, that prayers are primarily communication between you and God. I feel like you first have to develop a conversation and a relationship through general prayers and just talking to God, before you can really ask for something specific. But maybe that's just me: I couldn't go up to a random guy on the street and ask for $100. Same with God.

Matt Conlon said...

I am an agnostic, with atheistic tendencies, a spiritual outlook with a catholic background...

I feel that IF God exists (which I'm inclined to believe) he's basically a father to us all. As we do with our kids, we do everything we can to not show preferential treatment to one child over another. In a situation where there would be a father with MILLIONS of kids, I'd think he'd have to be somewhat hands off.

There have been studies that "prove" that patients who are prayed for recover more quickly and benefit etc... And I don't know that I necessarily disbelieve in that fact...

However, I can't say that there is or isn't a consciousness somewhere picking and choosing who lives or dies, or who is pious enough to deserve special treatment... I think there's a certain amount of impact caused by the collective positive thought and energies of the praying folk. At least, I find it a more likely explanation.

Then again, could that be because God put that power into us?

... who knows.

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