What is prayer?

This post is possibly a bit premature, but it seems timely, and I don’t want to wait till I get to Matthew 6:9 (which at the rate I’m going, might be a while).

Many Christian prayers I’ve seen or heard seem to be asking God for things. Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4) asks God for things: give us our daily bread, deliver us from evil.

I can’t understand that. If God is infinitely powerful and wise then everything that happens is His will and is for the best. Asking Him for things is superfluous.

So something else must be going on.

It seems important to pray for the right things and to do it in the right way. And it seems that prayers that miss these criteria and not just poor examples of prayers — like a badly filled-in application form is still an application form — but that they are in a way not real prayers at all — submitting a shopping list instead of an application form.

Some prayers don’t ask for things. The Spem in alium prayer doesn’t ask:

Spem in alium numquam habui praeter in te Deus Israel qui irasceris et propitius eris et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis Domine Deus Creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.

I have never put my hope in any other but in you, O God of Israel, who can show both anger and graciousness, and who absolves all the sins of suffering man. Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, be mindful of our humiliation.

Oh, OK, it does, but respice humilitatem nostram is not really the point of the prayer I don’t think.

Maybe the important thing is searching for and arriving at the right things to pray for or about. The putting into words is part of that, and not a separate process of articulation or ornamentation. I was about to say it’s a way of thinking, but it feels better to say it’s a way of placing oneself.

1 Comment

  1. […] This is the analogue (and maybe the source?) of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke. Like those prayers, it suggests you can ask God for things. I need to work out how someone can have the nerve to ask God for something. See also What is prayer? […]

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