Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Faith Works 04-30-05

Why do we pray in Licking County?
Jeff Gill

Christians pray. The Lord’s Prayer, morning prayers, bedtime prayers; we pray in worship services and we pray in private. We speak to God, addressing ourselves to the Creator of the Universe, with a sense of trust in the belief that God listens, and a sense of wonder that God might answer.
Moslems pray, offering their submission, or “Islam” (the literal meaning of that awkward transliteration from the Arabic) to Allah, five times a day at minimum, whether alone or in association with other believers.
Jews pray, both in corporate worship that calls for a “minyan,” the ten men needed for official services, or alone before the Lord Who is One, Adonai.
Hindus pray, to a variety of divine figures who embody manifestations of the Divine Nature, but prayers both “set” and spontaneous are part of their tradition as well, no matter how different their worship spaces look to Western eyes.
Native Americans, or members of the First Nations as the Canadians say, pray; they speak most often of what they do devotionally as “listening,” with much less emphasis on asking or requesting than what they hear Anglo-Europeans do in prayer. Those who happily accept the label “Pagan” or Wiccam say much the same about their prayers.
Buddhists . . . well, they are more comfortable, for the most part, with the word “meditate,” but there are many traditional petitions and praises to the embodiments of Buddha-nature that sound like nothing other than prayer.
And the profane speak the name of God in a variety of forms, most of which are rude and disrespectful . . . but often with a frustrated or helpless tone that almost makes you think they could even be . . . naaaahhh. But Jesus really doesn’t have a middle name as far as anyone can tell from the Bible, in case you wondered.
So what are we all doing when we pray? Of course, there are those who would say that if you are not praying to the real, actual God, you are moving your lips and wasting oxygen; there are also those militantly atheistic enough to say we’re all doing that.
Others, a fair number around these parts I would guess, believe that prayers not intended and aimed and shaped by the right or true or orthodox position are getting much less communion and communication out of their prayers than they might. There is more of an economy of efficiency than an assertion of accuracy among Licking County believers of all faiths. Even very conservative Christians around here would agree that prayers of the monotheistic faiths, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem are spoken to the same one God, but with less efficacy depending on one’s spiritual disciplines and personal faithfulness. Most would even say God hears the misuse of divine labels by the profane; they just would not want to be in their shoes when the answer comes back.
Do those who pray think they talk to God? Almost without exception, yes. Do they think they change God? Generally, no. Serious pray-ers mostly see their prayers as having effects on those who offer the prayers, opening a channel for God’s grace and peace to work in them through a powerful non-verbal communication in response; they also understand their prayers as having an effect on others by being the vehicle for allowing that grace-filled power to flow more freely in a world often intent on blocking God’s intention. While free will, in this post-Calvinistic world, is widely understood by believers as the autonomy God respects in human persons, those who freely choose prayer can give an appropriate and effective nudge to events in the world by opening doors for God to work. And such openness allows our will to be aligned with the will of God, a source of power for those who believe.
Prayer is . . . how would you answer that?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Share your story of prayer at work with him at

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