What The Church Taught Me About Prayer

A person can never begin to understand who God is until the moment when he/she is forced to live as if God is all there is. We say (we being 94% of the American population) we believe in God, yet few of us live like it. That goes for those who call themselves believers as well as for those who do not. A crisis pops up in our lives and we either pick up the phone and call everyone on earth to talk it out, or we get stoic and decide not to confront it at all. The one thing we don’t do is pray first. In fact we usually wait until we have exhausted every other possible option before we pray.

Then, when we do pray, we do it in a way that is so half-hearted as to almost not qualify as prayer at all. We do not expect our prayers to be answered, and in our honest moments would have to admit that we often do not expect that they have even been heard. We are jaded by all those times we have prayed and situations have not changed. We are afraid to ask, lest our faith is further shaken in the wake of not receiving.

Should I be angry that I am 33 years old, have grown up in the church, and have never learned a single thing about prayer other than it’s important for some reason and that, for the same reason it is important (whatever that is), we should do it? I mean, what if prayer has been misrepresented? That’s not even a question, it’s a fact. Prayer HAS been misrepresented.

It is misrepresented by the way it is practiced in the church. Certainly thousands of books have been written on the topic, and many of those books contain some of the “secrets” I have just begun to learn about prayer, but why is prayer by and large not practiced properly in the church? I’m not saying it’s wrong to open or close a church service with prayer. But it is wrong when in most church services prayer has nothing else to do with what happens. It is as if prayer is an ornament — something we hang on a public service to make it look nice.

But prayer is more than an ornament. Prayer is not fundamentally about asking, nor is it fundamentally about listening. Prayer is fundamentally about breathing. Prayer is that mechanism whereby we become attuned to the spiritual world. Prayer prepares us to live in that world. It brings us into that world. It reveals to us things from that world that we otherwise could not possibly have known. If believers are citizens of two worlds, prayer is the naturalization course where we learn the ways and means of God.

This is a logical place for me to stop, seeing as I have already said enough about prayer to give someone the impression that either a) I know a considerable amount about the topic, or b) I have read about it and am stealing the thoughts of someone else. Neither of these things is true. I feel myself at the beginning of an adventure in prayer, and these are simply the most cursory thoughts on the topic.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • I’m 44 and married w/ 2 girls. While I may not be a seminarian, I feel like one. Theology has been a white hot topic for me ever since the historical Jesus movement in the 90’s. I’ve read so much of the stuff I feel I’m almost qualified to give lectures. I just launched godgrief.com this week. I wanted humansuffering.com but somebody got to it first. My biggest influences are Feuerbach, Tillich, Watts, Borg, Ehrman, and Spong. There’s a wave of change rolling over our culture these days and no one’s noticed how it’s affecting our religious traditions. I tell people in my Catholic parish that I think of myself as a postmodern theologian or Christian secularist. Christianity by it’s nature resists liberalism, so it can only survive in a democratic climate by reinventing itself.

    I like what I’m reading on your blog. Keep it up. Humanity is worth our sacrifice, even if Aristotle was right about the soul.

    “Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.”

    • wildwinddave

      I’m not sure Christianity resists liberalism by its nature. I think fundamentalist Christianity resists liberalism by its nature, but this is a fairly recent phenomenon, is it not?

      Love your comments, thanks for posting.