Friday, January 30, 2009

Why do we pray?

Why do we pray? This is a question that has returned to me more than once during the past months. The reason being that I come across more and more people who simply do not practice this ancient ritual, or even explicitly do not find it of value in a pragmatic society where people want immediate results instead of vague promises. And prayer does not fall in a category of practices that deliver promptly.
So why then pray? To pray is first of all to acknowledge and trust that we are not alone in the universe, that there are some things bigger and more mysterious than we are able to understand, see or control. Karl Barth, under the impression of what he called the qualitative difference between an eternal God and temporal man, wrote: “God is in heaven and we as humans are on earth”. By praying we confirm this in a simple, elegant way.

In prayer we also confess that we are dependant on something outside of ourselves, that as humans we need a higher source to support and guide us and to endow our lives with meaning. Prayer is based on the trust that this God in heaven, is also a benevolent power who not only created life, but sustains it daily by holding and nurturing it with love and kindness.

Frederick Bauerschmidt, in a wonderful article on the thoughts of Meister Eckhardt, reminds us that humans are quite simply not an appropriate centre for the universe; that we cannot bear the burden of endowing the world with its significance. And this is because we are not suited to be sources; rather, we are receptacles. We are not first givers, but receivers; not first of all seekers, but as the gospels tell us, the ones who need to be found.

Once we overcome the illusion of self-sufficiency and detach ourselves from the ego and its desire to be its own source, we discover that life is fundamentally a gift and that we may thank and praise God for that. We find that we may pray. In the words of Bauerschmidt: “Once our egos accept their fundamentally receptive nature, a new world is opened to us…We do not master the world with our ideas and concepts, but receive the world as God’s gift, just as we receive ourselves as God’s gift and even receive God as God’s gift…”

Prayer therefore finally expresses the faith that God is a personal being with whom we may converse, share our deepest fears and joys, ask for help and support when needed and also joyfully praise and thank because we have discovered God’s goodness. Is this not what Jesus invited and encouraged us to do when he taught us the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11). And did Jesus not also promise us that God will vindicate those who cry out to God day and night (Luke 18:7).

So why not take the courage today to kneel down, lift up your eyes (and hands) and start praying to God. Dostoevsky identified prayer as education, the best education you can get.

Carel Anthonissen

No comments:

Post a Comment