Saturday, September 17, 2016

How Prayer Works

- along a wilderness trail -

Every evening before dinner I go to one of my “quiet” places at my house and engage in a dedicated time of “evening prayer.” I “pray for” myself and for others. I pray for the sick, the needy and for those who suffer, for people I love and for those who may have done me wrong. I pray for friends and for strangers, for this nation and the world. I pray for leaders and those who hold authority over others.

During my evening prayer time yesterday, I paused and reminded myself about what I was doing as I prayed how I think prayer works.

For one thing, when I pray I never imagine that I submitting petitions to some heavenly superpower in a distant place who is capable of either granting or denying the requests. I never think of “God” as supreme king holding court or superman in the sky who has power to control the world. 

But I have an even more serious problem with “petitioning God” with prayer requests. In my experience,  when people make their divine requests they are often hurt and even angry if “God” doesn’t answer them favorably. They wonder why God ignored or denied their petition?  Did they do something wrong, are they being punished? I have seen many instances in which "unanswered prayers" cause people to lose faith or turn away from the church. 

And yet, every evening I devote a dedicated time to pray for my “own need and for the needs of others” because I believe that praying in this way is not only important but it does make a difference. I just redefine what doing this actually means.

I came across something priest and author, Richard Rohr, recently wrote about “how” pray works and “why” praying for others has effects. Rohr suggests that, when we move away from an image of God as a distant controlling power and redefine God as the abiding energy in which everything and everyone is interconnected and intertwined, the whole idea of “prayer” takes on a whole new perspective. The discoveries of today’s new scientists who talk about the principle of quantum entanglement may help us get a better idea of what “prayer” does: 

All reality is nonlocal, in other words
things can affect one another despite distances or time space coordinates.
Nature is not composed of material substances 
but deeply entangled fields of energy.
The nature of the universe is undivided wholeness.

When we pray, the prayers we offer “disturb” the entangled field of energy (like throwing a little pebble into a pond the ripples throughout the entire body of water.)  “God” is the energy of universal love in whom we are all connected. As I see it, our prayers are the pebbles thrown into that “field” of Love.

So yes,  I do think we can and should pray for our needs and for one another, and I do believe our prayers have effects - they stir up the energy, they make a difference. And the thing is that you can be an agnostic and even an atheist and still pray for others when you think of prayer in this way.

The ecologist John Muir once said:

Tug on anything at all and
you will find it connected to everything else in the universe.


  1. I acquired a book titled, "Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer", the way we pray today has certainly changed to the way we used to pray.

    Quote: Could our deepest hurts reveal the key to a powerful form of prayer that was lost 17 centuries ago. What can we learn today from the great secrets of our most cherished traditions.End quote.

    I also think it's wise to pray for a need rather than a desire, praying for a need certainly creates a more balanced reality.

  2. I love your thread about how agnostic and atheist folks can be included in our collective prayer experience...

    1. Thanks Janet..I believe that we make far too many distinctions between so-called believers and atheists/agnostics...for the most part we are all seeking wisdom whatever path we choose.

  3. I'm surprised by any petition from you to envision God in any way - to push away from the idea of a distant Being and to pull close the idea of a divine continuum seems to be a sort of false intellectual conjuring. To feel God in the desert wildflower, to sense Him or Her in the arching sky - there is no need for a conceptual framework.

    Asking for our daily bread is acknowledgment and praise of the holy Maker of bread. Asking for the health and security of our loved ones is asking for bread. Sensing God, prayer is conversation with the formless, infinitely close, infinitely distant Beloved. Closer than your breath, further than all limits of mind.


    1. Matt ..I agree with you -but when I offer so-called "petitions" they aren't really petitions but rather they are attempts to bring those needs/persons/events into my awareness...perhaps another way of saying this is that I see prayers as "directing energy" toward people or events . They aren't really petitions in any traditional sense.

      Tjanks for your very insghtful comment

    2. You're very welcome - and blessings! I'm definitely a regular reader and will continue to be, one wanderer of the desert to another.

  4. I have prayed for inner peace for all for as long as I can remember.