I do not believe that prayer resembles a spiritual sucking of the thumb, whose prime function is to soothe troubled nerves and anxious hearts. Although, at times, it does do both.
Nor is it primarily a matter of getting things, even noble and worthwhile things, much less a parking spot at the mall during the Christmas season.
Prayer is not spiritual whining.
Prayer is not confined to place or posture. One does not have to be kneeling to be deeply immersed in prayer, nor does one have to be in a designated area. (Although, I do remain intrigued by those who report sensing a greater power present in some so-called “thin places” and “holy places” of the world. When prayer is thought of as an interaction of energies this becomes interesting, but I digress.)
Lots of things can help a person pray - silence, beauty, routine, posture, focus; other conditions can distract - noise, a multitude of visual stimuli, fear. And yet, many
The question of whether or not prayer “works” can become seductive and the science provocative. In many ways,though, a conversation focused upon whether prayer can manipulate “natural reality” feels incomplete.
My most basic understanding of prayer is relationship based.
I know some of the practices that work best in my own core relationships - truth-telling, even of the less than glamorous decisions and actions; honest declaration of needs and wants, again even if less than glamorous; and expressions of appreciation and gratitude. When these communication practices are part of caring for relationships I value, those relationships deepen and strengthen. When I neglect them, connections are not as deeply made and I can, more often than not, enter dangerous territory.
Forms of prayer exist for each of these practices - confession, intercession, thanksgiving, to use traditional language.
But, in a healthy, growing relationship, communication is a two-way street. Can the same be said of prayer?
Probably not as cleanly as when I sit with my wife to talk something through. But my own experience is that two-way communication with the Holy is not as rare as sometimes imagined.
For me, the practice of journaling often resembles a two-way conversation in which I am often, or so it feels, simply taking dictation. Others rely upon meditation - seated or walking; others find that conversation with others often provokes new thoughts or behaviours. And they attribute “something else” present in the conversation.
For me, prayer comes down not so much to cozying up to a Powerful Influencer as to keeping the lines open with the Holy, just like I try and do with my wife, family and friends.
Relationships I value merit conversation.