there’s a new web site, prayer 2.0, with an interesting discussion regarding different ideas about prayer. my reply turned out to be quite long so i figured i’d simply post it here. one contributor said this, among other things:
in my mind, “pray” is something you do when you don’t want to do anything yourself. it is a way of unshouldering responsibilities …
another problem with prayer is that it is not about conversation: prayer is one way. it is an odd sort of monologue, in that it is subservient, but it is still soliloquy. it has none of the back and forth that characterize reason.
here are my thoughts:
prayer, as it is conceived in various traditions, is very multifaceted. at its most basic level, it is engagement with a benevolent other-than-ego, non-corporeal other. (how’s that for theological mumbo-jumbo? i hope the next words will shed a bit of light).
what form that engagement takes and who that other-than-ego is – well, that’s an interesting question.
let’s take two extremes. feeding monkeys on your birthday to ensure prosperity is a form of prayer: “hey big power, i need/want more money, i’m doing what your priests have told me, so let’s make it happen!”
on the other extreme, there is work as prayer and the buddhist metta or loving-kindness meditation, in which we ask, among other things, for good things to happen to our adversaries.
in the first instance, we have a desire for something that is not essential, and we try to persuade whatever forces “out there” to get it for us. that would come close to what you described as shirking responsibility.
mother teresa saw her work as prayer. few people would call that unshouldering responsibility.
whether there is a god or not, prayer focuses. for example, when i make an effort to ask for good things for my enemy, next time i meet that person, i will be more inclined to act kindly towards that person.
deep prayer is often more like a conversation. it is engagement with god – whatever/whoever god is/stands for. and there is absolutely nothing that says that prayer has to be without reason. i think that’s a misconception by people who are under the mistaken assumption that god is only the the very limited god that is being talked about in some christian churches.
but god, or the concept of god, is much, much bigger than that. he/she/it/they ranges/range from the very human gods as, for example, envisioned by the hindu gods, to the immanent human goodness envisioned by some unitarian universalists – and anything in between. i don’t think it’s useful to judge spiritual practices only by what happens in one form of practice of one religion.
(this post can be found on the carnival of life, happiness and meaning)