How Prayer Works



I saw an interesting post the other day on one of my social media feeds from an atheist influencer I follow.  

That last line might seem confusing to you, and you might be wondering why a Christian pastor would follow an atheist on social media.  The fact is, I follow a lot of atheist influencers, as well as a few atheist groups. 

I do so for many reasons, most of which have to do with my own curiosity.  

First, I want to hear from people who don't believe the same things I do about faith and religion and to think more deeply about their beliefs and ideas that differ from mine.

Secondly, more often than not, I actually agree with them about several things.   

For example, their rants against the ills of bad religion and an imaginary, judgmental God who delights in eternal punishment for those who don't measure up are similar to mine.  Years ago, I fired that awful, angry, judgemental God. 

But the post that caught my eye said, "There are all kinds of ways to pray... and none of them work." 

I completely understand that sentiment.  There have been plenty of moments in my life when I have wondered about the efficacy of my own prayers.  

Not to mention, for many well-meaning Christians, saying, "I'm praying for you," is a platitude and not a practice.  We often offer up that phrase when we don't know what else to say.  

But I've come to understand that prayer is effective, and it works-- -just in a different way than many religious people believe it works. 

To that end, do I believe that God is some kind of slot machine that we keep putting prayers into until we finally hit the jackpot?  Nope.  

But prayer connects us to the Divine in the world and within us.  I believe that prayer draws us closer to the heart of God and the purposes of God for us and others.  

And prayer changes us.  As we hear ourselves pray, we often discover that we might actually be the answer to our prayers.  We also tap into the Holy Spirit energy that connects all of us to one another.  

But sometimes, it does feel like our praying is falling on deaf ears---even if we are largely unaware that the deafness is our own. 

In those moments, prayer can feel like an exercise in futility.  This is why a poem about prayer that I read once from the Irish poet and author Pádraig Ó Tuama resonated with me so profoundly.  
Or, even perhaps, you cannot remember the feel of the light, beloved. 
Oh heavens above. 
Oh chasm below. 
Hither and thither. 
Oh chaos composed. 

So, 
spill out the tumble 
of your words. 
They might be all you have left. 

And, 
Don't forget to use them deftly. 
In the absence of light 
baptise the void
with a scapelsharp insight, 
and a name of your choice.  

This poem connects with me deeply.  Some days I try and fail to remember the "feel of the light."  Maybe you have days like that, too.  

But I love how the poet urges the reader to "spill out the tumble of your words" because "They might be all you have left."  

This is what prayer is to me at times--the spilling of words, an offering to the Universe, a collection of pleas, rants, and even simple statements that are all I have now. 

And our prayers can become "In the absence of light," a baptism that offers some illumination in the void of our particular chaos, doubt, and even our heartfelt gratitude.  

So pray however you can and in whatever way you feel.  Say the words that come tumbling out of you, and say them out loud if you must.  Because the One to whom you pray is listening, but so are you. 

May your prayers be heard and answered in surprising and insightful ways.  May you find a new connection to God that you never dreamed of.  May you find in your words a new name for yourself and a new way to go. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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