What is prayer for? During Advent, we try to deepen our prayer. Is this possible in such a difficult time? Our friend Jean Harding shows us that a deepened prayer is possible in precisely the most difficult times, and has an extraordinary power…
What does prayer achieve? What is it for?
Most people’s first answer to the question might be that it is for asking God, or their favourite or most appropriate Saint, for something that they need or want. As I reviewed my thoughts of twenty years ago about the answer, I thought that this answer was not in my list. I was wrong!
My first thought, in a time of trouble, was that God is someone to talk to. Someone to offload to. Troubles shared are troubled halved. In the absence of a friend to hand why not try telling God? It’s good for stress reduction.
My second thought was about the result of listening rather than talking. Silence is not what many would think of as a type of prayer. When my daughter’s marriage was breaking down, and my daughter-in-law was more tired than she knew how to be as she struggled with twins and their toddler sibling, I realised that I was being drawn into a maelstrom of misery. As it happened, it was Lent, though this could be a good exercise for a rather challenging Advent too! I decided to spend Lent trying to learn silent prayer in order to switch off from my worries. The first day I was asleep in less than ten minutes! By the end of Lent I could keep awake for half an hour. It was several months before I discovered that the result of my silence was a deep reservoir of calm that I could drop into under the stressful surface. (It works well in traffic jams too.)
What are the results when you hold other people in God’s attention to support them by your prayer? If they know of your support, then it can be felt as almost physical, like the laying on of hands, an in-coming source of energy as tangible as a hug.
However, can God help them if they do not believe in the power of prayer or do not want it?
It has been shown that bones heal faster in a magnetic field. Can the energy of the soul in prayer create a spiritual ‘magnetic field’ to protect or nourish or heal? Experiments have been carried out that claim to show that people who were receiving cancer treatment, and were being prayed for, (without their knowledge) healed faster than a control group who were not being prayed for.
I have imagined that the work of praying, performed by monks and nuns of every faith in the world on behalf of all of us, acts like an enormous spiritual purification system. It does the equivalent of what the rainforests do for the re-oxygenation of the planet.
At the opposite end of the scale, perhaps praying is an exercise of the soul as necessary to the spiritual health of one individual as exercising muscles is to physical health?
It’s said that people have a psychological need to experience regret, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, and to express these to something greater than simply another individual. The vehicle for all this, either in thought or in words, is actually prayer and most of this meditation is about asking for things.
You can also read Jean’s piece for us about writing letters (another Advent activity…)