Thursday, February 2, 2012

Prayer - 3

What is prayer, really?  Exactly?

I probably own 100 books on prayer.  OK, maybe 200.  I read about it every day.  I teach about it.  I even engage in it!

But what is it?  That last post about my family got me thinking.

When my grandfather looked with contentment across a field of soy beans ready for harvest, was that prayer?

When my grandmother lifted her arms in delight as a flock of hundreds of white ibis rose in the Florida sky, was that prayer?

When my mother sang as she went about her ordinary household work, was that prayer?

When my father knelt next to a mangled car on a country road, holding the hand of his young wife who had just died, was that prayer?

What do you think?  

Image of White Ibis in Flight here. Photographer unknown.


  1. "Prayer" has been distilled to a sort of narrow meaning, to me. It means direct, intentional dialog with the Almighty. The experiences you describe are sacred; but are they prayer? Do all experiences with the sacred need to be defined as "prayer?"

  2. Lisa, I guess that's the question in which I'm wandering around. I concluded that my prior post presumed a definition far too narrow. Is this one too wide?

  3. Prayer is communication with God. In I Thessalonians 5:17 St. Paul encourages us to "pray without ceasing"; in order to do that, prayer must have a broad definition. Prayer is an attitude and there are many ways to pray. If we look at the sky in thanksgiving for its beauty, then, for me, that is prayer. When we are content to be children of God, our activities can be considered prayer. Not everyone can spend their time in what would be considered prayer according to a more narrow definition.

  4. Absolutely yes! For me, prayer happens when I sing meditative chants, or sitting in the silence, or praying with my eyes open, or gazing on the beauty of creation, or sitting holding the hand of an elderly woman as she undergoes a bone marrow biopsy...Mary Oliver has a poem about that as well.

  5. I was reminded of my uncle (who is a believer) speaking at my grandfather (who was a skeptic)'s memorial service and wondering aloud if for my grandfather kneeling in the garden with his hands in the soil was his best kind of prayer.

  6. I'm with Lynda - prayer is an attitude. And one we are exhorted to do "without ceasing." It takes practice, intention and work. It takes love and an open mind. It includes a choice.

    For me, prayer is when I choose to turn toward God - no matter what I am doing, no matter what I am going through, no matter what my lips and hands may be fumbling with. As I turn toward God in gratitude, in pain, in love, in hope, in joy, in anger, in fear, in whatever posture I find myself, then I am praying.

  7. And then, there are the times when just breathing is prayer.