Why pray?

TERRY: Hey God, I have a question, is there any point in an atheist praying?
GOD: First, what led to this question?
TERRY: Well I mix with a group of secular Buddhists, who admit they can’t see why, or how, they should pray; but sometimes their meditation format has them doing just that, praying. One actually asked me: How can I pray if I don’t believe in God?
GOD: So, these people are suitably wary about accepting dogma mindlessly; what is their problem?
TERRY: Well, do you listen to the prayers of atheists?
GOD: Of course we do, we hear everything, but always respond sensitively to anything like a prayer.
TERRY: Not just religious believers?
GOD: Why should we restrict our answers to a peculiar set of believers? Who said you had to be a Jew, Moslem or Christian before we will answer your prayers?
TERRY: Yes but how do you respond to them?
GOD: The same way as we answer any other believer’s prayer.
What have you learned about prayer from our previous discussions?
TERRY: Oh, well you shouldn’t be regarded as a cosmic Santa Claus.
GOD: Good, and what else?
TERRY: You cannot be expected to provide improbable results as a result of whimsical demands. Further, you won’t do impossible things like grant both sides of warring factions the victory they are each pleading for.
GOD: That is starting to cover things, but there is more.
TERRY: Yes, we should stop telling you how to run the universe and start listening out for your guidance instead.
GOD: Good, so now we have removed the magic from the process, what do think about prayer now? What do you think is left?
TERRY: Well someone pointed out to me recently, that even for an atheist, prayer is a positive affirmation. Then I heard a self described ‘apostate Moslem’ claim that prayer is “the recharge of your soul”. While I am not sure, exactly what he meant, I must say the statement makes one want to pray.
GOD: Those are two good reasons that might encourage an atheist to pray.
TERRY: Yes, but where do you come into these last two reasons? They seem quite secular.
GOD: And why shouldn’t we respond to prayers in a secular fashion?
TERRY: Well, all that said; do you answer prayers for healing?
GOD: Of course, haven’t we said that we will always give resources to those in need and who seek our help. Your problem is that you have a particular and demanding understanding of the word ‘healed’.
TERRY: So we can’t expect broken bones to knit instantly, or cancerous cells to disappear on demand.
GOD: Correct although sometimes a patient can be physically healed through their strengthened psychosomatic affirmation. We are more concerned with creating healthy minds, or ‘souls’ as the ‘apostate Moslem’ described them.
TERRY: In church, we pray for healing for other people, many of whom are not actually present. Do these prayers help healing?
GOD: Do you believe in telepathy?
TERRY: This is not something that I have experienced, but others have led me to believe it might be possible.
GOD: Well then, we answer your prayers according to your faith.
TERRY: Oh so you can pass karma on using prayer.
GOD: Yes of course.
As you started out by asking: Can atheists pray? Why not finish with that story you read?
TERRY: OK. Here it is.

From Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey.
After the fall of the Soviet Union I was privileged to lecture in Riga for the Latvian Lutheran Church. Most of the participants in the seminar were between the ages of 25-35. This meant that all of their education had been in the communist state system, which was determined to indoctrinate them in atheism. I asked one of the young women about how she came to faith.
"Was there a church in your village?" I asked.
"No, the communists closed them all," she replied.
"Did some saintly grandmother instruct you in the ways of God?
"No. All the members of my family were atheists."
"Did you have secret home Bible studies, or was there an underground church in your area?"
"No, none of that" came the answer."
"So what happened?"
She told me the following story:
“At funerals we were allowed to recite the Lord's Prayer. As a young child I heard those strange words and had no idea who we were talking to, what the words meant, where they came from or why we were reciting them. When freedom came at last, I had the opportunity to search for their meaning. When you are in total darkness, the tiniest point of light is very bright. For me the Lord's Prayer was that point of light. By the time I had found its meaning I was a Christian.”

Return to the index here.