Why do we pray?
Talking to God important to life
Pat Lechtenberg, pastoral associate, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky.:
Asking "Why do I pray?" is like wanting to know why I breathe or why I blink my eyes.
Breathing, blinking my eyes and carrying on a conversation with God are all part of living.
But it wasn't always like that. In church and at home, alone or with others, there were prayers asking for mercy and forgiveness, prayers for praise and thanksgiving, prayers asking for my own needs (and wants) and for others who had needs.
I suppose for much of my life it was like saying, "Hello, and how are you?" without expecting or really caring about a response. At some point, and I wish I could remember when and how, I began to listen -- for a reply, to wait for guidance, to expect miracles.
I was in Kmart with our youngest child during the tornado that destroyed that building in June 1981, and I was sure I was facing death. In the days following, I began to realize that I didn't automatically revert to the childhood prayers learned for the purpose of praying when in danger.
But I also realized that my thoughts of concern for our other four children who were not with me that day, and feeling the need to keep the baby in my arms because he didn't have dental records, were the prayers of my heart at that moment.
I still pray the formal prayers of my youth, but the "why" I pray has gradually changed. Now, as I'm driving along on a busy highway, I talk to God, asking for safety for all of us traveling (and at times for better driving skills or more careful driving for a specific driver).
I thank God for life every morning when I wake up, and when my children and grandchildren smile at me or give me a hug. I've been known to say aloud, "OK, Holy Spirit, find us a parking space." And, when encountering someone I'd rather not have to deal with, I think, "Lord, how would you have me be your presence to this person?"
But the best answer I can give to why I pray is this: For me, praying is talking to God, and why wouldn't you talk to someone who is so much a part of your life, and is always with you?
Send e-mail to Pat Lechtenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fear, shame let go through prayers
The Rev. Gayla Rapp, United Methodist campus minister at Kansas University:
When my niece was 5 years old, she asked this question: "If I pray to get a puppy for Christmas, will God answer my prayer?"
Knowing how her parents felt, I was quite certain a new puppy was not in her future, no matter how hard she prayed. While I do know people of good faith who believe that God will grant whatever you pray for, my own experience does not resonate with that view. I don't experience God as a "cosmic bellhop" who will give us whatever we demand. Nor do I believe that we can "change God's mind" if we only offer enough prayers.
I pray for many different reasons, as varied as the ways that I pray:
When I pray the Scriptures, I listen for God's comfort, challenge and call.
When I pray a unison prayer in church, I am reminded how I am not a solitary Christian and that my faith is nurtured in the context of community.
When I pray the Lord's Prayer, I am connected to the communion of saints who have uttered those same words for 2,000 years.
When I pray in song, I offer praise, thanksgiving, joy and sorrow that words alone cannot express.
When I pray without words of my own, I listen for God, as I affirm that communication is not a monologue, but a dialogue.
When I pray for someone to be healed, I ask how God might work through me to bring restoration.
When I pray for the needs of the world, I surrender my own will to God, seeking not to change God, but to change myself.
When I pray, I am attentive to my heart, that deep place within me that is my authentic self. It is there I let go of fear and shame and find the amazing grace of union with God.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Gayla Rapp at email@example.com.