Nobody taught me to pray, that is, to raise my voice to a higher power when I feel thwarted, threatened, bereaved, ecstatic. Why, then, do I do it?
Anyone who believes in a divine being can legitimately ask that of me and point to the seemingly instinctive act of praying as evidence that there must be a god listening to our prayers. It’s a fair and instructive question that cannot be dismissed.
The key word in what has been said so far, I think, is ‘instinctive.’ When we are infants, and until we are perhaps entering our teens, we ‘instinctively’ call out first to our mothers, then to our fathers and mothers, for sustenance, protection, affirmation.
By adulthood – as young men and women – we become self-reliant, rebellious. We no longer look to our parents for succour, safety and guidance. But the need and habit for maternal and paternal intervention is deep-seated. Could it be that we perpetuate the security and comforts we once cried out to parents for in the person of an eternal, externalized archetype named God?
That seems a thesis worth studying, but I will leave it as a mere suggestion that there are responses, aside from puzzlement, to the question: If there is no God, why would we invent one? Why would we pray?
Of course, I can’t prove God does not exist. Nor do I want to. The very fact that billions of people in the world believe in the idea gives it an existence of some form. So, who am I to deny it? All I can say is I, personally, don’t believe in the real existence of a disembodied, conscious entity that was responsible for the creation of the universe, and who demands we mortals obey a set of laws or face divine, eternal punishment. Nor do I believe in the survival of my individual soul beyond the lifespan of the body it has incarnated.
There is no God for me to pray to; no eternal life to pray for. Does that make the act of praying meaningless? An empty vestige of history, carried into my here-and-now?
I don’t believe so.
There is an aspect to prayer which remains as relevant and efficacious today as ever. In prayer we appeal to a power bigger than ourselves to give us strength, courage, perseverance, and a right attitude. Who could that being be, if not God?
Who is the only being on the planet we know of capable of responding in a purposeful way to human prayer, if we reject the notion of a disembodied god? The only consciousness that can understand our sufferings and our joys and commiserate or celebrate with us? Who do we meet in coffee shops, churches, every day at work and when we come home from work, at schools and universities when we progress to higher levels of learning? At plays, concerts and art shows? In the pages of the books we read?
The most basic and urgent form of prayer for me is to the spirit of humanity… not the disembodied spirit of imagined ghosts or gods, but the spirit incarnate in every human consciousness living and breathing on this earth. Through prayer I am seeking guidance, support, companionship in an hour of need – or perhaps preparing myself go seek communion in more direct ways – by celebrating and, yes, humbling myself before the human spirit.
On a grander scale prayer for me is a celebration of what I call the Life Force, incarnate in every living thing, from the tiniest microbe to the largest, most complex organisms. Prayer is my recognition of and reconciliation to that pulsing life force, which I – like every other animal – experience and express in my own being. Prayer in this sense is me, celebrating world-consciousness awakening, expanding, manifesting its potential and expressing its purpose.
I am a single vibration, in a single note, in a magnificent symphony, and in prayer I consciously respond to and add my voice to the chorus of life.