If you're anything like me you have a hard time with the notion of prayer.
It's hard to say the same words again and again. It's hard to drag yourself to the house of worship. It's hard to still your mind and concentrate. And most of all it's hard to believe that saying a bunch of words makes any difference to things at all.
You can't see the results of a prayer. You can't prove that it makes any difference. Invisible words, invisible wishes, invisible intentions directed toward an invisible, possibly made-up deity who has lots of other things to do, if He does exist at all.
A couple of years ago, I saw a sermon on TV by Pastor Joel Osteen. Though I'd been taught the same thing in yeshiva, the way he put it changed my views on prayer completely. The sentiment went something like this:
"You've got to ask G-d explicitly for what you want. You've got to put your heart's desire into words, to give it form, and when you concentrate your energies on seeing it and when you ask the Lord above to favor you with Divine grace, that is when you will see abundance beyond what you have ever dreamed."
First comes thought, then intention, then activity, then goal. Genesis, Chapter 1:
"In the beginning...the earth was formless and empty....And G-d said, 'Let there be light'....and he separated the light from the darkness."
All of creation is like this. Parenthood: the movement of a soul from some mysterious origination point, into the mother's womb, and finally incarnated as a being.
Thus the popular saying:
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
It's not popular to talk about faith among rationalists, or among people who have seen religion rampantly abused.
And if you hang around pessimists a lot, they will tell you nothing matters: "life sucks and then you die." They point to poverty, disease, and rampant human rights abuse, committed seemingly with abandon by the few against the many.
But if you look at things another way, it becomes clear very quickly that "reality" depends very often on the perspective that we choose to take.
There are people who deliberately choose an attitude of optimism, who choose a sunny disposition, despite having every reason to doubt. Despite flat-out evidence that seems to indicate: G-d never cared about their existence at all.
Those people are the ones I want to follow.
Because logicians are too quick to treat apparent facts and figures as oracles. They are not; they are just markers; at most they can tell us one story about which way the wind was whipsawing at a particular time.
And pessimists will look for any reason to harp on the negative -- practically ensuring that no good can come from any amount of effort.
From a historical point of view, human measures have always suffered from the limited perspective bestowed by limited technology. They tell us only the things we have capacity to count.
So prayer, as flawed as it inevitably is and as illogical as it may seem to many, may actually be a good use of our time. If it has absolutely no other utility, the act of stilling our busy minds can help us focus on exactly what it is we want and need to do.
In the process, we may begin to see that we're not the masters of the universe that we thought we were. That no matter how many hours we put in at the gym, no matter how many juice smoothies we ingest, no matter how much money we have or how creative our output, there is a big clock ticking over our heads.
We are here for a limited time, during which we're given the chance to feel our limits and surpass them. We can use the power of prayer to get in touch with this inescapable reality. We can then channel our every intention toward doing things that are meaningful, productive, loving, and just.
Beneficial from the perspective of omnipotent spirit.
Image credit: Hartwig HKD via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.