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Community, Spirit, Sustainability



Prayer is an attempt to communicate with a deity or deities; prayer in western civilization is usually directed to God.

There are a variety of approaches to understanding prayer:

* The belief that a god listens to prayer, and may or may not respond;
* The belief that prayer is intended to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, rather than to influence a god;
* The belief that prayer is intended to train a person to focus on a god through philosophy and intellectual contemplation;
* The belief that prayer is intended to enable a person to gain a direct experience of a god;
* The belief that prayer is intended to affect the very fabric of reality itself.

The existence of prayer is attested in written sources as early as 5000 years ago. Anthropologists believe that the earliest intelligent modern humans practised something that we would recognize today as prayer.

__Biblical views of prayer__

The Bible contains many examples of prayer and various instructions and teachings about prayer. The book of Psalms is composed of prayers, song verses and poems by various authors, and some of its prayers in particular have been used by Jews and Christians for years, in corporate prayer and individual prayer, and used both verbatim and as inspiration for new prayers and songs

__Prayer in the Hebrew Bible__

The neglect of prayer is grievous to the Lord (Isa. 43:21-22; 64:6-7). Many evils in life are to be attributed to the lack of prayer (Zeph. 1:4-6; Dan. 9:13, 14, cf. Hosea 7:13-14; 8:13-14). It is a sin to neglect prayer (1 Sam. 12:23).

In the life of the patriarch Abraham prayer seems to have taken the form of a and man drawing near and talking to each other (Gen. 18; 19); developing into intercession (Gen. 17:18; 18:23, 32), and then into personal prayer (Gen. 15:2; 24:12); Jacob, (Gen. 28:20; 32:9-12, 24; Hosea 12:4). The patriarchal blessings are called prayers (Gen 49:1; Deut. 33:11).

Not very much prominence is given to formal prayer during the period of the Law. Deut. 26:1-15 seems to be the only one definitely recorded. Prayer had not yet found a stated place in the ritual of the law. It seems to have been more of a personal than a formal matter, and so while the Law may not afford much material, yet the life of the lawgiver, Moses, abounds with prayer (Exod. 5:22; 32:11; Num. 11:11-15).

Under Joshua (7:6-9; 10:14), and the judges (c. 6) we are told that the children of Israel "cried unto the Lord."

Under Samuel prayer seems to have assumed the nature of intercession (1 Sam. 7:5, 12; 8:16-18); personal (1 Sam. 15:11, 35; 16:1). In Jeremiah (15:1) Moses and Samuel are represented as offering intercessory prayer for Israel.

David seems to regard himself as a prophet and priest, and prays without an intercessor (2 Sam. 7:18-29).

The prophets seem to have been intercessors, e.g., Elijah (1 Kings 18). Yet personal prayers are found among the prophets (Jer. 20--both personal and intercessory; 33:3; 42:4; Amos 7).

In the Psalms prayer takes the form of a pouring out of the heart (42:4; 62:8; 100:2, title). The psalmist does not seem to go before God with fixed and orderly petitions so much as simply to pour out his feelings and desires, whether sweet or bitter, troubled or peaceful. Consequently the prayers of the psalmist consist of varying moods: complaint, supplication, confession, despondency, praise.

True prayer consists of such elements as adoration, praise, petition, pleading, thanksgiving, intercession, communion, waiting. The closet into which the believer enters to pray is not only an oratory --a place of prayer, it is an observatory--a place of vision. Prayer is not "A venture and a voice of mine; but a vision and a voice divine." Isa. 63:7; 64:12, illustrates all essential forms of address in prayer.

The book of Psalms is composed of prayers, song verses and poems by various authors, and some of its prayers in particular have been used by Jews and Christians for years, in corporate prayer and individual prayer, and used both verbatim and as inspiration for new prayers and songs.

__Prayer in the New Testament__

To pray is a positive command (Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17); One is commanded to take leisure or a vacation for prayer (1 Cor. 7:5). Prayer is God's appointed method of obtaining what He has to bestow (Dan. 9:3; Matt. 7:7-11; 9:24-29; Luke 11:13). The lack of the necessary blessings in life comes from failure to pray (James 4:2). The Christian apostles regarded prayer as the most important employment that could engage their time or attention (Acts 6:4; Rom. 1:9; Col. 1:9).

__Prayer as petition__

In the Hebrew Bible various forms of prayer appear; the most common form is petition. This in many ways is the simplest form of prayer. Some have termed this the "social approach" to prayer. In this view, a person directly confronts God in prayer, and asks for their needs to be fulfilled; God really does listen to prayer, and may or may not choose to answer. This is the primary approach to prayer found in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, most of the Church writings, and the Talmud.

This "petition approach" to prayer is supported for example by Matthew 21:22, where Jesus is reported as saying "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Also "the way to my father is through me"

Most modern day prayerbooks by monotheistic religions contain many prayers that were originally written as petitions. However, many modern believers may recite the same prayers with a different understanding of prayer (see below) in mind.

__Prayer in Eastern Religions__

The religion of Buddhism, well known for being non-theistic, utterly discards worship and places devotional emphasis on the practice of meditation alongside scriptural study. Although God and deities are recognized as present, Gautama Buddha claims it is mankind who by their own free will, possess the greatest capacity and potential to liberate themselves and are urged to do so without exterior assistance. Therefore, prayer is not as central to devotion as in its neighbouring asiatic faiths.

In religions such as Hinduism and Jainism, prayer has a greater significance and role for salvation. Hindus in India have numerous devotional movements. Stemming from the highest Creator God called Brahma, prayer is focused on His many manifestations, including the most popular deities Shiva, Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. Although Jains believe that no spirit or divine being can assist them on their path, they do hold some influence, and on special occasions, Jains will pray and meditate for right knowledge to the twenty-four Tirthankaras (saintly teachers).

__Prayer in Paganism__

In Graeco-Roman Paganism, ceremonial prayer was highly formulaic and ritualized. The Iguvine Tables contain a supplication that can be translated, "If anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly."

The formalism and formulaic nature of these prayers led them to be written down in language that may have only been partially understood by the writer, and our texts of these prayers may in fact be garbled. Prayers in Etruscan were used in the Roman world by augurs and other oracles long after Etruscan became a dead language. The Carmen Arvale and the Carmen Saliare are two specimens of partially preserved prayers that seem to have been unintelligible to their scribes, and whose language is full of archaisms and difficult passages.

Roman prayers and sacrifices were often envisioned as legal bargains between deity and worshipper. The Roman formula was do ut des: "I give, so that you may give in return." Cato the Elder's treatise on agriculture contains many examples of preserved traditional prayers; in one, a farmer addresses the unknown deity of a possibly sacred grove, and sacrifices a pig in order to placate the God or Goddess of the place and beseech his or her permission to cut down some trees from the grove.

__Philosophical re-interpretations of prayer__

Post-Biblical theologians considered the philosophical problems involved in prayer (see below). Over time a number of re-interpretations of prayer evolved. These were developed in great detail by the medieval neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophers, and have influenced how many people still pray today. At the moment, the descriptions below list some Jewish sources, but each of these views of prayers also has Christian and Muslim proponents as well; there was much intellectual cross-fertilization between Jews, Christians and Muslims during parts of the middle-ages, and so there appears to be some convergence among the philosophers of that era.

__The educational approach__

In this view, prayer is not a conversation with God. Rather, it is meant to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, but not to influence God. Among Jews, this has been the approach of Rabbenu Bachya, Yehuda Halevy, Joseph Albo, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. This view is expressed by Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the overview to the Artscroll Siddur (p.XIII); note that Scherman goes on to also affirm the Kabbalistic view (see below). Among Christian theologians...(please add examples here) Among Muslim theologians....(please add examples here).

__The Kabbalistic view of prayer__

People involved with kabbalah (esoteric Jewish mysticism) often reject rationalist reinterpreations of prayer outright, but they also reject the social approach, in which prayer is viewed as a Dialogue with God. Instead, this approach ascribes a higher meaning to the purpose of prayer, which is no less than affecting the very fabric of reality itself, restructuring and repairing the universe in a real fashion. For Kabbalists, every prayer, every word of every prayer, and indeed, even every letter of every word of every prayer, has a precise meaning and a precise effect. In Kabbalah and related mystical belief systems, adherents claim intimate knowledge about the way in which God relates to us and the physical universe in which we live. For people with this view, prayers can literally affect the mystical forces of the universe and repair the fabric of creation.

Among Jews, this approach has been taken by the Hassidei Ashkenaz, the Zohar, the Kabbalist school of though created by the Ari, the Ramchal, most of Hassidism, the Vilna Gaon, and rabbis such as Yaakov Emden and Kalonimus Shapira. In the 1800s some European Christians were influenced by Kabbalah...(please add information here)

__The rationalist approach__

In this view, ultimate goal of prayer is to help train a person to focus on God through philosophy and intellectual contemplation. This approach was taken by Maimonides and the other medieval rationalists; it became popular in Jewish, Christian and Islamic intellectual circles, but never became the most popular understanding of prayer among the laity in any of these faiths. In all three of these faiths today a significant minority of people still hold to this approach.

__The experiential approach__

In this approach, the purpose of prayer is to enable the person praying to gain a direct experience of God. This approach is very significant in Christianity and widespread in Judaism (although less popular theologically). In Eastern Orthodoxy, this approach is known as hesychasm. It is also widespread in Sufi Islam, and in some forms of mysticism. It has some similarities with the rationalist approach, since it can also involve contemplation, although the contemplation is not generally viewed as being as rational or intellectual. It also has some similarities with the Kabbalistic view, but it lacks the Kabbalistic emphasis on the importance of individual words and letters.

__Prayer practices__

The actual act of praying can take on many different outward forms. Most religions or religious subgroups have certain forms that they recommend, usually more than one; occasionally, there may be specific forms that are forbidden. Prayer may be done privately and individually, or it may be done corporately in the presence of fellow believers. Some outward acts that sometimes accompany prayer are: ringing a bell; burning incense or paper; lighting a candle or candles; facing a specific direction, i.e. towards Mecca or towards the East.

A variety of body postures may be assumed, often with specific meaning associated with them: standing; sitting; kneeling; prostrate on the floor; eyes opened; eyes closed; hands folded or clasped; hands upraised; and others. Prayers may be recited from memory, read from a book of prayers, or composed spontaneously as they are prayed. They may be said, chanted, or sung. They may be with musical accompaniment or not. There may be a time of outward silence while prayers are offered mentally. Often, there are prayers to fit specific occasions, such as the blessing of a meal, the birth or death of a loved one, other significant events in the life of a believer, or days of the year that have special religious significance.

__Jewish prayer__

Prayers said by Jews are described in the entry on Jewish services. The prayers of the Jewish services are collected in a prayerbook called the Siddur. The entry on the siddur describes the different types of Jewish prayerbooks and how they have evolved over time.

The most imporant Jewish prayers are the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O Israel") and the Amidah ("the standing prayer").

__Christian prayer__

Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity and the many branches of Protestant Christianity each have distinctive liturgies. Some of the more commonly recited Christian prayers include the following:

* Lord's Prayer – Psalms -- Book of Common Prayer – Jesus Prayer

* Traditional prayer aids include the rosary and the prayer rope.

* Prayer to saints: in Catholic and Orthodox tradition, prayers of petition may be addressed to saints. It is understood that the saints answer such prayers by means of their own prayers to God on behalf of the petitioner.

__Islamic Prayer__

Muslims pray a brief prayer service in Arabic, facing Mecca, five times a day. (More to be written.). The Call for prayer is called Azaan.

__Bahá'í Prayer__

Baha’is are required to recite each day one of three obligatory prayers revealed by Baha'u'llah. The believers have been enjoined to face in the direction of the Qiblih when reciting their Obligatory Prayers.

One, the longest obligatory prayer, may be recited at any time of day; another, of medium length, is recited once in the morning, once at midday, and once in the evening; and the shortest is recited at noon. This is the text of the short prayer:

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

Baha’is also read from and meditate on the scriptures every morning and evening. There are also many other revealed prayers in the Baha’i scriptures, most for general use at the choice of the individual and some for specific occasions.

In the past 200 years a new form of prayer has emerged among Christians, called praying in tongue (see Glossolalia). According to adherents of this practice, the Holy Spirit comes into the body of the prayer and speaks on the Christian's behalf in a celestial language. The person praying will later deny any knowledge of what they said while praying.

__Philosophical paradoxes of prayer__

There are a number of philosophical paradoxes involving prayer to an omnipotent God, namely:

* If a person deserves God to give him the thing he prays for, why doesn't God give it to him, even without prayer? And if a person is not deserving of it, then even if that person does pray and request it, should it be given just because of his prayer?

* Why should it be necessary to pray with speech? Doesn't God know the thoughts of all people?

* If God is omniscient (all-knowing) then doesn't God know what we are going to ask Him for even before we pray?

* How can a human being hope to change God's mind? Why should human prayers affect God's decisions?

* Do human beings actually have the ability to praise an omniscient and omnipotent God? Praising God is difficult to do without describing God, yet how can a finite human being know anything about God's ultimate nature? This question was the subject of heated debate among many religious philosophers; one such debate took place in the 14th century between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria.

These questions have been discussed in Jewish, Christian and Muslim writings from the medieval period onward. The 900s to 1200s saw some of the most fertile discussion on these questions, during the period of Neo-Platonic and Neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Discussion of these problems never ceased entirely, but they did fall mostly from the public view for several centuries, until The Enlightenment reignited philosophical inquiry into theological issues.

All of these questions have been discussed in many Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious texts. Many of these texts offer proposed resolutions to some or all of these paradoxes.

__Prayer and Medicine__

Several studies have claimed that patients who pray for their health or are being prayed for recover faster. Critics have attributed this to the placebo effect. Typically, the scientific establishment ignores studies of the occult and esoteric, but in 1999, media reports on prayer studies prompted a comprehensive review of such studies in The Lancet. The result: "Even in the best studies, the evidence of an association between religion, spirituality, and health is weak and inconsistent." A 2001 double-blind study of the Mayo Clinic found no significant difference in the recovery rates between people who were (unbeknownst to them) assigned to a group that prayed for them (five people praying once a week for 26 weeks), and those who were not. In 2003, a second MANTRA study by Duke University contradicted the first MANTRA study's findings that intercessory prayer improved recovery rates in heart patients.


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