What is prayer? How you answer that question is really tied to your beliefs around the ultimate meaning of life. Your answer reflects your worldview.
The traditional viewpoint (which came into influence about 2000 years ago), is reflected in the current Wikipedia article on the topic. It states “prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, and object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication.” It goes on to add, “prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one’s thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others.”
There is one common theme in the traditional viewpoint of prayer – the deity or God is “out there” somewhere and I am right here praying to get their attention and hopefully their intervention in some matter.
The rise of the modern viewpoint (which came into influence in the 17th and 18th centuries) brought with it a reliance on rational and scientific thought. It’s outlook on life does not change the definition of prayer, it only denies its validity. There is no deity “out there”. Therefore, there is no one whose attention you can get nor anyone who is going to intervene in your behalf. Prayer is simply a superstitious habit of non-rational people.
More recently in the 20th century, we have experienced the rise of the postmodern or humanistic viewpoint. This is reflected in those individuals we label the “cultural creatives”. They are the “spiritual but not religious” crowd – realizing that you do not need some intermediary between you and God, that you can have a direct experience of the divine on your own without any priest or preacher, church or dogma. Those who have walked this spiritual path have realized that God or spirit is not “out there” but it’s really everywhere – including within us.
For these individuals, prayer is neither a beseeching to some external entity nor a superstitious myth. Prayer becomes an internal communing with the power that animates all life including ourselves. Prayer is really a movement within our consciousness. It’s our use of the power of thought.
20th century mystic Ernest Holmes put it this way – “but what is a prayer? Prayer is a movement of thought, within the mind of the one praying, along a definite line of meditation; that is, for a specific purpose.”
At this level of our evolutionary awareness, we began to recognize the creative power of our thinking and to use it in a more conscious way. Our minds (or our individual use of one larger Mind which embeds everything) are continuously creating. We are thinking and thereby creating most of the time. Most of this thinking/creating is done automatically or unconsciously. Yet, when we become “conscious thinkers”, we choose our thoughts more carefully. We direct our thinking for the betterment of our life and the lives of everyone. Our life becomes a prayer as we move our thoughts along a definite line for a specific purpose.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!