On Prayer

When I was 4 years old, I wanted a pony. The fact that we lived in a triplex house with a postage stamp-sized backyard did not deter me. I wanted a pony. And so, being the good little Catholic boy that I was, I prayed for one.

As my life has progressed, I find that I struggle more with the idea of prayer. Jesus said “Knock and it shall be opened” yet all of our lives have the reality of unanswered prayers. Some would tell us that our prayers get answered, just not in the way we want. Others would say that God’s Will stands as a counterbalance to our wishes and desires. For myself, I find that I am increasingly bothered by the idea of prayerful requests. Many of the issues about which I’ve prayed (such as money) are likely to be issues about which God is not concerned. This thought first developed when I participated in athletics. Two Catholic schools would come together for a basketball game. Both teams would call upon God for victory or at least to make a foul shot. Whom did God listen to? It finally occurred to me that perhaps God didn’t care about the outcome of a basketball game but rather was more concerned with things like sportsmanship and each player doing his best.

At this point, I still make requests via prayer, mainly requests for the benefit of loved ones. (No, I don’t pray to win the lottery anymore!) But I believe there are three other types of prayer that matter more.

One is the prayer of gratitude. Pausing to be thankful for the simple things in my life (like being able to breathe with lungs not being choked by asthma today) give me a sense of serenity.

Similarly, I think the mystical prayer of wonder is of greater value. When, for example, I have stood in the presence of Dali’s painting of the Last Supper, I am struck speechless and filled with emotion. This, I think, is prayerful.

Finally, there is silent prayer. The effort to just listen. The embracing of silence. Do I hear the Voice of God when I am quiet? I don’t know. But I hear something and that something often gives me a sense of peace or a sense of hope.

And, no, I didn’t get the pony.

Reflection: 1. What role does prayer play in your spiritual world? What types of praying mean the most to you?