The power of prayer is both ancient and mystifying. Right here in America millions of us subscribe to it every day: “…prayer is a common religious practice…, with nearly six-in-ten adults in the U.S. saying they pray at least once a day.” Still, the rate of non-religious affiliation of people under 50 is steadily declining. (Pew Trust Religious Landscape Survey, 2007). Is this because comparatively few of us have developed an intimate understanding of how prayer really works? Has religion failed to educate us, or is prayer something that cannot be fully understood? We pray when we are frightened, feel threatened, or fear some kind of loss. We pray when we want things: relationships, money, or for things to go our way. Some of us who don’t even believe in God pray when all else has failed, hoping “something or someone is out there.” Yet who among us has not wavered, wondering whether prayer does any good? Or thought “What/who am I praying to?” Despite this curiosity, how many of us have been willing to make a serious or direct inquiry? “Is there anyone out there?” Some might argue that direct inquiry into such matters should not be spoken aloud by mere mortals or, worse, that this might be considered spiritual treason in the eyes of God. Still others among us don’t inquire out of superstition, afraid we may bring a hex upon ourselves.
Praying for others Intercessory prayer is another widely popular form of prayer, worth mentioning as it highlights an additional possible facet of prayer; that our prayers can affect the lives of others.
Believers and non-believers alike have joined Albert Einstein’s bandwagon E=MC² (everything is energy), the popular trend of offering intercessory lip service: “You are in my prayers,” “I’ll pray for you,” or “I’m sending good energy.” Skeptics among us warn us against this magical thinking: Religious and political analyst and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens says, “I read a long time ago, when I was still, as far as I knew, in good health, a study of intercessory prayer, the most comprehensive one that’s ever been done. And it showed, not at all to my surprise, that there’s no correlation to be found between intercessory prayer and the thriving or otherwise of those for whom the prayers are designed or offered.” It seems, despite warnings like these (or lack of complete understanding), we are at some level convinced that prayer is a viable means to reach beyond ourselves and make a direct connection with some infinite source of divine wisdom and power. We would rather hang on to our hope that our petitions to a higher power beget universal sanction or confluence with the Almighty.
Praying for guidance Beyond our petitions for a better and more comfortable life, beyond what we wish for our loved ones and fellow humans, there is the matter of will, specifically our will vs. God’s will. This is the great divide between believers and non-believers, I am inclined to think. Still, those of us who do not disparage the idea of Divine intelligence also long to be aligned with some higher purpose; to know we are on the “right” path to living a life that has meaning beyond our own trivial self-importance (and corresponding drama). Perhaps the same Divine force that helps us also illuminates our unique purpose and the path that leads to it; our contribution to the legacy of our children, to our community, and to having made some real and significant difference to humanity.
The same source of guidance could help us live a fulfilling and meaningful life so we can look back and be able to say “I strove for my full human potential and am proud to have mustered the courage to seek the clearest path to do so.” We can leave this world filled with deep gratitude at the innumerable opportunities we have had to make the world a better place, ultimately seeing that the Divine plan was, at every turn, better than we could have orchestrated or dreamed of despite the lessons, losses and hardships we met. We can rest at our death, our final breath, knowing we did our best to understand the ultimate privilege our life has been. Beyond all other forms, praying for guidance I believe is the crucial imperative; to be in co-creation with The Divine (God).
I need no other proof than the empirical evidence of my own life, the perfect laboratory for comparative analysis: “A life with guidance” vs. “A life without.” The extraordinary results of guidance explicitly changed my course. Seeking to align my will with God’s will through practice has been, no doubt, the answer to my ultimate prayers and heart’s greatest desires. I still pray for guidance about specific things and for others, but now my prayers end with “This or something better, thy not my will be done.” As a person who has spent a lifetime struggling to wake up, stay awake and in service to helping people attract and create healthy, fulfilling relationships beginning with themselves, I say to you: praying for guidance is the Alpha and the Omega, the open secret leading you to a life beyond your wildest imagination.
Practice: Find a quiet place, without distraction. Close your eyes, turn your attention inwards. And pray, “Show me the way.” Then lean in…all the way in…and listen until you hear and see until you know.