Non-believers frequently refer to religion as mere superstition, an attempt to explain and control a random and capricious universe.
Setting aside the condescension and blasphemy inherent in that view, I have to admit that, like most people, I have a streak of superstition. The success of the “Harry Potter” books and movies demonstrates how attractive magical thinking is to most of us.
We need to beware of allowing this tendency to influence our attitudes toward God and prayer.
When reciting a “ritual” prayer I sometimes ask myself if I am praying from my heart or trying to manipulate God with a special incantation.
In my personal prayer life I like to use the Disciple’s Prayer as a pattern or a template; acknowledging God as my Father, seeking his will, asking for provision and forgiveness, etc. Using a template while tailoring it to my unique concerns and situations feels like a good way to keep my prayers from becoming rote recitations. However, my life and the people I care about are fairly consistent so my pattern prayer can easily become a ritual prayer.
One night when I fell into bed exhausted from a trying day and merely mumbled a hurried, “Thank you, Lord, your will be done,” I felt strangely uneasy, as if by not mentioning the usual people and issues, at the usual time and in the usual way, I was somehow exposing them to harm by failing to cover them with my prayer. I had begun to superstitiously feel that the power lay in the words of the prayer, rather than in the one to whom I prayed.
We are admonished to pray without ceasing, but that is not because God will forget about us if we fail to nag him.
At least as I see it, unceasing prayer is an attitude of mind where one communicates with the Lord constantly, acknowledging his presence and his awareness of one’s every thought and feeling…it’s a communing spirit.
While written or memorized prayers can help us to feel closer to God and “get the conversation going” when our own words fail us, if we begin to feel that the power of prayer comes from us and the words we say, we have moved away from God and his infinite power and love.