Non-believers frequently refer to religion as mere superstition, an attempt by lesser mortals to 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 demonstrates how attractive magical thinking is to most of us and this tendency can sometimes influence our attitude toward God and prayer.
When reciting a “ritual” prayer, I sometimes wonder if I am I praying from my heart or merely trying to manipulate God with special “magical” words.
In my personal prayer life I like to use the Disciple’s Prayer as a pattern; acknowledging God as my Father, seeking His will, asking for provision and forgiveness, etc. Using a pattern while tailoring it to my unique concerns and situations keeps my prayers from becoming rote recitations.
However, since my life is fairly consistent, my pattern prayer has become almost a ritual in itself. The other 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. I worried that 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 was mistaking the power of my praying words for the omnipotence of the One to whom I prayed.
We are admonished to pray without ceasing, of course, 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 awareness of our every thought and feeling; it’s a communing spirit.
Memorized prayers can help us to feel closer to God and get the conversation going when our own words fail us, but if we begin to feel the power of prayer comes from us or the words we say, we have moved away from God and His infinite power and love.
In the turmoil of today, sharing our concerns with our Heavenly Father gives us peace of mind and strengthens our confidence that God knows what is going on. He will take care of everything in His way and in His time.
[Original version posted June 2010]