The yellow winter aconite stores its energy, and when it’s ready to bloom, nothing, not even
snow, can stop it. Similarly, prayer is a storehouse of energy that allows us to bloom.
These popped out the week our first grandchild was born. Since we
had never seen this flower before, we took it as a positive omen.
Prayer has the power to accomplish much. It can calm a conflicted heart, reconcile relationships, be a spiritual guide, humble us or build us, transform us, or even change the world.
So far, I’ve used Centering, Appreciating, and Reconciling to describe elements of prayer. Today, I’ll focus on the purpose of prayer.
Traditionally, prayer was almost always directed to a higher being—God—who was thanked and worshipped through prayer and who granted favors to, or on behalf of, people who requested help. But, if there’s no supernatural being separate from us, what happens to our requests? Well, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news means we are responsible for what we pray for! We can choose to do something positive, fulfilling. We’re empowered. We have so many more options than just being passive and hoping some other being will take care of our concerns.
However, at first glance, that’s also bad news. It means that there’s no outside magic power which will cure the situation we want changed. This shock of self-responsibility may depress us. We can’t just wish for a miracle in the typical sense of the word.
So, what’s the purpose of prayer? It’s to Energize us! To give us the direction and motivation to make a difference. You now know the full C-A-R-E of prayer.
Prayer gets our AIG!
Yes, that’s right; it can help us get our ass in gear. [My wife told me I shouldn’t say that, but I just did.] Or, if you prefer, it can cause us to get off our duff and recognize that problems require insight—what some call discernment; working solutions—an action plan; and loving effort—doing something to cause change!
The Process of Prayer
We first focus. That’s centering, getting in the right frame of mind to accept the insights that may come our way. Add in some appreciation to recognize where we are and what our goal is. Then build toward reconciling relationships and developing possibilities—which are, thankfully, limitless.
As part of the process, it’s important to explicitly ask yourself, “Why am I praying?” The answer will often give you energy. You may decide you need to change something about yourself. Or, you may gain the energy to just accept what you can’t or don’t need to change. You may recoil from the size of some task, and say, “I can’t do that.” But, if you contemplate the question carefully, I’ll bet you’ll find small steps that you can do. For example, you may not be able to heal a world of hurt, but a bowl of soup for a neighbor, or a card for the friend who’s grieving, may energize you to action.
Prayers are energy creators. They can be a way of hugging yourself and others. For example, don’t just pray for someone’s benefit. Create the benefit by doing something small, but practical. Maybe you can’t directly help an abused child, but you can donate to agencies that do provide those services. To me, these become the most concrete prayers. They’re actions that make a loving difference.
Loving through prayer can create energies that: calm, challenge, release fears, motivate, envision the future, make connections, probe mysteries, shift viewpoints, enhance decisions, invigorate, initiate searches, and resolve issues, to name just a few.
Use prayer to energize your imagination. Engage in thoughtful prayer as a form of intensification, focusing on a specific person or situation. That will enhance your ability to empathize, to understand and feel another person’s situation from their point-of-view. Then contemplating that situation often heightens our awareness and we start to feel real compassion—the emotional insight which makes you want to be a change agent.
Answers to Prayer
What gets accomplished through prayer? If we see prayer as a call to action, then doing something constructive, no matter how large or small, is a good answer. Often, we only need to change our perspective from, “Please, God, do something about this” to, “What can I do?” It need not be big, but the action will probably bring you joy. And that will be the inspired answer to your prayer.
Why does prayer energize us? There is a spiritual component—which I don’t fully understand—but it transcends our interdependencies with the universe. Plus, some experts believe prayer affects the brain. Prayer nudges us out of apathy. Just remember to ask, “Why am I praying?” If you want the world to be better, praying can help you get going—help you make it happen!
When you pray, The Karmapa* says: “You have the imagination to see [others] as free and happy and you keep that aim in mind. …You are sustained by joy at the prospect of attaining that goal.” Those are the energizing steps: empathy, then visualization of wholeness in others, then action toward that goal, then joy in yourself.
Where do heartfelt prayers go? They don’t rise to a supernatural wish-granter. They morph into the changes you want to accomplish. In short, CARE creates changes that bring joy.
Plenty of other concepts could be packed into CARE. Each word is, of course, only an incomplete representation of the power of prayer and all acronyms are just contrived codes. But, hopefully, CARE is helping you sense new ways of understanding prayer.
_____________________________ Art Fabian — February 25, 2019
* The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. I’m thoroughly enjoying his book, Interconnected; Embracing Life in Our Global Society.
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Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.