I have a few religious questions to mull over today, so for those of you who are very anti-religion, this might not be of interest to you. I will say, however, that this topic could be applicable to a variety of religions, so even though I am a Christian myself, everything I say may apply to most other faiths as well. I think most religions have some form of this, right? What I am thinking about today is prayer.
I am specifically thinking about the specificity of prayer, which already sounds confusing to me even in my own head, so let me try to be a bit clearer. At my church we have a practice of writing prayer requests, either joys or concerns, on little cards and passing them up front for the pastor to read. This past Sunday, the pastor received a card and had to stop himself from reading it. He explained that the people for whom the concern was, well, concerning, had anticipated the prayer request and had called in ahead of time to ask that their troubles not be shared publicly at church. This raises a whole host of other moral/ethical questions in regards to the sharing of other people's private lives in order to pray for them, but it brought me to another question.
How specific do you have to be in your prayers to make them effective? And when I say effective, I mean that they accomplish what you are trying to do in regards to your belief system. If you want to call it "sending good energy," or if you believe that if you pray hard enough that God will directly intervene, or if you are just hoping for comfort in hard times, you are praying/chanting/meditating for a reason. You are hoping for something. You are praying for something.
Normally, when we find out about something terrible, a death, a terrible illness, failing relationships, we ask for good things for those people. Peace, comfort, health, that God be with them and their families, etc. But what if we don't know what the problem is? Does it still work? Can we say, "Joe Jones would like to be kept in our prayers for unspecified reasons?" Because that does happen.
And what if you don't know who you are praying for? What if you hear that someone in your church who wishes to remain anonymous has been diagnosed with cancer? Can you pray for health, comfort, and relief for "whomever in my church needs it?" And then we come to my first example; what if you don't know who is afflicted, or what the affliction is?
Dear God, there is someone in my church who is suffering in some way. Please be with them as you are able. Amen.
Is that okay? Because honestly, you could pray that prayer every day. We all have struggles and hardships, some of which we share, and some of which we don't (because some of us don't have Facebook). If I pray in a general manner for everyone on Earth, does that do anything?
I think it comes down to what prayer is for. When you ask someone to pray for you, or when someone tells you they are praying for you, that is for you, the prayee. You receive comfort knowing that the prayers and thoughts of your family and friends are with you. And when you pray anonymously, that is for you, the prayer. The person does not know you are praying for them (heck, even you do not know you are praying for them), but it brings you a sense of comfort that you are sending your prayers out into the world, hopefully to do some good.
So the final question is, where is God in all of this? And that is maybe where things differ from belief system to belief system. I, personally, have no idea how God works, or why things happen the way they do, or what the grand plan for the universe is. Maybe some of you know, and if so, please share those answers in the comments below. But to me, it seems too easy to just pray for the whole of creation and leave it at that. Shouldn't you have to be more specific? But if you can't be, it seems wrong not to pray at all, doesn't it? Man. I know God left us some rules, but sometimes I wish those were more specific too.