Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No Time to Pray?

Almost all religious traditions prescribe prayer several times a day-- Christianity seven times, Islam five times, Judaism three times, and Hinduism at least two times. This shows that the importance of prayer has been widely acknowledged since the ancient times. However, in the modern times, not many people seem to pray. Long and repetitive prayers don't make much sense to us. Many of us don't have time to spare for prayer in our busy schedule. It seems that we moderns don't know what prayer is and how it is beneficial to us. If we know what our ancients knew about prayer, perhaps we will also find time for it.

We usually define prayer as communication with God. In a usual communication, we speak, and wait for response, and then again we speak, and it continues so. But in our communication with God, we speak, but we hear no response. We just assume that someone at the other end listens to what we say. Thus it becomes a monologue rather than a dialogue. Imagine you make a phone call in which you speak all the time without hearing any response. You may not be able to continue such a phone call for long. This should make us aware that our communication with God cannot be a simple communication.

God is the being, in whom all beings exist. Prayer is communication between the being and beings. Communicating with God, the being, is not like communicating with another human being. It is not even like a lower being communicating with a higher being like your dog or cat trying to communicate with you. Imagine a cell in my body trying to tell me something. The cell cannot communicate with me verbally. It has to be some sort of mental, or electrical, or telepathic communication. Our trying to communicate with God is perhaps similar to this. We can't use our human language to communicate with God. It has to be mental and telepathic. There is nothing wrong in verbalizing our thoughts and feelings. However, it is not to our sounds that God pays attention, but to our thoughts and feelings that rise from the depth of our heart. Similarly, it is not in our language that God communicates to us. It is also mental and telepathic. We need to really learn to pay attention to the response from God.

So how do we pray? We need to sharpen our ability to pay attention. We need to stop paying attention to our surroundings, and pay attention to a single point. We need to concentrate our mind. Only from this singular point can we make communication with God, the being. After attaining oneness within myself by concentrating my mind, I need to try to connect with God, the being that holds together all beings. This is like a radio or TV set tuning to a broadcasting station. Once I establish connection, I need to open up my heart fully to God without hiding anything. I need to let my deepest thoughts and feelings flow out of my heart. I need to be fully honest without the slightest pretension. A few minutes in the evening may also be used for an evaluation of how the day was spent.  We may ask ourselves the following questions about whatever we did that day: What makes me feel proud of, and what makes me feel shame about? What makes me happy and what makes me sad? What/how will I do differently the next day? Such an evaluation helps us gain better control over our life. Involve God by thanking God, by repenting of failures, and by seeking God's help. We exist as social beings, and so we can never come to God's presence as individuals. We always need to hold in prayer others in our life-- both those who are alive and those who have disappeared from our sight.

Even if we do not hear a response from God right away, we can reap other benefits. Prayer is a great exercise that renews us and keeps us focused. It helps us to grow in holiness with stronger mental capacities. Our willpower becomes stronger, our thoughts become clearer, and our emotions get purer. Moreover, prayer rising from the depth of one's heart never goes unanswered, though the answer comes mostly as coincidences.

How much time do we need to spend in prayer? This is like asking how long we should make a phone call to someone. A phone call lasts as long as we want to talk to that person. A prayer is also like that. We may pray for a moment or for several hours at a stretch. It depends on how long we want to talk to God. Lack of time cannot be an excuse for not praying because we can pray even with a moment. I think we need to learn to pray for a moment before we choose to spend more time for prayer. Traditionally, such moment-prayers have been popular. That is why we have prayers like halleluja (praise to God), barekmor (bless/thank you Lord), and kuriyelaison (Lord have mercy on us).

How often do we need to pray? Frequency of prayer is much more important than the total time we take each time. It is very important to maintain a certain frequency. Christian tradition suggests prayer every three hours. Prayer needs to be a part of our daily routine like brushing teeth and taking shower. It needs to become a part of our habit, but it should not get degenerated to mere recitation of prayers. We need to make sure that every time we pray, the prayer has to rise from the heart, and not just from the lips.

Our fathers in the ancient times knew the value of prayer, and they spent hours each day in prayer. Their prayers were written down, which are prayed even today in the churches all over the world. However, the stress is more on keeping the form of those prayers rather than the meaning and purpose of prayer. Thus people recite the same prayers that were prayed fifteen centuries ago, but it is doubtful if real communication with God happens for most of them. As a result, the time spent for prayer is seen as a waste. The stress needs to be shifted to meaning rather than form.

Many reformed churches revolted against the meaningless recitation of prayers, and decided to get rid of all the written prayers inherited from the past. It was unwise on their part to give up such a precious inheritance from the saintly ancient fathers. The reformed churches may want to humbly turn to the traditional churches to learn from this inheritance. Similarly the traditional churches may want to learn humbly from the reformed churches that the stress needs to be placed on really communicating with God rather than meaninglessly repeating prayers. The habit of praying at regular frequency is already there in the traditional Christianity. This habit needs to be retained, only the prayer needs to be real and alive rather than a dead ritual.


Tony Daniel said...

Completely agree. I enjoyed reading this article. Hope something positive might come out of it.

[Meditation is focusing on a point. I got a headache when I tried it. Conclusion: Meditation is spiritual headache. ]

John Kunnathu said...

I suggest trying concentration little by little. Today do it for a minute, tomorrow two minutes and so on.