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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mary Magdalene by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858).

Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional connection to some greater power in the universe through deliberate intentional practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words, song, or complete silence. When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and worship/praise. Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others.

Most major religions involve prayer in one way or another. Some ritualize the act of prayer—requiring a strict sequence of actions, or placing a restriction on who is permitted to pray—while many teach that prayer may be practiced spontaneously by anyone at any moment.

Scientific studies regarding the use of prayer have mostly concentrated on its effect on the healing of sick or injured people. The efficacy of petition in prayer for physical healing to a deity has been evaluated in numerous studies, with contradictory results.[1][2][3][4] There has been some criticism of the way the studies were conducted.[5][6]



Part of a series on
Variants and related concepts
Prayer in various traditions
Fundamental concepts

Pray entered Middle English as preyen, prayen,and preien around 1290, recorded in The early South-English Legendary I. 112/200: And preide is fader wel ȝerne, in the sense of "to ask earnestly." The next recorded use in 1300 is simply "to pray."[7] The word came to English from Old French preier, "to request" (first seen in La Séquence de Ste. Eulalie, ca. 880) In modern French prier, "to pray," the stem-vowel is leveled under that of the stem-stressed forms, il prie, etc. The origin of the word before this time is less certain. Compare the Italian Pregare, "to ask" or more rarely "pray for something" and Spanish preguntar, "ask."

One possibility is the Late Latin precare (as seen in Priscian), classical Latin precari "to entreat, pray" from Latin precari, from precor, from prec-, prex "request, entreaty, prayer." Precor was used by Virgil, Livy, Cicero, and Ovid in the accusative. Dative forms are also found in Livy and Aurelius Propertius. With pro in the ablative, it is found in Plinius Valerianus’s physic, and Aurelius Augustinus’s Epistulae. It also could be used for a thing. From classical times, it was used in both religious and secular senses. Prex is recorded as far back as T. Maccius Plautus (254 B.C. – ?). Other senses of precor include "to wish well or ill to any one," "to hail, salute," or "address one with a wish."

The Latin orare "to speak" later took over the role of precari to mean "pray." The Middle English word Orison, whose meaning in modern English has been taken over by Prayer, has been derived from this word via the Old French word oraison.[8]

The Spanish form preguntar was first recorded in El Cantar de Mio Çid (ca. 1150) and possibly comes from Vulgar Latin praecontare, an alteration of the Classical Latin percontari, perconto, percontor "interrogate" although the Spanish verb for "pray" today is (among Catholics) rezar, which previously meant "to say" from the Latin recitare. Among Spanish-speaking Protestants, the verb orar is used instead, and a prayer is called oración. The Portuguese word pregar "to preach," or less commonly, "to exhort," is also mentioned at times, although it is from the Latin praedicare, "to cry in public, proclaim," hence "to declare, state, say," in medieval Latin "to preach," and in Logic "to assert," from præ "forth" + dicare "to make known, proclaim." Compare the Spanish predicar. More closely related is the Portuguese perguntar, "to ask" and by extension "ask for."

Pray is akin to Old English gefræge "hearsay, report," fricgan, frignan, frinan to ask, inquire, Old High German fraga question, fragen "to ask" (in modern German, "pray" is beten, "question" frage), Old Norse frett "question," fregna "to inquire, find out," Gothic fraihman "to find out by inquiry," Tocharian A prak- "to ask," Sanskrit roots, pracch- prask-, pras "interrogation," and prcchati "he asks"

Forms of prayer

Christians at prayer
Muslims performing Salah.

Various spiritual traditions offer a wide variety of devotional acts. There are morning and evening prayers, graces said over meals, and reverent physical gestures. Some Christians bow their heads and fold their hands. Some Native Americans regard dancing as a form of prayer.[9] Some Sufis whirl.[10] Hindus chant mantras.[11] Orthodox Jews sway their bodies back and forth[12] and Salah for Muslims ("kneel and prostrate as seen on the right"). Quakers keep silent.[13] Some pray according to standardized rituals and liturgies, while others prefer extemporaneous prayers. Still others combine the two.

These methods show a variety of understandings to prayer, which are led by underlying beliefs.

These beliefs may be that

  • the finite can communicate with the infinite
  • the infinite is interested in communicating with the finite
  • prayer is intended to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, rather than to influence the recipient
  • prayer is intended to train a person to focus on the recipient through philosophy and intellectual contemplation
  • prayer is intended to enable a person to gain a direct experience of the recipient
  • prayer is intended to affect the very fabric of reality as we perceive it
  • prayer is a catalyst for change in one's self and/or one's circumstances, or likewise those of third party beneficiaries
  • the recipient desires and appreciates prayer
  • or any combination of these.

The act of prayer is attested in written sources as early as 5000 years ago.[14] Some anthropologists, such as Sir Edward Burnett Tylor and Sir James George Frazer, believed that the earliest intelligent modern humans practiced something that we would recognize today as prayer.[15]

Friedrich Heiler is often cited in Christian circles for his systematic Typology of Prayer which lists six types of prayer: primitive, ritual, Greek cultural, philosophical, mystical and prophetic.[16]

The act of worship

Praying has many different forms. Prayer may be done privately and individually, or it may be done corporately in the presence of fellow believers. Prayer can be incorporated into a daily "thought life," in which one is in constant communication with a god. Some people pray throughout all that is happening during the day and seek guidance as the day progresses. This is actually regarded as a requirement in several Christian denominations,[17] although enforcement is not possible nor desirable. There can be many different answers to prayer, just as there are many ways to interpret an answer to a question, if there in fact comes an answer[17]. Some may experience audible, physical, or mental epiphanies. If indeed an answer comes, the time and place it comes is considered random. Some outward acts that sometimes accompany prayer are: anointing with oil;[18] ringing a bell;[19] burning incense or paper;[20] lighting a candle or candles;[21] facing a specific direction (i.e. towards Mecca[22] or the East); making the sign of the cross. One less noticeable act related to prayer is fasting.

A variety of body postures may be assumed, often with specific meaning (mainly respect or adoration) associated with them: standing; sitting; kneeling; prostrate on the floor; eyes opened; eyes closed; hands folded or clasped; hands upraised; holding hands with others; a laying on of hands and others. Prayers may be recited from memory, read from a book of prayers, or composed spontaneously as they are prayed. They may be said, chanted, or sung. They may be with musical accompaniment or not. There may be a time of outward silence while prayers are offered mentally. Often, there are prayers to fit specific occasions, such as the blessing of a meal, the birth or death of a loved one, other significant events in the life of a believer, or days of the year that have special religious significance. Details corresponding to specific traditions are outlined below.

Pre-Christian Europe

Etruscan, Greek, and Roman paganism

In the pre-Christian religions of Greeks and Romans (Ancient Greek religion, Roman religion), ceremonial prayer was highly formulaic and ritualized.[23][24] The Iguvine Tables contain a supplication that can be translated, "If anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly."

The formalism and formulaic nature of these prayers led them to be written down in language that may have only been partially understood by the writer, and our texts of these prayers may in fact be garbled. Prayers in Etruscan were used in the Roman world by augurs and other oracles long after Etruscan became a dead language. The Carmen Arvale and the Carmen Saliare are two specimens of partially preserved prayers that seem to have been unintelligible to their scribes, and whose language is full of archaisms and difficult passages.[25]

Roman prayers and sacrifices were often envisioned as legal bargains between deity and worshipper. The Roman formula was do ut des: "I give, so that you may give in return." Cato the Elder's treatise on agriculture contains many examples of preserved traditional prayers; in one, a farmer addresses the unknown deity of a possibly sacred grove, and sacrifices a pig in order to placate the god or goddess of the place and beseech his or her permission to cut down some trees from the grove.[26]

Germanic paganism

The valkyrie Sigrdrífa says a pagan Norse prayer in Sigrdrífumál. Illustration by Arthur Rackham.

An amount of accounts of prayers to the gods in Germanic paganism survived the process of Christianization, though only a single prayer has survived without the interjection of Christian references. This prayer is recorded in stanzas 2 and 3 of the poem Sigrdrífumál, compiled in the 13th century Poetic Edda from earlier traditional sources, where the valkyrie Sigrdrífa prays to the gods and the earth after being woken by the hero Sigurd.[27]

A prayer to the major god Odin is mentioned in chapter 2 of the Völsunga saga where King Rerir prays for a child. His prayer is answered by Frigg, wife of Odin, who sends him an apple, which is dropped on his lap by Frigg's servant in the form of a crow while Rerir is sitting on a mound. Rerir's wife eats the apple and is then pregnant with the hero Völsung. In stanza 9 of the poem Oddrúnargrátr, a prayer is made to "kind wights, Frigg and Freyja, and many gods," although since the poem is often considered one of the youngest poems in the Poetic Edda, the passage has been the matter of some debate.[28]

In chapter 21 of Jómsvíkinga saga, wishing to turn the tide of the Battle of Hjörungavágr, Haakon Sigurdsson eventually finds his prayers answered by the goddesses Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa (the first of the two described as Haakon's patron goddess) who appear in the battle, kill many of the opposing fleet, and cause the remnants of their forces to flee. However, this depiction of a pagan prayer has been criticized as inaccurate due to the description of Haakon dropping to his knees.[29]

The 11th century manuscript for the Anglo-Saxon charm Æcerbot presents what is thought to be an originally pagan prayer for the fertility of the speaker's crops and land, though Christianization is apparent throughout the charm.[30] The 8th century Wessobrunn Prayer has been proposed as a Christianized pagan prayer and compared to the pagan Völuspá[31] and the Merseburg Incantations, the latter recorded in the 9th or 10th century but of much older traditional origins.[32]

Abrahamic religions


In the common Bible of the Abrahamic religions, various forms of prayer appear; the most common forms being petition, thanksgiving and worship. The largest book in the Bible is the Book of Psalms, 150 religious songs which are often regarded as prayers. Other well-known Biblical prayers include the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18), the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). But perhaps the best-known prayer in the Bible is the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2-4).


Captain Samuel Cass, a rabbi, conducting the first prayer service celebrated on German territory by Jewish personnel of the 1st Canadian Army near Cleve, Germany,18 March 1945.

Jews pray three times a day, more on special days, such as the Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The siddur is the prayerbook used by Jews all over the world, containing a set order of daily prayers. Jewish prayer is usually described as having two aspects: kavanah (intention) and keva (the ritualistic, structured elements).

The most important Jewish prayers are the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O Israel") and the Amidah ("the standing prayer").

Communal prayer is preferred over solitary prayer, and a quorum of 10 adult males (a minyan) is considered a prerequisite for several communal prayers.

Rationalist approach to prayer

In this view, ultimate goal of prayer is to help train a person to focus on divinity through philosophy and intellectual contemplation. This approach was taken by Maimonides and the other medieval rationalists

Educational approach to prayer

In this view, prayer is not a conversation. Rather, it is meant to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, but not to influence. This has been the approach of Rabbenu Bachya, Yehuda Halevy, Joseph Albo, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. This view is expressed by Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the overview to the Artscroll Siddur (p. XIII); note that Scherman goes on to also affirm the Kabbalistic view (see below).

Kabbalistic approach to prayer

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) uses a series of kavanot, directions of intent, to specify the path the prayer ascends in the dialog with God, to increases its chances of being answered favorably. Kabbalists ascribes a higher meaning to the purpose of prayer, which is no less than affecting the very fabric of reality itself, restructuring and repairing the universe in a real fashion. In this view, every word of every prayer, and indeed, even every letter of every word, has a precise meaning and a precise effect. Prayers thus literally affect the mystical forces of the universe, and repair the fabric of creation.

Among Jews, this approach has been taken by the Chassidei Ashkenaz (German pietists of the Middle-Ages), the Arizal's Kabbalist tradition, Ramchal, most of Hassidism, the Vilna Gaon and Jacob Emden.


18th c. Byzantine-style bronze panagia from Jerusalem, showing the Virgin Mary in the orans prayer posture.

Christian prayers are quite varied. They can be completely spontaneous, or read entirely from a text, like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Probably the most common and universal prayer among Christians is the Lord's Prayer, which according to the gospel accounts is how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Some Protestant denominations choose not to recite the Lord's Prayer or other rote prayers.

Christians generally pray to God or to the Father. Some Christians (e.g., Catholics, Orthodox) will also ask the righteous in heaven and "in Christ," such as Virgin Mary or other saints to intercede by praying on their behalf (intercession of saints). Formulaic closures include "through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, through all the ages of ages," and "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

It is customary among Protestants to end prayers with "In Jesus' name, Amen" or "In the name of Christ, Amen"[33] However, the most commonly used closure in Christianity is simply "Amen" (from a Hebrew adverb used as a statement of affirmation or agreement, usually translated as so be it).

There is also the form of prayer called hesychast which is a repetitious type of prayer for the purpose of meditation. In the Western or Latin Rite of Catholic Church, probably the most common is the Rosary; In the Eastern Church (the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church), the Jesus Prayer.

Roman Catholic tradition includes specific prayers and devotions as acts of reparation which do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to repair the sins of others, e.g. for the repair of the sin of blasphemy performed by others.[34]


In Pentecostal congregations, prayer is often done by speaking in a foreign tongue, a practice now known as glossolalia.[35] Practitioners of Pentecostal glossolalia may claim that the languages they speak in prayer are real foreign languages, and that the ability to speak those languages spontaneously is a gift of the Holy Spirit;[36][37] however, many people outside the movement have offered alternative views. George Barton Cutten suggested that glossolalia was a sign of mental illness.[38] Felicitas Goodman suggested that tongue speakers were under a form of hypnosis.[39] Others suggest that it is a learned behaviour.[40][41] Some of these views have allegedly been refuted.[42][43]

Christian Science

Christian Science teaches that prayer is a spiritualization of thought or an understanding of God and of the nature of the underlying spiritual creation. Adherents believe that this can result in healing, by bringing spiritual reality (the "Kingdom of Heaven" in Biblical terms) into clearer focus in the human scene. The world as it appears to the senses is regarded as a distorted version of the world of spiritual ideas. Prayer can heal the distortion. Christian Scientists believe that prayer does not change the spiritual creation but gives a clearer view of it, and the result appears in the human scene as healing: the human picture adjusts to coincide more nearly with the divine reality. Christian Scientists do not practice intercessory prayer as it is commonly understood, and they generally avoid combining prayer with medical treatment in the belief that the two practices tend to work against each other. (However, the choice of healing method is regarded as a matter for the individual, and the Christian Science Church exerts no pressure on members to avoid medical treatment if they wish to avail of it as an alternative to Christian Science healing.) Prayer works through love: the recognition of God's creation as spiritual, intact and inherently lovable.[44] The Christian Scientists' aim is "to reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing" (Manual of The Mother Church, p.17) which, they believe, was lost after the early centuries of Christianity. They cite such Bible texts as Mark 16:17-18; Matthew 10:8 in support of their contention that Christian faith demands demonstration in healing. This is a faith in the omnipotence of God, which according to the Christian Science interpretation of the Bible, logically rules out any other power: Luke 17:5-6. The Christian Science view is that Jesus taught that we should claim good as being present, right here and now, and that this will result in healing: (Matthew 21:22; Matthew 7:7-11). Christian Scientists point to Jesus' teaching that his followers would do "greater works" than he did (John 14:12) and that a person who lived in conformity with his teachings would not be subject even to death: (John 8:51)


Some modalities of alternative medicine employ prayer. A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, found that in 2002, 43% of Americans pray for their own health, 24% pray for others' health, and 10% participate in a prayer group for their own health.


Muslims praying during the Hajj at Masjid al-Haram, Mecca.

Muslims pray a brief ritualistic prayer called salah or salat in Arabic, facing the Kaaba in Mecca, five times a day. There is the "call for prayer" (adhan or azaan), where the muezzin calls for all the followers to stand together for the prayer . There are also many standard duas or supplications, also in Arabic, to be recited at various times, e.g. for one's parents, after salah, before eating. Muslims may also say dua in their own words and languages for any issue they wish to communicate with God in the hope that God will answer their prayers[22].

See also: Dua


Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and `Abdu'l-Bahá have revealed many prayers for general use, and some for specific occasions, including for unity, detachment, spiritual upliftment, and healing among others. Bahá'ís are also required to recite each day one of three obligatory prayers revealed by Bahá'u'lláh. The believers have been enjoined to face in the direction of the Qiblih when reciting their Obligatory Prayer. The longest obligatory prayer may be recited at any time during the day; another, of medium length, is recited once in the morning, once at midday, and once in the evening; and the shortest can be recited anytime between noon and sunset. Bahá'ís also read from and meditate on the scriptures every morning and evening.[45]

Eastern religions

In contrast with Western religion, Eastern religion for the most part discards worship and places devotional emphasis on the practice of meditation alongside scriptural study. Consequently, prayer is seen as a form of meditation or an adjunct practice to meditation.


In certain Buddhist sects, prayer accompanies meditation. Buddhism for the most part sees prayer as a secondary, supportive practice to meditation and scriptural study. Gautama Buddha claimed that human beings possess the capacity and potential to be liberated, or enlightened, through contemplation, leading to insight. Prayer is seen mainly as a powerful psycho-physical practice that can enhance meditation.[46]

In the earliest Buddhist tradition, the Theravada, and in the later Mahayana tradition of Zen (or Chán), prayer plays only an ancillary role. It is largely a ritual expression of wishes for success in the practice and in helping all beings.[47]

The 'skillful means' (Sanskrit: upaya) of the 'transfer of merit' (Sanskrit: parinamana) is an evocation and prayer. Moreover, an indeterminate number of buddhas are available for intercession as they reside in 'pure-fields' (Sanskrit: buddha-kshetra). The nirmanakaya of a 'pure-field' is what is generally known and understood as mandala. The opening and closing of the 'wheel' (Sanskrit: mandala) is an active prayer. An active prayer is a mindful activity, an activity in which mindfulness is not just cultivated but is.[48] A common prayer is "May the merit of my practice, adorn Buddhas' Pure Lands, requite the fourfold kindness from above, and relieve the suffering of the three life-journeys below. Universally wishing sentient beings, Friends, foes, and karmic creditors, all to activate the bodhi mind, and all to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss." (願以此功德 莊嚴佛淨土 上報四重恩 下濟三途苦 普願諸眾生 冤親諸債主 悉發菩提心 同生極樂國)[49]

The 'Generation Stage' (Sanskrit: utpatti-krama) of Vajrayana involves prayer elements.[50]

The Tibetan Buddhism tradition emphasizes an instructive and devotional relationship to a guru; this may involve devotional practices known as guru yoga which are congruent with prayer. It also appears that Tibetan Buddhism posits the existence of various deities, but the peak view of the tradition is that the deities or yidam are no more existent or real than the 'continuity' (Sanskrit: santana; refer mindstream) of the practitioner, environment and activity. But how practitioners engage 'yidam' or tutelary deities will depend upon the 'level' or more appropriately 'yana' at which they are practicing. At one level, one may pray to a deity for protection or assistance, taking a more subordinate role. At another level, one may invoke the deity, on a more equal footing. And at a higher level one may deliberately cultivate the idea that one has 'become' the deity, whilst remaining aware that its ultimate nature is shunyata. The views of the more esoteric yana are impenetrable for those without direct experience and empowerment. Pure Land Buddhism emphasizes the recitation of prayer-like mantras by devotees. On one level it is said that reciting these mantras can ensure rebirth into a sambhogakaya 'pure land' (Sanskrit: buddha-kshetra) after bodily dissolution, a pure sphere spontaneously co-emergent to a buddha's enlightened intention. On another, the practice is a form of meditation aimed at achieving realization.

But beyond all these practices the Buddha emphasized the primacy of individual practice and experience. He said that supplication to gods or deities was not necessary. Nevertheless, today many lay people in East Asian countries pray to the Buddha in ways that resemble Western prayer - asking for intervention and offering devotion.


Shakta Hindus in Dhaka, Bangladesh, pray to the goddess during Durga Puja, October 2003.

Hinduism has incorporated many kinds of prayer (Sanskrit: prārthanā), from fire-based rituals to philosophical musings. While chanting involves 'by dictum' recitation of timeless verses or verses with timings and notations, dhyanam involves deep meditation (however short or long) on the preferred deity/God. Again the object to which prayers are offered could be a persons referred as devtas, trinity or incarnation of either devtas or trinity or simply plain formless meditation as practiced by the ancient sages. All of these are directed to fulfilling personal needs or deep spiritual enlightenment. Ritual invocation was part and parcel of the Vedic religion and as such permeated their sacred texts. Indeed, the highest sacred texts of the Hindus, the Vedas, are a large collection of mantras and prayer rituals. Classical Hinduism came to focus on extolling a single supreme force, Brahman, that is made manifest in several lower forms as the familiar gods of the Hindu pantheon. Hindus in India have numerous devotional movements. Hindus may pray to the highest absolute God Brahman, or more commonly to Its three manifestations namely creator god called Brahma, preserver god called Vishnu and destroyer god (so that the creation cycle can start afresh) Shiva, and at the next level to Vishnu's avatars (earthly appearances) Rama and Krishna or to many other male or female deities. Typically, Hindus pray with their hands (the palms) joined together in 'pranam' (Sanskrit). The hand gesture is similar to the popular Indian greeting namaste.


Although Jains believe that no spirit or divine being can assist them on their path, they do hold some influence, and on special occasions, Jains will pray for right knowledge to the twenty-four Tirthankaras (saintly teachers) or sometimes to Hindu deities such as Ganesha.


A man praying at a Japanese Shinto shrine.

The practices involved in Shinto prayer are heavily influenced by Buddhism; Japanese Buddhism has also been strongly influenced by Shinto in turn. The most common and basic form of devotion involves throwing a coin, or several, into a collection box, ringing a bell, clapping one's hands, and contemplating one's wish or prayer silently. The bell and hand clapping are meant to wake up or attract the attention of the kami of the shrine, so that one's prayer may be heard.

Shinto prayers quite frequently consist of wishes or favors asked of the kami, rather than lengthy praises or devotions. Unlike in certain other faiths, it is not considered irregular or inappropriate to ask favors of the kami in this way, and indeed many shrines are associated with particular favors, such as success on exams.

In addition, one may write one's wish on a small wooden tablet, called an ema, and leave it hanging at the shrine, where the kami can read it. If the wish is granted, one may return to the shrine to leave another ema as an act of thanksgiving.


The Ardās (Punjabi: ਅਰਦਾਸ) is a Sikh prayer that is done before performing or after undertaking any significant task; after reciting the daily Banis (prayers); or completion of a service like the Paath, kirtan (hymn-singing) program or any other religious program. In Sikhism, these prayers are also said before and after eating. The prayer is a plea to God to support and help the devotee with whatever he or she is about to undertake or has done.

The Ardas is usually always done standing up with folded hands. The beginning of the Ardas is strictly set by the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. When it comes to conclusion of this prayer, the devotee uses word like "Waheguru please bless me in the task that I am about to undertake" when starting a new task or "Akal Purakh, having completed the hymn-singing, we ask for your continued blessings so that we can continue with your memory and remember you at all times", etc. The word "Ardās" is derived from Persian word 'Arazdashat', meaning a request, supplication, prayer, petition or an address to a superior authority.

Ardās is a unique prayer based on the fact that it is one of the few well-known prayers in the Sikh religion that was not written in its entirety by the Gurus. The Ardās cannot be found within the pages of the Guru Granth Sahib because it is a continually changing devotional text that has evolved over time in order for it to encompass the feats, accomplishments, and feelings of all generations of Sikhs within its lines. Taking the various derivation of the word Ardās into account, the basic purpose of this prayer is an appeal to Waheguru for his protection and care, as well as being a plea for the welfare and prosperity of all mankind, and a means for the Sikhs to thank Waheguru for all that he has done.[51]


Prayer in Taoism is less common than Fulu, which is the drawing and writing of supernatural talismans, but the many Taoism prayers[52] retained the old forms which they had under the Han dynasty.[53]


Although prayer in its literal sense is not used in animism, communication with the spirit world is vital to the animist way of life. This is usually accomplished through a shaman who, through a trance, gains access to the spirit world and then shows the spirits' thoughts to the people. Other ways to receive messages from the spirits include using astrology or contemplating fortune tellers and healers.[54] The native religions in some parts of North, East and South Asia, America, Africa, and Oceania are often animistic.


The Aztec religion was not strictly animist. It had an ever increasing pantheon of deities, and the shamans performed ritual prayer to these deities in their respective temples. These shamans made petitions to the proper deities in exchange for a sacrifice offering: food, flowers, effigies, and animals, usually quail. But the larger the thing required from the God the larger the sacrifice had to be, and for the most important rites one would offer one's own blood; by cutting his ears, arms, tongue, thighs, chest or genitals, and often a human life; either warrior, slave, or even self-sacrifice.[55]

The Pueblo Indians are known to have used prayer sticks, that is, sticks with feathers attached as supplicatory offerings. The Hopi Indians used prayer sticks as well, but they attached to it a small bag of sacred meat.[56]


In Australia, prayers to the "Great Spirit" are performed by the "clever men" and "clever women," or kadji. These Aboriginal shamans use maban or mabain, the material that is believed to give them their purported magical powers.[57]


Adherents to forms of modern Neopaganism pray to various gods. The most commonly worshiped and prayed to gods are those of Pre-Christian Europe, such as Celtic, Norse or Graeco-Roman gods. Prayer can vary from sect to sect, and with some (such as Wicca) prayer may also be associated with ritual magick.

Theurgy and Western Esotericism

Practitioners of theurgy and western esotericism may practice a form of ritual which utilizes both pre-sanctioned prayers and names of God, and prayers "from the heart" that, when combined, allows the participant to ascend spiritually, and in some instances, induce a trance in which God or other spiritual beings may be realized. Very similar to hermetic qabala, and orthodox qabala, it is believed that prayer can influence both the physical and non-physical worlds. The use of ritualistic signs and names are believed to be archetypes in which the subconscious may take form as the Inner God, or another spiritual being, and the "prayer from the heart" to be that spiritual force speaking through the participant.

Approaches to prayer

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer showing the hand position of a medieval commendation ceremony.

Direct petitions to God

From Biblical times to today, the most common form of prayer is to directly appeal to God to grant one's requests. This in many ways is the simplest form of prayer. Some have termed this the social approach to prayer.[58] In this view, a person directly enters into God's rest, and asks for their needs to be fulfilled. God listens to the prayer, and may or may not choose to answer in the way one asks of Him. This is the primary approach to prayer found in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, most of the Church writings, and in rabbinic literature such as the Talmud.

Educational approach

In this view, prayer is not a conversation. Rather, it is meant to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, but not to influence. Among Jews, this has been the approach of Rabbenu Bachya, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Joseph Albo, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Joseph B. Soloveitchik. This view is expressed by Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the overview to the Artscroll Siddur (p. XIII).

Among Christian theologians, E.M. Bounds stated the educational purpose of prayer in every chapter of his book, The Necessity of Prayer. Prayer books such as the Book of Common Prayer are both a result of this approach and an exhortation to keep it.[59]

Rationalist approach

In this view, ultimate goal of prayer is to help train a person to focus on divinity through philosophy and intellectual contemplation. This approach was taken by the Jewish scholar and philosopher Maimonides and the other medieval rationalists; it became popular in Jewish, Christian and Islamic intellectual circles, but never became the most popular understanding of prayer among the laity in any of these faiths. In all three of these faiths today, a significant minority of people still hold to this approach.

Experiential approach

In this approach, the purpose of prayer is to enable the person praying to gain a direct experience of the recipient of the prayer (or as close to direct as a specific theology permits). This approach is very significant in Christianity and widespread in Judaism (although less popular theologically). In Eastern Orthodoxy, this approach is known as hesychasm. It is also widespread in Sufi Islam, and in some forms of mysticism. It has some similarities with the rationalist approach, since it can also involve contemplation, although the contemplation is not generally viewed as being as rational or intellectual.

Prayer groups

A prayer group is a group of people that meet to pray together. These groups, formed mostly within Christian congregations but occasionally among Muslim groups as well,[60] gather outside of the congregation's regular worship service to pray for perceived needs, sometimes within the congregation, sometimes within their religious group at large. However, these groups often pray also for the world around them, including people who do not share their beliefs.

Many prayer group meetings are held according to a regular schedule, usually once a week. However, extraordinary events, such as the September 11 attacks[61] or major disasters spawned a number of improvised prayer group meetings. Prayer groups do not need to meet in person, and there are a vast array of single-purpose prayer groups in the world.[62]

Prayer healing

Prayer is often used as a means of faith healing in an attempt to use religious or spiritual means to prevent illness, cure disease, or improve health. Some attempt to heal by prayer, mental practices, spiritual insights, or other techniques, claiming they can summon divine or supernatural intervention on behalf of the ill. Others advocate that ill people may achieve healing through prayer performed by themselves.[63] According to the varied beliefs of those who practice it, faith healing may be said to afford gradual relief from pain or sickness or to bring about a sudden "miracle cure", and it may be used in place of, or in tandem with, conventional medical techniques for alleviating or curing diseases. Faith healing has been criticized on the grounds that those who use it may delay seeking potentially curative conventional medical care. This is particularly problematic when parents use faith healing techniques on children.

Efficacy of prayer healing

In 1872, Francis Galton conducted a famous statistical experiment to determine whether prayer had a physical effect on the external environment. Galton hypothesized that if prayer was effective, members of the British Royal family would live longer, given that thousands prayed for their wellbeing every Sunday. He therefore compared longevity in the British Royal family with that of the general population, and found no difference.[1] While the experiment was probably intended to satirize, and suffered from a number of confounders, it set the precedent for a number of different studies, the results of which are contradictory.

Two studies claimed that patients who are being prayed for recover more quickly or more frequently although critics have claimed that the methodology of such studies are flawed, and the perceived effect disappears when controls are tightened.[64] One such study, with a double-blind design and about 500 subjects per group, suggested that intercessory prayer by born again Christians had a statistically significant positive effect on a coronary care unit population.[2] Critics contend that there were severe methodological problems with this study.[6] Another such study was reported by Harris et al..[3] Critics also claim Byrd's 1988 study was not fully double-blinded, and that in the Harris study, patients actually had a longer hospital stay in the prayer group, if one discounts the patients in both groups who left before prayers began,[65] although the Harris study did demonstrate the prayed for patients on average received lower course scores (indicating better recovery).

One of the largest randomized, blind clinical trials was a remote retroactive intercessory prayer study conducted in Israel by Leibovici. This study used 3393 patient records from 1990-96, and blindly assigned some of these to an intercessory prayer group. The prayer group had shorter hospital stays and duration of fever.[66]

Several studies of prayer effectiveness have yielded null results.[4] A 2001 double-blind study of the Mayo Clinic found no significant difference in the recovery rates between people who were (unbeknownst to them) assigned to a group that prayed for them and those who were not.[67] Similarly, the MANTRA study conducted by Duke University found no differences in outcome of cardiac procedures as a result of prayer.[68] In another similar study published in the American Heart Journal in 2006,[69] Christian intercessory prayer when reading a scripted prayer was found to have no effect on the recovery of heart surgery patients; however, the study found patients who had knowledge of receiving prayer had slightly higher instances of complications than those who did not know if they were being prayed for or those who did not receive prayer.[5][70] Another 2006 study suggested that prayer actually had a significant negative effect on the recovery of cardiac bypass patients, resulting in more frequent deaths and slower recovery time for those patient who received prayers.[71]

Many believe that prayer can aid in recovery, not due to divine influence but due to psychological and physical benefits. It has also been suggested that if a person knows that he or she is being prayed for it can be uplifting and increase morale, thus aiding recovery. (See Subject-expectancy effect.) Many studies have suggested that prayer can reduce physical stress, regardless of the god or gods a person prays to, and this may be true for many worldly reasons. According to a study by Centra State Hospital, "the psychological benefits of prayer may help reduce stress and anxiety, promote a more positive outlook, and strengthen the will to live."[72] Other practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and Meditation may also have a positive impact on physical and psychological health.

Others feel that the concept of conducting prayer experiments reflects a misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. The previously mentioned American Heart Journal study published in the American Heart Journal indicated that some of the intercessors who took part in it complained about the scripted nature of the prayers that were imposed to them,[5] saying that this is not the way they usually conduct prayer:

Prior to the start of this study, intercessors reported that they usually receive information about the patient’s age, gender and progress reports on their medical condition; converse with family members or the patient (not by fax from a third party); use individualized prayers of their own choosing; and pray for a variable time period based on patient or family request.

See also

References and footnotes

  1. ^ a b Galton F. Statistical inquiries into the efficacy of prayer. Fortnightly Review 1872;68:125-35. Online version.
  2. ^ a b Byrd RC, Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. South Med J 1988;81:826-9. PMID 3393937.
  3. ^ a b Harris WS, Gowda M, Kolb JW, Strychacz CP, Vacek JL, Jones PG, Forker A, O'Keefe JH, McCallister BD. A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit. Arch Intern Med 1999;159:2273-8. PMID 10547166.
  4. ^ a b O'Laoire S. An experimental study of the effects of distant, intercessory prayer on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Altern Ther Health Med 1997;3:38-53. PMID 9375429.
  5. ^ a b c Benson H, Dusek JA et al. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer." American Heart Journal. 2006 April; 151(4): p. 762-4.
  6. ^ a b A critique of the San Francisco hospital study on intercessory prayer and healing - Gary P. Posner, M.D.
  7. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  8. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  9. ^ Sidwell, Melanie M. (2008-08-15). "Dance as prayer". Longmont Times-Call. Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  10. ^ "The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi". Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  11. ^ Omkarananda, Swami (11-12-2008). "How to pray". Omkarananda Ashram Himalayas. Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  12. ^ "Jewish Worship and Prayer". Religion Facts. Retrieved 12-4-2008.   This practice is known, in Yiddish, as shuckling.
  13. ^ Avery, Chel. "Quaker Worship". Quaker Information Center. Retrieved 12-4-2008.  
  14. ^ Stephens, Ferris J. (1950). Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton. pp. 391–2.  
  15. ^ Zaleski, Carol; Zaleski, Philip (2006). Prayer: A History. Boston: Mariner Books. pp. 24–25. ISBN 0-618-77360-6.  
  16. ^ Erickson, Millard J. (1998). Christian theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. ISBN 0-8010-2182-0.  
  17. ^ a b Knight, Kevin. "Prayer". New Advent. Retrieved 2008-10-06.  
  18. ^ See, for example, James 5:14
  19. ^ Scheckel, Roger J. (January 2004). "The Angelus". The Marian Catechists. Retrieved 2008-10-06.  
  20. ^ "Buddhist Art". Pacific Asia Museum. 2003. Retrieved 2008-10-06.  
  21. ^ See, for example, McCarty, Julie (2008). "Faith - Grandma's prayer candle". Bayard Inc.. Retrieved 2008-10-06.  
  22. ^ a b Emerick, Yahiya (2002). [ The Complete Idiot's Guide to Islam]. Indianapolis IN: Alpha Books. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0-02-864233-3.  
  23. ^ Rayor, Diane. "The Homeric Hymns". University of California Press. Retrieved 2009-01-14.  
  24. ^ "Religio Romana". Nova Roma. Retrieved 2009-01-14.  
  25. ^ Frederic De Forest Allen, Remnants of Early Latin (Boston: Ginn & Heath 1880 and Ginn & Co 1907).
  26. ^ Cato's Mars Prayer, found in De Agri Cultura, translated at[1]
  27. ^ Translation by Bellows.
  28. ^ Grundy, Stephan (1998). "Freyja and Frigg" as collected in Billington, Sandra. The Concept of the Goddess, page 60. Routledge ISBN 0415197899
  29. ^ Hollander, Lee (trans.) (1955). The saga of the Jómsvíkings, page 100. University of Texas Press ISBN 0292776233
  30. ^ Gordon, R.K. (1962). Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Everyman's Library #794. M. Dent & Sons, LTD.
  31. ^ Lambdin, Laura C and Robert T. (2000). Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature, page 227. Greenwood Publishing Group ISBN 0313300542
  32. ^ Wells, C. J." (1985). German, a Linguistic History to 1945: A Linguistic History to 1945, page 51. Oxford University Press ISBN 0198157959
  33. ^ See John 16:23, 26; John 14:13; John 15:16
  34. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia
  35. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed, 1989
  36. ^ "Christianity - Pentecostalism". Australian Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 12-5-2008.  
  37. ^ Acts 2:1-13 31
  38. ^ George Barton Cutten, Speaking with Tongues Historically and Psychologically Considered, Yale University Press, 1927.
  39. ^ Goodman, Felicitas D., Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study in Glossolalia. University of Chicago Press, 1972.
  40. ^ Hine, Virginia H.: 'Pentecostal Glossolalia toward a Functional Interpretation.' Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8, 2: (1969) 211–226: quote on p211
  41. ^ Samarin, William J., Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism. Macmillan, New York, 1972, quote on p73
  42. ^ Hine, Virginia H.: 'Pentecostal Glossolalia toward a Functional Interpretation.' Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8, 2: (1969) 211–226: quote on p213
  43. ^ Spanos, Nicholas P.; Hewitt, Erin C.: Glossolalia: 'A test of the 'trance' and psychopathology hypotheses.' Journal of Abnormal Psychology: 1979 Aug Vol 88(4) 427-434.
  44. ^ "Is there no intercessory prayer?". Retrieved 2007-10-13.  
  45. ^ Smith, P. (1999). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. pp. 274–275. ISBN 1851681841.  
  46. ^ See for example (French)
  47. ^ Collins, Steven (1982). Selfless Persons. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 6. ISBN 0-521-39726.  
  48. ^ Sangharakshita, Bhikshu (1993). A Survey of Buddhism. Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom: Windhorse Publications. pp. 449–460. ISBN 0 904766 65 9.  
  49. ^ Buddhist Prayers
  50. ^ Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.100. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  51. ^
  52. ^ Chapter IV: Category of fierce types of spells for explanation
  53. ^ "急急如律令" What does this mean?
  54. ^ "Animism Profile in Cambodia". OMF. Retrieved 2008-04-09.  
  55. ^ Hassigtitle = El sacrificio y las guerras floridas (2003). Arqueología mexicana XI: 47.  
  56. ^ "Prayer stick". Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.  
  57. ^ Elkin, Adolphus P. (1973). Aboriginal Men of High Degree: Initiation and Sorcery in the World's Oldest Tradition. Inner Traditions - Bear & Company.  
  58. ^ Greenberg, Moshe. Biblical Prose Prayer: As a Window to the Popular Religion of Ancient Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1983 [2]
  59. ^ Bounds, Edward McKendree (1907). The Necessity of Prayer. AGES Software.  
  60. ^ "". 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30.  
  61. ^ [ "World Wide Prayer Group"]. Retrieved 2008-10-30.  
  62. ^ [ "Prayer Group - Prayer Meeting Praise Team"]. Retrieved 2008-10-30.  
  63. ^
  64. ^ Prayer still useless
  65. ^ Tessman I and Tessman J "Efficacy of Prayer: A Critical Examination of Claims," Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2000,
  66. ^ Leibovici L. Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2001;323:1450-1. PMID 11751349.
  67. ^ Aviles JM, Whelan SE, Hernke DA, Williams BA, Kenny KE, O'Fallon WM, Kopecky SL. Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: a randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clin Proc 2001;76:1192-8. PMID 11761499.
  68. ^ Krucoff MW, Crater SW, Gallup D, Blankenship JC, Cuffe M, Guarneri M, Krieger RA, Kshettry VR, Morris K, Oz M, Pichard A, Sketch MH Jr, Koenig HG, Mark D, Lee KL. Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study. Lancet 2005;366:211-7. PMID 16023511.
  69. ^ Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer[3]
  70. ^ The Deity in the DataWhat the latest prayer study tells us about God
  71. ^ Herbert Benson et al., "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer", American Heart Journal, Volume 151, No 4, 934-42 (2006)
  72. ^ Mind and Spirit. from the Health Library section of CentraState Healthcare System. Accessed May 18, 2006.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! ... that is what I call prayer. ~ Claude Debussy

Prayer is the act of attempting to communicate, commonly with a sequence of words, with a deity or spirit for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins, as an act of reparation or to express one's thoughts and emotions. The words of the prayer may take the form of intercession, a hymn, incantation or a spontaneous utterance in the person's praying words. Secularly, the term can also be used in referring too "hope".



Prayer invites the Eternal Presence to suffuse or spirits and let God's will prevail in our lives. ~ Shaarei Tefillah
  • He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.
  • Then Jesus told his disciples…that they should always pray and not give up.
  • Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
  • ...The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
  • To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! ... that is what I call prayer.
    • Claude Debussy, quoted in Claude Debussy: His Life and Works (1933) by Léon Vallas
  • Prayer is not an asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one's weakness.
  • In spite of despair staring me in the face on the political horizon, I have never lost my peace. In fact, I have found people who envy my peace. That peace, I tell you, comes from prayer; I am not a man of learning, but I humbly claim to be a man of prayer. I am indifferent as to the form. Every one is a law unto himself in that respect. But there are some well-marked roads, and it is safe to walk along the beaten tracks, trod by the ancient teachers.Well, I have given my personal testimony. Let every one try and find that as a result of daily prayer, he adds some thing new to his life, something which nothing can be compared.
  • Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, quoted in The Ways and Power of Love : Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transfomration (2002) by Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin, Ch. 18 : The Techniques of Altruistic Transformation (concluded), p. 339
  • Prayer needs no speech. I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, quoted in The Ways and Power of Love : Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transfomration (2002) by Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin, Ch. 18 : The Techniques of Altruistic Transformation (concluded), p. 339
  • Prayer invites the Eternal Presence to suffuse or spirits and let God's will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.
    • Prayer based on statements of Abraham Joshua Heschel in Shaarei Tefillah (Gates of Prayer, a siddur). Quoted in The Jewish Moral Virtues (1999) by Eugene B. Borowitz and Frances Weinman Schwartz
  • Praying without ceasing is not ritualized, nor are there even words. It is a constant state of awareness of oneness with God; it is a sincere seeking for a good thing; and it is a concentration on the thing sought, with faith that it is obtainable.
    • Peace Pilgrim, in Peace Pilgrim : Her Life and Work in Her Own Words‎ (1994), p. 75

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • True prayer is an earnest soul's direct converse with its God.
  • A prayer in its simplest definition is merely a wish turned Godward.
  • Prayer is the breath of a new-born soul, and there can be no Christian life without it.
    • Rowland Hill, p. 457.
  • True prayer is only another name for the love of God. Its excellence does not consist in the multitude of our words; for our Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him. The true prayer is that of the heart, and the heart prays only for what it desires. To pray, then, is to desire — but to desire what God would have us desire.
  • Worship is the earthly act by which we most distinctly recognize our personal immortality; men who think that they will be extinct a few years hence do not pray. In worship we spread out our insignificant life, which yet is the work of the Creator's hands, and the purchase of the Redeemer's blood, before the Eternal and All-Merciful, that we may learn the manners of a higher sphere, and fit ourselves for companionship with saints and angels, and for the everlasting sight of the face of God.
    • Henry Parry Liddon, p. 457.
  • Prayer is not conquering God's reluctance, but taking hold upon God's willingness.
  • Prayer is the act by which man, detaching himself from the embarrassments of sense and nature, ascends to the true level of his destiny.
    • Henry Parry Liddon, p. 458.
  • Prayer is so mighty an instrument that no one ever thoroughly mastered all its keys. They sweep along the infinite scale of man's wants and God's goodness.
    • Hugh Miller, p. 458.
  • Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul.
  • Prayer, then, does not consist in sweet feelings, nor in the charms of an excited imagination, nor in that illumination of the intellect that traces with ease the sublimest truths of God; nor even in a certain consolation in the view of God; all these things are external gifts from His hand, in the absence of which love may exist even more purely, as the soul may then attach itself immediately and solely to God, instead of to His mercies.
  • Prayer is the pulse of the renewed soul; and the constancy of its beat is the test and measure of the spiritual life.
    • Octavius Winslow, p. 458.
  • The best and sweetest flowers of paradise God gives to His people when they are upon their knees. Prayer is the gate of heaven.
  • We lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often and long alone with God. No otherwise can the great central idea of God enter into a man's life, and dwell there supreme.
    • Austin Phelps, p. 459.
  • Any heart turned Godward feels more joy
    In one short hour of prayer, than e'er was raised
    By all the feasts of earth since its foundation.
  • A good man's prayers
    Will from the deepest dungeon climb to heaven's height,
    And bring a blessing down.
    • Joanna Bailie, p. 459.
  • Prayer moves the hand which moves the world.
    • John Aikman Wallace, p. 459.
  • Consider how august a privilege it is, when angels are present, and archangels throng around, when cherubim and seraphim encircle with their blaze the throne, that a mortal may approach with unrestrained confidence, and converse with heaven's dread Sovereign! O, what honor was ever conferred like this?
  • Prayer pulls the rope below, and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.
  • O Thou by whom we come to God —
    The Life, the Truth, the Way;
    The path of prayer Thyself hast trod;
    Lord, teach us how to pray.
  • When we pray to God with entire assurance, it is Himself who hag given us the spirit of prayer.
    • St. Cyprian, p. 460.
  • In presenting the Divine promises at the throne of grace, we present the best of names at a bank that is solvent. Let us, when we would pray, consider well whether we have a promise for our plea.
    • Robert M. Offord, p. 460.
  • Let faith each meek petition fill,
    And waft it to the skies;
    And teach our heart 'tis goodness still
    That grants it or denies.
    • Joseph Dacre Carlyle, p. 460.
  • A certain joyful, though humble, confidence becomes us when we pray in the Mediator's name. It is due to Him; when we pray in His name it should be without wavering. Remember His merits, and how prevalent they must be. " Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace."
    • Nehemiah Adams, p. 460.
  • Good prayers never come creeping home. I am sure I shall receive what I ask for or what I should ask.
  • For spiritual blessings, let our prayers be importunate, perpetual, and persevering; for temporal blessings, let them be general, short, conditional, and modest.
  • The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, even while in sorrow and sore need, will always end in thankfulness and triumph and praise.
  • Be not afraid to pray — to pray is right.
    Pray if thou canst with hope; but ever pray,
    Though hope be weak or sick with long delay;
    Pray in the darkness, if there be no light.
  • Ah, what is it we send up thither, where our thoughts are either a dissonance or a sweetness and a grace?
  • Patience and perseverance are never more thoroughly Christian graces than when features of prayer.
  • Are we to suppose that the only being in the universe who cannot answer prayer is that One who alone has all power at His command? The weak theology that professes to believe that prayer has merely a subjective benefit is infinitely less scientific than the action of the child who confidently appeals to a Father in heaven.
    • John William Dawson, p. 461.
  • Cold prayers shall never have any warm answers. God will suit His returns to our requests. Lifeless services shall have lifeless answers. When men are dull, God will be dumb.
  • Ah! well it is for us that God is a loving Father, who takes our very prayers and thanksgivings rather for what we mean than for what they are; just as parents smile on the trailing weeds that their ignorant little ones bring them for flowers.
    • Edward Garrett, p. 462.
  • Then let us earnest be,
    And never faint in prayer;
    He loves our importunity,
    And makes our cause His care.
  • Expect an answer. If no answer is desired, why pray? True prayer has in it a strong element of expectancy.
    • Robert M. Offord, p. 462.
  • Easiness of desire is a great enemy to the success of a good man's prayer. Our prayers upbraid our spirits when we beg tamely for those things for which we ought to die; which are more precious than imperial sceptres, richer than the spoils of the sea or the treasures of Indian hills.
  • The reason why we obtain no more in prayer, is because we expect no more. God usually answers us according to our own hearts.
    • Richard Alleine, p. 462.
  • My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
  • He prayeth best who loveth best
    All things both great and small:
    For the dear God who loveth us,
    He made and loveth all,
  • He that loveth little prayeth little; he that loveth much prayeth much.
  • O Lord, we rejoice that we are Thy making, though Thy handiwork is not very clear in our outer man as yet. We bless Thee that we feel Thy hand making us. What if it be in pain? Evermore we hear the voice of the potter above the hum and grind of His wheel. Father, Thou only knowest how we love Thee. Fashion the clay to Thy beautiful will.
  • Like an echo from a ruined castle, prayer is an echo from the ruined human soul of the sweet promise of God.
    • William Arnot, p. 464.
  • He who has a pure heart will never cease to pray; and he who will be constant in prayer, shall know what it is to have a pure heart.
    • Pierre La Combe, p. 464.
  • As in poetry, so in prayer, the whole subject matter should be furnished by the heart, and the understanding should be allowed only to shape and arrange the effusions of the heart in the manner best adapted to answer the end designed. From the fullness of a heart overflowing with holy affections, as from a copious fountain, we should pour forth a torrent of pious, humble, and ardently affectionate feelings; while our understandings only shape the channel and teach the gushing streams of devotion where to flow, and when to stop.
    • Edward Payson, p. 464.
  • "Continuing instant in prayer." The Greek is a metaphor taken from hunting dogs that never give over the game till they have got their prey.
  • Have you never observed how free the Lord's Prayer is of any material that can tempt to subtle self-inspection in the art of devotion? It is full of an outflowing of thought and of emotion toward great objects of desire, great necessities, and great perils.
    • Austin Phelps, p. 465.
  • For "we know not what we should pray for as we ought; " but love leads us on, abandons us to all the operations of grace, puts us entirely at the disposal of God's will, and thus prepares us for all His designs.
  • There is something in every act of prayer that for a time stills the violence of passion, and elevates and purifies the affections.
  • When Christ went up into a mountain apart to pray, He dismissed the multitude, to teach us that when we address ourselves to God, we must first dismiss the multitude. We must send away the multitude of worldly cares, worldly thoughts, worldly concerns and business, when we would call upon God in duty.
    • William Burkitt, p. 465.
  • Prayers born out of murmuring are always dangerous. When, therefore, we are in a discontented mood, let'us take care what we cry for, lest God give it to us, and thereby punish us.
    • William M. Taylor, p. 465.
  • I think that if we would, every evening, come to our Master's feet, and tell Him where we have been, what we have done, what we have said, and what were the motives by which we have been actuated, it would have a salutary effect upon our whole conduct.
    • Edward Payson, p. 466.
  • Prayer is so necessary, and the source of so many blessings, that he who has discovered the.treasure cannot be prevented from having recourse to it, whenever he has an opportunity.
  • Religion is no more possible without prayer than poetry without language, or music without atmosphere.
  • There is no burden of the spirit but is lightened by kneeling under it. Little by little, the bitterest feelings are sweetened by the mention of them in prayer. And agony itself stops swelling, if we can only cry sincerely, " My God, my God!"
  • Lord! Thou art with Thy people still; they see Thee in the night-watches, and their hearts burn within them as Thou talkest with them by the way. And Thou art near to those that have not known Thee; open their eyes that they may see Thee — see Thee weeping over them, and saying, " Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life "— see Thee hanging on the cross and saying, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do "—see Thee as Thou wilt come again in Thy glory to judge them at the last. Amen.
  • Trouble and perplexity drive me to prayer, and prayer drives away perplexity and trouble.
    • Philip Melanchthon, p. 466.
  • Prayer, with our Lord, was a refuge from the storm; almost every word He uttered during that last tremendous scene was prayer; prayer the most earnest, the most urgent, repeated, continued, proceeding from the recesses of the soul, private, solitary; prayer for deliverance, prayer for strength; above every thing prayer for resignation.
  • We kneel, how weak; we rise, how full of power!
    Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong,
    Or others — that we are not always strong,
    That we are ever overborne with care,
    That we should ever weak or heartless be,
    Anxious or troubled, when with us is prayer,
    And joy and strength and courage are with Thee?
    • Richard Chenevix Trench, p. 467.
  • I have been driven many times to my knees, by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
  • The Divine Wisdom has given us prayer, not as a means whereby to obtain the good things of earth, but as a means whereby we learn to do without them; not as a means whereby we escape evil, but as a means whereby we become strong to meet it.
  • Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.
  • The church converteth the whole world by blood and prayer.
  • Happy are they who freely mingle prayer and toil till God responds to the one and rewards the other.
  • From the violence and rule of passion, from a servile will, and a commanding lust, from pride and vanity, from false opinion and ignorant confidence; from improvidence and prodigality, from envy and the spirit of slander; from sensuality, from presumption and from despair; from a state of temptation and a hardened spirit; from delaying of repentance and persevering in sin; from unthankfulness and irreligion, and from seducing others; from all infatuation of soul, folly, and madness; from willfulness, self-love, and vain ambition; from a vicious life and an unprovided death, good Lord, deliver us.
  • Faithful prayer always implies correlative exertion; and no man can ask honestly and hopefully to be delivered from temptation, unless he has himself honestly and firmly determined to do the best he can to keep out of it.
  • Whatever we are directed to pray for, we are also exhorted to work for; we are not permitted to mock Jehovah, asking that of Him which we deem not worth our pains to acquire.
    • Elias Lyman Magoon, p. 469.
  • When we pray for any virtue, we should cultivate the virtue as well as pray for it; the form of your prayers should be the rule of your life; every petition to God is a precept to man.
  • Sometimes a fog will settle over a vessel's deck and yet leave the topmast clear. Then a sailor goes up aloft and gets a lookout which the helmsman on deck cannot get. So prayer sends the soul aloft; lifts it above the clouds in which our selfishness and egotism befog us, and gives us a chance to see which way to steer.
  • Every praying Christian will find that there is no Gethsemane without its angel.
    • Thomas Binney, p. 469.
  • Not every hour, nor every day, perhaps, can generous wishes ripen into kind actions; but there is not a moment that cannot be freighted with prayer.
  • Ejaculations are short prayers darted up to God on emergent occasions. They are the artillery of devotion, and their principal use is against the fiery darts of the devil.
  • I like ejaculatory prayer; it reaches heaven before the devil can get a shot at it.
    • Rowland Hill, p. 470.
  • When does the building of the Spirit really begin to appear in a man's heart? It begins, so far as we can judge, when he first pours out his heart to God in prayer.
    • John Charles Ryle, p. 470.
  • There it is — in such patient silence — that we accumulate the inward power which we distribute and spend in action; that the soul acquires a greater and more vigorous being, and gathers up its collective forces to bear down upon the piecemeal difficulties of life and scatter them to dust; there alone can we enter into that spirit of self-abandonment by which we take up the cross of duty, however heavy, with feet however worn and bleeding.
    • Wayland Hoyt, p. 470.
  • Private prayer is so far from being a hindrance to a man's business, that it is the way of ways to bring down a blessing from heaven upon it.
  • If any prayer be a duty, then secret prayer must be superlatively so, for it prepares and fits the soul for all other supplication.
  • A house without family worship has neither foundation nor covering.
    • John Mitchell Mason, p. 471.
  • Wise is that Christian parent who begins every morning with the word of God and fervent prayer.
  • Let family worship be short, savory, simple, plain, tender, heavenly.
  • Ask in simplicity. True need forgets to be formal. Its utterances fly from the heart as sparks from a blacksmith's anvil. Set phrases, long sentences, polysyllabic words, find little favor with the soul that is athirst for God and His grace. How brief are the sentences of the immortal and immutable prayer, which Christ taught His disciples! Not a long word is there. Temptation is the longest, and the majority of the words are of one syllable. Do you essay to lead others in prayer? Utter no word that any that hear you cannot understand. Express their need as well as your own. Do not go to the mercy-seat on stilts.
    • Robert M. Offord, p. 471.
  • Our public prayers too often consist almost entirely of passages of Scripture—not always judiciously chosen or well arranged — and common-place phrases, which have been transmitted down for ages, from one generation to another, selected and put together just as we would compose a sermon or essay, while the heart is allowed no share in the performance; so that we may more properly be said to make a prayer than to pray.
    • Edward Payson, p. 472.
  • Let your prayers be composed of thanksgiving, praise, confession, and petition, without any argument or exhortation addressed to those who are supposed to be praying with you. Adopt no fixed forms of expression, except such as you obtain from Scripture. Express your desire in the briefest, simplest form, without circumlocution. Hallow God's name by avoiding its unnecessary repetition. Adopt the simple devotional phrases of Scripture; but avoid the free use of its figures, and all quaint and doubtful application of its terms to foreign subjects. Pray to God and not to man.
    • J. Addison Alexander, p. 472.
  • If you are in the spirit of prayer, do not be long, because other people will not be able to keep pace with you in such unusual spirituality, and if you are not in the spirit of prayer, do not be long, because you will be sure to weary the listeners.
    • John Macdonald, p. 472.
  • In the primitive church were not prayers simple, unpremeditated, united; prayers of the well-taught apostle; prayers of the accomplished scholar; prayers of the rough but fervent peasant; prayers of the new and zealous convert; prayers which importuned and wrestled with an instant and irrepressible urgency; — were they not an essential part of that religion, which holy fire had kindled; and which daily supplications alone could fan?
    • William Arthur, p. 473.
  • God's hearing of our prayers does not depend upon sanctifi- cation, but upon Christ's intercession; not upon what we are in ourselves, but what we are in the Lord Jesus; both our persons and our prayers are accepted in the Beloved.
  • Your child is falling from a window. By the action of a natural law he will be killed. But he cries out for help, "Father! father!" Hearing his call, in this his day of trouble, you rush forth and catch him in your arms. Your child is saved. Natural law would have killed him, but you interposed, and, without a miracle, saved him. And cannot the great Father of all do what an earthly parent does?
    • Newman Hall, p. 473.
  • They tell us of the fixed laws of nature! but who dares maintain that He who fixed these laws cannot use them for the purpose of answering His people's prayers? /
    • William M. Taylor, p. 473.
  • There is no such thing in the long history of God's kingdom as an unanswered prayer. Every true desire from a child's heart finds some true answer in the heart of God.
    • Norman MacLeod, p. 473.
  • Unanswered yet? Faith cannot be unanswered.
    Her feet were firmly planted on the Rock;
    Amid the wildest storms she stands undaunted,
    Nor quails before the loudest thunder shock.
    She knows Omnipotence has heard her prayer,
    And cries, "It shall be done," sometime, somewhere.
    Unanswered yet? Nay, do not say ungranted;
    Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done.
    The work began when first your prayer was uttered,
    And God will finish what He has begun.
    If you will keep the incense burning there,
    His glory you shall see sometime, somewhere.
  • Answered prayers cover the field of providential history as flowers cover western prairies.
  • I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered.
    • Jean Ingilow, p. 474.
  • Are we silent to Jesus? Think! Have you nothing to ask Him? Nothing to thank Him for? Nothing to praise Him for? Nothing to confess? Oh, poor soul, go back to Bethlehem — to Gethsemane, to Calvary, and remember at what a cost the vail before the Holies was rent in twain that thou mightest enter it.
    • Anna Shipton, p. 474.
  • Saviour, breathe an evening blessing
    Ere repose our spirits seal;
    Sin and want we come confessing;
    Thou canst save, and Thou canst heal.
    • James Edmeston, p. 475.
  • If I were an impenitent child of godly parents, and should die so, I would rather go into eternity facing a legion of devils than my mother's prayers.
  • In eternity it will be a terrible thing for many a man to meet his own prayers. Their very language will condemn him; for he knew his duty, but he did it not.

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This is a disambiguation page, which lists works which share the same title. If an article link referred you here, please consider editing it to point directly to the intended page.

Prayer may refer to:

  • Prayer, a poem by Christopher Smart
  • Prayer, a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
  • Prayer, a poem by James Elroy Flecker.
  • Prayer, a poetic essay by Khalil Gibran (still under copyright).

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PRAYER (from Lat. precari, entreat; Ital. pregaria, Fr. priere), a term used generally for any humble petition, but more technically, in religion, for that mode of addressing a divine or sacred power in which there predominates the mood and intention of reverent entreaty.

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Prayer and its Congeners

Prayer in the latter sense is a characteristic feature of the higher religions, and we might even say that Christianity or Mahommedanism, ritually viewed, is in its inmost essence a service of prayer. At all stages of religious development, however, and more especially in the case of the more primitive types of cult, prayer as thus understood occurs together with, and shades off into, other varieties of observance that bear obvious marks of belonging to the same family.

Confining ourselves for the moment to forms of explicit address, we may group these under three categories according as the power addressed is conceived by the applicant to be on a higher, or on much the same, or on a lower plane of dignity and authority as compared with himself. (1) Only if the deity be regarded as altogether superior is there room for prayer proper, that is, reverent entreaty. Of this we may perhaps roughly' distinguish a higher and a lower type, according as there is either complete confidence in the divine benevolence and justice, or a disposition to suppose a certain arbitrariness or at any rate conditionality to attach to the granting of requests. In the first case prayer will 'be accompanied with disinterested homage, praise and thankgiving, and will in fact tend to lose its distinctive character of entreaty or petition, passing into a mystic communing or converse with God. In the second case it will be supported by pleading, involving on the one hand self-abasement; with confession of sins and promises of repentance and reform, or on the other hand self-justification, in the shape of the t xpression of faith and recitation of past services, together with reminders of previous favour shown. (2) If, however, the worshipper place his god on a level with himself, so far at any rate as to make him to some extent dependent on the service man contracts to render him, then genuine prayer tends to be replaced by a mere bargaining, often conjoined with flattery and with insincere promises. This spirit of do ut des will be found to go closely with the gift-theory of sacrifice, and to be especially characteristic of those religions of middle grade that are given over to sacrificial worship as conducted in temples and by means of organized priesthoods. Not but what, when the high gods are kind for a consideration, the lower deities will likewise be found addicted to such commerce; thus in India the hedge-priest and his familiar will bandy conditions in spirited dialogue audible to the multitude (cf. W. Crooke, Things Indian, s.v. " Demonology," pp. 132, 1 34). (3) Lastly, the degree of dependency on human goodwill attributed to the power addressed may be so great that, instead of diplomatic politeness, there is positive hectoring, with dictation, threats and abuse. Even the Italian peasant is said occasionally to offer both abuse and physical violence to the image of a recalcitrant saint; and antiquity wondered at the bullying manner of the Egyptians towards their gods (cf. Iamblichus, De mysteriis, vi. 5-7). This frame of mind, however, is mainly symptomatic of the lower levels of cult. Thus the Zulu says to the ancestral ghost, "Help me or you will feed on nettles"; whilst the still more primitive Australian exclaims to the "dead hand" that he carries about with him as a kind of divining-rod, "Guide me aright, or I throw you to the dogs." So far we have dealt with forms of address explicitly directed towards a power that, one might naturally conclude, has personality, since it is apparently expected to hear and answer. At the primitive stage, however, the degree of personification is, probably, often far slighter than the words used would seem to suggest. The verbal employment of vocatives and of the second person may have little or no personifying force, serving primarily but to make the speaker's wish and idea intelligible to himself. When the rustic talks in the vernacular to his horse he is not much concerned to know whether he is heard and understood; still less when he mutters threats against an absent rival, or kicks the stool that has tripped him up with a vicious "Take that!" These considerations may help towards the understanding of a second class of cases, namely forms of implicit address shading off into unaddressed formulas. Wishings, blessings, cursings, oaths, vows, exorcisms, and so on, are uttered aloud, doubtless partly that they may be heard by the human parties to the rite, but likewise in many cases that they may be heard, or at least overheard, by a consentient deity, perhaps represented visibly by an idol or other cult-object. The ease with which explicit invocations attach themselves to many of these apparently self-contained forms proves that there is not necessarily any perceived difference of kind, and that implicit address as towards a "something not-ourselves" is often the true designation of the latter. On tlFe other hand, there is reason to believe that the magical spell proper is a self-contained and selfsufficient form of utterance, and that it lies at the root of much that has become address, and even prayer in the fullest sense. From Spell to Prayer. - Of course to address and entreat a fellow-being is a faculty as old as that of speech, and, as soon as it occurred to man to treat sacred powers as fellow-beings, assuredly there was a beginning of prayer. We do not know, and are not likely to know, how religion first arose, and the probability is that many springs went to feed that immense river. Thus care for the. dead may well have been one amongst such separate sources. It is natural for sorrow to cry to the newly dead "Come back!" and for bereavement to add "Come back and help!" Another source is mythologic fancy, which, in answer to childlike questions; "Who made the world?" "Who made our laws?" and so on, creates "magnified nonnatural men,".who presently made their appearance in ritual (for to think a thing the savage must dance it);; whereupon personal intercourse becomes possible between such a being and the tribesmen, the more so because the supporters of law and order, the elders, will wish to associate themselves as closely as possible with the supreme law-giver. From Australia, where we have the best chance of studying rudimentary religion in some bulk, comes a certain amount of evidence showing that in the two ways just mentioned some inchoate prayer is being evolved. On the other hand, it is remarkable how conspicuous, on the whole, is the absence of prayer from the magico-religious ritual of the Australians. Uttered formulas abound; yet they are not forms of address, but rather the self-sufficient pronouncements of the magician's fiat. Viewed analytically in its developed nature, magic is a wonder-working recognized as such, the core of the mystery consisting in the supposed transformation of suggested idea into accomplished fact by means of that suggestion itself. To the magician, endowed in the opinion of his fellows (and doubtless of himself) with this wonderful power of effective suggestion, the output of such power naturally represents itself as a kind of unconditional willing. When he cries "Rain, rain," or otherwise makes vivid to himself and his hearers the idea of rain, expecting that the rain will thereby be forced to come, it is as if he had said "Rain, now you must come," or simply "Rain, come!" and we find as a fact that magical formulas mostly assume the tone of an actual or virtual imperative, "As I do this, so let the like happen," "I do this in order that the like may happen," and so on. Now it is easy to "call spirits from the vasty deep," but disappointed experience shows that they will not always come. Hence such imperatives have a tendency to dwindle into optatives. "Let the demon of small-pox depart !" is replaced by the more humble "Grandfather Smallpox, go away!" where the affectionate appellative (employed, however, in all likelihood merely to cajole) signalizes an approach to the genuine spirit of prayer. Again, the magician conscious of his limitations will seek to supplement his influence - his mana, as it is termed in the Pacific - by tapping, so to speak, whatever sources of similar power lie round about him; and these the "magomorphism" of primitive society perceives on every hand. A notable method of borrowing power from another magic-wielding agency is simply to breathe its name in connexion with the spell that stands in need of reinforcement; as the name suggests its owner, so it comes to stand for his real presence. It is noticeable that even the more highly developed forms of liturgical prayer tend, in the recitation of divine titles, attributes and the like, to present a survival of this magical use of potent names.

Prayer as a Part of Ritual

An exactly converse process must now be glanced at, whereby, instead of growing out of it, prayer actually generates spell. In advanced religion, indeed, prayer is the chosen vehicle of the free spirit of worship. Its mechanism is not unduly rigid, and it is largely autonomous, being rid of subservience to other ritual factors. In more primitive ritual, however, set forms of prayer are the rule, and their function is mainly to accompany and support a ceremony the nerve of which consists in action rather than speech. Hence, suppose genuine prayer to have come into being, it is exceedingly apt to degenerate into a mere piece of formalism; and yet, whereas its intrinsic meaning is dulled by repetition according to a well-known pyschological law, its virtue is thereby hardly lessened for the undeveloped religious consciousness, which holds the saving grace to lie mainly in the repetition itself. But a formula that depends for its efficacy on being uttered rather than on being heard is virtually indistinguishable from the selfsufficient spell of the magician, though its origin is different. A good example of a degenerated prayer-ritual comes from the Todas (see W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, ch. x.). The prayer itself tends to be slurred over, or even omitted. On the other hand, great stress is laid on a preliminary citation of names of power followed by the word idith. This at one time seems to have meant "for the sake of," carrying with it some idea of supplication; but it has now lost this connotation, seeing that it can be used not merely after the name of a god, but after that of any sacred object or incident held capable of imparting magic efficacy to the formula. Even the higher religions have to fight against the tendency to "vain repetitions" (often embodying a certain sacred number, e.g. three), as well as to the use of prayers as amulets, medicinal charms, and so on. Thus, Buddhism offers the striking case of the praying-wheel. It remains to add that throughout we must carefully distinguish in theory, however hard this may be to do in practice, between legitimate ritual understood as such, whether integral to prayer, such as its verbal forms, or accessory, such as gestures, postures, incense, oil or what not, and the formalism of religious decay, such as generally betrays itself by its meaninglessness, by its gibberish phrases, sing-song intonation and so forth.

Silent Prayer

A small point in tie history of prayer, but one that has an interesting bearing on the subject of its relation to magic, is concerned with the custom of praying silently. Charms and words of power being supposed to possess efficacy in themselves are guarded with great secrecy by their owners, and hence, in so far as prayer verges on spell, there will be a disposition to mutter or otherwise conceal the sacred formula. Thus the prayers of the Todas already alluded to are in all cases uttered "in the throat," although these are public prayers, each village having a form of its own. At a later stage, when the distinction between magic and religion is more clearly recognized XXII. 9 and an anti-social character assigned to the former on the ground that it subserves the sinister interests of individuals, the overt and as it were congregational nature of the praying comes to be insisted on as a guarantee that no magic is being employed (cf. Apuleius, Apol. 54, "tacitas preces in templo dis allegasti: igitur magus es"), a notion that suffers easy translation into the view that there are more or less disreputable gods with whom private trafficking may be done on the sly (cf. Horace, Ep. I. xvi. 60, "labra movet metuens audiri, Pulchra Laverna, da mihi fallere"). Thus it is quite in accordance with the outlook of the classical period that Plato in his Laws (909-910) should prohibit all possession of private shrines or performance of private rites; "let a man go to a temple to pray, and let any one who pleases join with him in the prayer." Nevertheless, instances are not wanting amongst the Greeks of private prayers of the loftiest and most disinterested tone (cf. L. R. Farnell, The Evolution of Religion, p. 202 seq.). Finally we may note in this connexion that in advanced religion, at the point at which prayer is coming to be conceived as communion, silent adoration is sometimes thought to bring man nearest to God.

The Moralization of Prayer

When we come to consider the moral quality of the act of prayer, this contrast between the spirit of public and private religion is fundamental for all but the most advanced forms of cult. In its public rites the community becomes conscious of common ends and a common edification. We may observe how even a very primitive people such as the Arunta of Australia behaves with the greatest solemnity at its ceremonies, and professes to be made "glad" and "strong" thereby; whilst of his countrymen, whom he would not trust to pray in private, Plato testifies that in the temples during the sacrificial prayers "they show an intense earnestness and with eager interest talk to the Gods and beseech them" (Laws, 887). We may therefore assume that, in acts of public worship at any rate, prayer and its magico-religious congeners are at all stages resorted to as a "means of grace," even though such grace do not constitute the expressed object of petition. Poverty of expression is apt to cloak the real spirit of primitive prayer, and the formula under which its aspirations may be summed up, namely, "Blessings come, evils go," covers all sorts of confused notions about a grace to be acquired and an impurity to be wiped away, which, as far back as our clues take us, invite interpretations of a decidedly spiritualistic and ethical order. To explicate, however, and purge the meaning of that "strong heart" and "clean" which the savage after his fashion can wish and ask for, remained the task of the higher and more self-conscious types of religion. A favourite contrast for which there is more to be said is that drawn between the m k agico-religious spell-ritual, that says in effect, "My will be done," and the spirit of "Thy will be done" that breathes through the highest forms of worship. Such resignation in the face of the divine will and providence is, however, not altogether beyond the horizon of primitive faith, as witness the following prayer of the Khonds of Orissa: "We are ignorant of what it is good to ask for. You know what is good for us. Give it to us." (Tylor, Prim. Culture, 4.369.) At this point prayer by a supreme paradox virtually extinguishes itself, since in becoming an end in itself, a means of contemplative devotion and of mystic communing with God, it ceases to have logical need for the petitionary form. Thus on the face of it there is something like a return to the self-sufficient utterance of antique religion; but, in reality, there is all the difference in the world between a suggestion directed outwardly in the fruitless attempt to conjure nature without first obeying her, and one directed towards the inner man so as to establish the peace of God within the heart.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - The following works deal generally with the subject of prayer from the comparative standpoint: E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, ch. 18 (1903); C. Tiele, Elements of the Science of Religion (Gifford lectures,lect. 6) (1897); F. Max Muller, "On Ancient Prayers," in Semitic Studies in Memory of Rev. Dr Alexander Kohut (1897); L. R. Farnell, The Evolution of Religion, lest. 4 (1905). For special points the following may be consulted: Prayer in relation to magic: R. R. Marett, "From Spell to Prayer," in Folk-Lore (June, 1904); W. W. Skeat, Malay Magic (1900). Degeneration of prayer: W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, ch. 10 (1906). Use of the name of power: F. Giesebrecht, Die alttestamentliche Schatzung des Gottesnamens (1901); W. Heitmuller, Im Namen Jesu (1903). Silent prayer: S. Sudhaus, "Lautes and leises Beten" in Archiv fiir Religionswissenschaft, 185 seq. (1906). Beginnings of Prayer in Australia: A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, 394, cf. 546 (1904); K. Langloh Parker, The Euahlayi Tribe, 79 seq. (1905); the evidence discussed in Man, 2, 42, 72 (1907). Prayer and spell in North American religion: W. Matthews, "The Prayer of a Navajo Shaman," in American Anthropologist, i.; idem, "The Mountain Chant; a Navajo Ceremony," in Fifth Report of Bureau of American Ethnology; J. Mooney, "The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees," (7th Rept. 1891). Greek prayer: C.Ausfeld,De graecorum precationibus quaestiones (1903). Christian prayer: E. von der Goltz, Das Gebel in der eiltesten Christenheit (1901); id., Tischgebete and Abendmahlsgebete (1905); O. Dibelius, Das Vaterunser: Umrisse zu einer Geschichte des Gebets in der alten and mittleren Kirche (1903); T. K. Cheyne, article "Prayer," in Ency. Bib. (1902). (R. R. M.)

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is converse with God; the intercourse of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him. Prayer may be oral or mental, occasional or constant, ejaculatory or formal. It is a "beseeching the Lord" (Ex 32:11); "pouring out the soul before the Lord" (1Sam 1:15); "praying and crying to heaven" (2Chr 32:20); "seeking unto God and making supplication" (Job 8:5); "drawing near to God" (Ps 7328); "bowing the knees" (Eph 3:14).

Prayer presupposes a belief in the personality of God, his ability and willingness to hold intercourse with us, his personal control of all things and of all his creatures and all their actions.

Acceptable prayer must be sincere (Heb 10:22), offered with reverence and godly fear, with a humble sense of our own insignificance as creatures and of our own unworthiness as sinners, with earnest importunity, and with unhesitating submission to the divine will. Prayer must also be offered in the faith that God is, and is the hearer and answerer of prayer, and that he will fulfil his word, "Ask, and ye shall receive" (Mt 7:7f; Mt 21:22; Mk 11:24; Jn 14:13f), and in the name of Christ (Jn 16:23f; Jn 15:16; Eph 2:18; Eph 5:20; Col 3:17; 1 Pet 2:5).

Prayer is of different kinds, secret (Mt 6:6); social, as family prayers, and in social worship; and public, in the service of the sanctuary.

Intercessory prayer is enjoined (Num 6:23; Job 42:8; Isa 62:6; Ps 1226; 1 Tim 2:1; Jam 5:14), and there are many instances on record of answers having been given to such prayers, e.g., of Abraham (Gen 17:18ff; Gen 18:23ff; Gen 20:7, Gen 20:17f), of Moses for Pharaoh (Ex 8:12f, Ex 8:30f; Ex 9:33), for the Israelites (Ex 17:11ff; 32:11-14, 31-34; Num 21:7, 8; Deut 9:18, 19, 25), for Miriam (Num 12:13), for Aaron (Deut 9:20), of Samuel (1Sam 7:5-12), of Solomon (1 Kings 8; 2 Chr. 6), Elijah (1 Kg 17:20-23), Elisha (2Kg 4:33-36), Isaiah (2 Kings 19), Jeremiah (42:2-10), Peter (Acts 9:40), the church (12:5-12), Paul (28:8).

No rules are anywhere in Scripture laid down for the manner of prayer or the attitude to be assumed by the suppliant. There is mention made of kneeling in prayer (1 Kg 8:54; 2Chr 6:13; Ps 956; Isa 45:23; Lk 22:41; Acts 7:60; 9:40; Eph 3:14, etc.); of bowing and falling prostrate (Gen 24:26, 52; Ex 4:31; 12:27; Mt 26:39; Mk 14:35, etc.); of spreading out the hands (1 Kg 8:22, 38, 54; Ps 282; 63:4; 88:9; 1 Tim 2:8, etc.); and of standing (1Sam 1:26; 1 Kg 8:14, 55; 2Chr 20:9; Mk 11:25; Lk 18:11, 13).

If we except the "Lord's Prayer" (Mt 6:9-13), which is, however, rather a model or pattern of prayer than a set prayer to be offered up, we have no special form of prayer for general use given us in Scripture.

Prayer is frequently enjoined in Scripture (Ex 22:23, 27; 1 Kg 3:5; 2Chr 7:14; Ps 374; Isa 55:6; Joel 2:32; Ezek 36:37, etc.), and we have very many testimonies that it has been answered (Ps 34; 4:1; 6:8; 18:6; 28:6; 30:2; 34:4; 118:5; James 5:16-18, etc.).

"Abraham's servant prayed to God, and God directed him to the person who should be wife to his master's son and heir (Gen 24:10-20).

"Jacob prayed to God, and God inclined the heart of his irritated brother, so that they met in peace and friendship (Gen 32:24-30; 33:1-4).

"Samson prayed to God, and God showed him a well where he quenched his burning thirst, and so lived to judge Israel (Jdg 15:18-20).

"David prayed, and God defeated the counsel of Ahithophel (2 Sam 15:31; 16:20-23; 17:14-23).

"Daniel prayed, and God enabled him both to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream and to give the interpretation of it (Dan. 2: 16-23).

"Nehemiah prayed, and God inclined the heart of the king of Persia to grant him leave of absence to visit and rebuild Jerusalem (Neh 1:11; 2:1-6).

"Esther and Mordecai prayed, and God defeated the purpose of Haman, and saved the Jews from destruction (Est 4:15-17; 6:7, 8).

"The believers in Jerusalem prayed, and God opened the prison doors and set Peter at liberty, when Herod had resolved upon his death (Acts 12:1-12).

"Paul prayed that the thorn in the flesh might be removed, and his prayer brought a large increase of spiritual strength, while the thorn perhaps remained (2Cor 12:7-10).

"Prayer is like the dove that Noah sent forth, which blessed him not only when it returned with an olive-leaf in its mouth, but when it never returned at all.", Robinson's Job.

This article needs to be merged with PRAYER (Jewish Encyclopedia).
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English

Prayer is attempting to talk to God or a supernatural being. It is an important part of many religions. There is no conclusive evidence, but many believe their prayers are answered. Prayer is done by those who trust the power of word and thought. Many religions recognise the creation of the universe by God from words. Jesus taught people to say the Lord's Prayer.

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