Prayer is a name given to the primary means for humans to
make contact with the divine. In Western religion, especially,
it is the means of contact between God and the individual believer.
Prayer generally consists of one or more of the following
elements adoration and praise, thanksgiving, confession of
sin, intercession for others, and supplication.
The belief that God intervenes to grant the petitions of fervent
prayers, especially in the matter of healing the sick, has
long been a central aspect of Christian theology, although in
modern times more emphasis has been laid on submission to
divine will than on desire for special favors. Such intervention
is seen as the cause of most miracles and raises questions of the
persistence of supernaturalism. Faith remains an essential
component of successful prayer.
Samuel Jackson, in his biographical sketch of Jung-Stilling
(J. Heinrich Jung), records that he attained the means for his
Pratt, J(oseph) G(aither) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
education by a succession of miracles in answer to fervent
prayer. J. K. Lavaters life abounded in similar incidents. Augustus
Franke of Halle erected a vast orphanage and yearly fed
and educated thousands of children by the power of prayer, he
Christopher Blumhardt (18051880) of Württemberg, Germany,
was not only famous for his prayer cures but also for his
philanthropy, the means of which were procured by answer to
prayer. Hundreds of persons reported to have been compelled
by a power they could not resist to send presents of clothes or
food to Blumhardt.
The Curé dArs, Jean Baptiste Vianney (17861859), furnishes
a similar example of an extraordinary life of faith. He
built three chapels and established a home for destitute children
and another home for friendless women. Constant prayer,
he said, was the source of his beneficence. When food, fuel, or
money was wanted, he prayed for it and it came.
George Muller of Bristol, as related in his Life of Trust, being
a Narrative of Some of the Lords Dealings with George Muller (2
vols., 183741), depended on prayer for half a century for his
own maintenance and that of his charitable institutions. He
never asked anyone, or allowed anyone to be asked, directly or
indirectly, for a penny. No subscriptions or collections were
ever made. Hundreds of times there was no food in his house,
yet he never took a loaf or any other article on credit even for
a day. During the 30 years covered by his narrative, neither he
nor the hundreds of children dependent on him for their daily
food were ever without a regular meal. Secret prayer was his
only resource, he claimed. The donors always described sudden
and uncontrollable impulses to send him a definite sum at a
certain date, the exact amount he was in want of.
F. W. H. Myers states in Human Personality and Its Survival
of Bodily Death (2 vols., 1903) that the recorded appearances,
intimations, and messages of the departing and the departed
prove that between the spiritual and material worlds an avenue
of communication does existthat which we call the despatch
and receipt of telepathic messages, or the utterance and
the answer of prayer and supplication.
Traditional prayer in Western religions (Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam) that imply a direct relationship between the believer
and a beneficent deity have always been severely challenged
by the existence of significant evil. The idea of a loving
and omnipotent God acting on behalf of human life was put to
its most intense test by the Holocaust of World War II. If there
is any simple efficacy to devout and heartfelt prayers to a deity,
why did the inconceivably monstrous horrors of the Nazi persecutions
and prison camps fail to be averted Reflection on this
question has provided a watershed in theological thinking. It
led in the short term to the emergence of the death of God
movement in theology and only as some distance and reappraisal
of the Holocaust has occurred has a theological reconstruction
of faith been possible for many.
Less affected by the Holocaust were those who had adopted
the alternative perspective on prayer offered by the metaphysical
movements of the nineteenth century. Christian Science
and New Thought metaphysics jettisoned a personal deity in
favor of an underlying divine principle or law undergirding the
visible structures of the universe. Prayer is seen much more as
atuning oneself with the underlying universal spirit, in which
condition anything is believed possible, especially on a personal
scale. Numerous reports indicate that prayer with faith and
confidence in this metaphysical context has produced the desired
results in both a religious and secular setting. One wing
of New Thought has retained a religious prayerful context,
while a secular wing has simply emphasized the creative powers
of the mind in achieving fulfillment of desire.
It seems possible that there are factors in prayer that are applicable
to both religious and secular frames of thought, that
faith and confidence enhance psychic factors at present not
clearly identified. Even such mundane attempts to influence
events as the willing of the fall of dice in parapsychological research
may hold clues to the mechanisms of prayer.
Again, it is interesting to note that in such ancient religions
as Hinduism, the gods are said to be unable to avoid granting
requests when the petitioner has practiced intense austerities.
This idea suggests that spiritual disciplines may bring about
psychophysical changes in the petitioner that influence events.
Secondary aspects of traditional prayer that may also have relevance
are the ritualistic forms of prayers and the need for constant
repetition, which, like autosuggestion, may enhance subconscious
powers. The concept of faithful prayer often
gradually drifts into various attempts not just to petition the divine
but to assist or coerce the deitys action.
Ultimately, however, divine will takes priority over the mundane
desires of petitioners, and even in mystical Hinduism the
highest wisdom is said to be transcendental awareness, which
is beyond desires and fears in the mundane world and which
accepts favorable or unfavorable destiny with equanimity,
much as the petitioner in the Christian tradition concludes,
Thy will be done.
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Chicago Moody Press, 1979.
Brown, William A. The Life of Prayer in a World of Science. London
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Carrol, F. The Prayer of the Early Christians. London Burns
& Oates, 1930.
Fillmore, Charles, and Cora Fillmore. Teach Us to Pray. New
York Seabury Press, 1976.
Greene, Barbara, and W. Gollancz. God of a Hundred Names.
London Gollancz, 1962.
Humbard, Rex. Prayer With Power. Grand Rapids, Mich.
Baker Books, n.d.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. London,
1902. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1963.
Loehr, Franklin. The Power of Prayer on Plants. Garden City,
N.Y. Doubleday, 1959.
Patton, William P. Prayer and Its Answers. New York, 1885.
Petuchowski, Jacob J., ed. Understanding Jewish Prayer. New
York Ktav Publications, 1972.
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Stanton, Horace. Telepathy of the Celestial World. New York,
Steiner, Rudolf. The Lords Prayer. London Anthroposophic
Theresa, St. The Interior Castle. London Baker, 1921.
Yatiswarananda, Swami. Universal Prayers. 6th ed. Hollywood,
Calif. Vedanta Press, 1963.