What's the Point of Prayer?

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

When St. Paul counsels us to “pray constantly,” or the Catholic Catechism calls prayer a “vital necessity,” even a good Christian might be forgiven for asking, “Why?” Why is it necessary at all, if we believe that God knows our thoughts, loves us thoroughly and gives us all that we need?

That is, the sun will still rise, beauty will still overspread the land, suffering will still occur. Joy will fill our hearts. Grief will grip our hearts. Without a word to God

So why pray?

The poet Mary Oliver says, How to keep warm/is always a problem,/isn’t it?/Of course, there’s love./And there’s prayer.

And keeping warm - keeping our relationship with God warm and alive, that is – may be the real point.

“If you don’t talk with your parents, they will still care for you and love you, but you’ll have no relationship with them,” Sr. Catherine Cleary says. “We don’t have to pray, but the invitation is there. It’s an invitation into relationship, into presence.”

Which is, Sr. Catherine notes, the natural state of love.

“Relationship is based on love,” she says. “If I love my parents and my friends, I talk with them. I take time to be with them and listen to them.

“We are never more our true selves than when we pray. Prayer allows us to come into awareness of our true essence or being. I believe that God shares his divine life with us and prayer is our consent to that belief. Remember, We do not know how to pray...but the Spirit intercedes within.* By being in prayerful relationship with God and God’s creation, I am my true self.”

The transformative power of prayer has daily implications, in relationships, in work, even in the mundane moments of our lives.

“Whether we pray for ourselves or for others, prayer benefits us,” Sr. Sheila McGrath says. “It connects us to those for whom we pray, and connects us to God. It makes us better people.”

But when we pray that our sick friend be cured or that we find a better job, do we affect the outcome?

Sr. Marlene Miller says that’s something we simply cannot know, at least not in this life.

“It’s a mystery, and we thrive on mystery,” she says. “Not everything can be explained. Does prayer work? It does for me. I couldn’t face the daily trials and tribulations of life without a relationship with God.”

Sr. Cecile Baer says prayer keeps her going.

“Prayer gives me the energy, strength and will power – through my relationship with God - to get through every day,” she says. “The rare days that I don’t get my prayers in are awful days. I need to pray.”

Which is another common conclusion. Prayer is for us.

“God doesn’t need anything from me but I need something from God,” Sr. Susan Hutchens says. “The point isn’t God knowing I’m here or God knowing my thoughts. God already knows. Prayer helps me get in touch with my own thoughts. A point of prayer is to calm and focus oneself. To converse with God helps us express the deepest yearning of our selves. It comes out in silence, in Scripture, in just being with God.”

And if you wonder how to just be with God, Novice Jackie Walsh suggests you look to the model of friendship.

“God should be like a friend, I think,” she says. “You go to your friends in times of trouble, you talk things through. You thank them for all they do for you. I want to stay in touch with my dearest friends. Prayer is simply this. I find my life a whole lot more peaceful when I spend time in prayer.”

So, how should we pray?

Theologian Simon Tugwell makes it sound easy: ‘Prayer,’ according to one ancient definition, ‘is keeping company with God.’ But is it?

Well, yes and no. Praying – keeping company – with God can be as easy as watching the sunrise with love and awe. The challenge is to do it, as St. Paul says, constantly.

Why? Tugwell says constant prayer will remind us of who we are and who we want to be. “In our relationship with God, one of the main problems is that half the time we just forget about it. … Somehow we must find a way of remembering God that does not work in fits and starts, but that will actually last through the day; a kind of fundamental remembrance of God that will affect our heart, and allow our most unpremeditated and spontaneous behavior to be transformed, as it were, at the root.”

Prayer is gift, given of joy for joy. In words, in Scripture, in silence and in the deep listening we bring to one another, prayer builds relationship with the source of all that is. It is our daily bread. To make ourselves, as Tugwell urges, “available for prayer” - through reading, thinking, meditating, “even lying down and letting the turmoil in our hearts and minds subside” - helps us learn to “live our whole lives with God.” Which is what we are called to do.


*(Romans 8:23)