Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Prayer was something my deeply-religious parents engaged in on a daily basis. Birthed into a large family, with siblings consisting of nine sisters and a brother, the order of the day was organized chaos. In an attempt to stem this tide, we would all assemble every morning at 6 a.m. in the family room to partake of this ritualistic pastime. The room was set up to function in a manner that would allow the twelve of us to kneel in a circle hand-in-hand. Fast-forwarding to the end of the day, just before bedtime, we would all gather in the same meeting place to repeat the ceremonial process of petitioning God.
Most often, this routine happened in an orderly fashion and timely manner, but occasionally various mishaps involving muddled melees, rerouted bathroom breaks, and tardiness due to general disorganization played a role in my parents’ attempts at congregating in a reverent and disciplined fashion. Our prayer meetings, as I now like to refer to them, lasted no more than a half-hour, with the last ten of those minutes being spent giving praise and adoration to God. This was the one thing we youngsters enjoyed most because we got to sing, dance, and play musical instruments such as the tambourine in our worship.
Fortunately for me, being number nine on the hierarchy scale in terms of age, and being a toddler, those day-to day gatherings were just an opportunity for me to get together with my family and have fun. The concept of prayer hadn’t set in yet, and wouldn’t until around age eight, where church attendance, Sunday school, and Holy Communion would integrate themselves into a methodical system my family participated in faithfully. As a greater understanding of prayer enveloped my mind, so did the belief that it was no longer fun and more like a chore rather than something enjoyable.
As I moved into my teenage years, I developed an ambiguous attitude toward prayer that took me to a place of total confusion. Looking back I can remember being constantly bombarded with instruction from legitimate sources like my parents, pastor, and quite notably the Bible, about its miraculous effects given any situation. Each source would claim whatever the circumstance may be, whether adverse or not, prayer was undeniably an infallible tool. On the one hand, I can’t deny some good things did come out of this family tradition, but other times it was quite the opposite.
At the age of fourteen, tragedy interrupted what seemingly would have been a merry entrance into the holiday season. Around the first week of November, my sister, who was two years older than me at the time, was involved in a single vehicle traffic accident where she rolled over several times landing in a ditch. Family members quickly convened at the hospital, and as if being on autopilot, instinctively met in the chapel to humbly beseech God on behalf of our loved one. Sadly it was to no avail, and my sister lay in a coma for two weeks, before dying one day before Thanksgiving. On that occasion, and much to my surprise, prayer in my immature way of thinking was unsound, and at that very moment I knew to never rely on it again.
Nonetheless, as time went on, and even though perplexity had arrested my faith and held it caged in a prison of despair for some time, there were instances when intercession did come through. Weeks after our heartbreak, to ease the pain and help deal with the grief, our parents bought a Labrador puppy who we all decided should be named Sampson. Contrary to his name, this loving pooch, with his shiny black coat and small pony-like physique, would clumsily dash around wreaking havoc. Sampson’s spontaneous acts of mayhem definitely kept us on our toes. On one unsightly foggy day, he made an impulsive sprint out of the opened gate to the front yard and out on to the street just as a passing vehicle approached.
The sound of a boisterous horn and screeching tires sent me into a frenzied impromptu session of prayer, the one thing I thought I had lost all hope in. With eyes tightly closed, I began entreating God to intervene in this calamity. Even though Sampson’s potential demise would pale in comparison to my sister’s, he was still loved and I wished him no harm. Besides, the last thing our family needed was another heartrending incident involving death. Fortunately for all, my prayer was answered, as the car stopped just short of transforming our fearless canine companion into road kill. I was both shockingly surprised and puzzled at the same time, as my mind transported me to the old adage, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Presently, my point of view on prayer is much different than the way it was in the days of old. As I journeyed through each stage of life, from childhood through those tough adolescent years and into adulthood, my attitude has evolved to become more positive with each new dilemma or challenge. As a result, not a day goes by that I fail to lay my requests on the altar with much anticipation.
Prayer in its many forms has been in existence for thousands of years. It is believed to go back as far as Adam and Eve in the garden. Supposedly, after being cast out of the garden, they built an altar there and offered sacrifices to the Lord, meaning they prayed. According to Biblical tradition, this may have been the first time that humans actually prayed.
From an historical standpoint, prayer seems to be the great unexploited power that is available to everyone. For centuries after Adam and Eve, it has been passed down throughout all generations until now (Stiver). Even though it started in the Garden of Eden with a simple sacrifice, it has developed into a customary form of supplication that is practiced worldwide. From a child’s simple prayer of “…my soul to keep…” to an elaborate appeal from behind the pulpit, prayer is the conduit used to commune between earthly and heavenly realms.
One of the most awe-inspiring benefits that God has given us is prayer, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Unlike seeking out advice from a lawyer on their time or making an appointment to see the doctor, we can fearlessly approach the heavenly Father anytime we please. However, sometimes in our uncertainty, we question whether communicating with God in the form of praying really matters. There are many reasons why some people pray and some do not, but thanks to the liberties in this country everyone has the freedom to make a choice.
From a personal observation, a misconception in these modern times by some is the fact that prayer is something that is put into practice only by fanatical “Jesus freaks” that are on a mission to condemn those who do not do so to a fiery hell. On the contrary, the irrefutable word of God states, first, that all people should be covered with every kind of imploration so we can live peace-filled lives. Secondly, in doing so, it pleases God, as He desires redemption for all humankind.
Equally important is the fact that there are controversies that coincide with the views of prayer, and in many cases, where it is carried out. The most poignant episode in American history that comes to mind regarding this great debate is when in 1963 Madelyn Murray O’Hare, an outspoken atheist, relentlessly promoted the “separation of church and state” law inscribed in the Constitution before the Supreme Court. Amazingly, and to the chagrin of the majority of Judeo-Christians who made up this country at that time, the High Court agreed with O’Hare and ruled to abolish prayer in our nation’s school system. Eventually, this edict not only led to prayer being banned in school, the aftermath also trickled down into our governmental system and public forums alike. Consequently, some people no longer viewed prayer as the core foundation of their religious conviction, with this belief continuing to rise to this present day.
No matter what your opinion is, or where you stand on the subject, I can testify from personal experiences that prayer is a great form of relaxation, and it changes things. Not only does it fend pesky emotions off such as anger, fear, and anxiety, just to name a few, it replaces them with a sense of calmness where much needed reassurance is gained. Prayer can also unite and bring people closer together. Whether you are praying in a group setting with family or friends, at church with fellow parishioners, or alone in a quiet place, peace and harmony lingering in the atmosphere are sure to be your rear guard when you are finished.
In the 21st century, people are faced with living in a world shrouded in crisis. Likewise, the annoying trials and tribulations experienced individually might tempt you to alleviate such distresses by forming unhealthy or illegal habits. Instead of filling up on those unfruitful vices that can destroy your very existence, consider emptying yourself out and purging your spirit by praying to a higher power. Although you don’t get to decide which prayer will be answered in the manner in which you desire, the rewards for your efforts far outweigh any disillusionment, and are amazing allowances guaranteed to sustain your mind, body, and soul.
Reflecting on this juncture of my life, I have learned not to use prayer as if it were a slot machine for gambling my faith on an instantaneous and favorable outcome. I now use it for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will and not that of my own. I am forever grateful for the prayer sessions and spiritual training imposed upon me at a very young age. Now, a blueprint of this holy custom can be passed down the family lineage for generations to come. Unquestionably, I will evermore obey the biblical command to “pray without ceasing”