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What is Prayer?

by | Sep 29, 2023 | CST Articles | 0 comments

Anybody can pray, prayer is an expression of the heart. Prayer has a very personal meaning arising from an individual’s religious background or spiritual practice. For some, prayer will mean specific sacred words; for others, it may be a more informal talking or listening to God or a higher power.  

Prayer is rooted in the belief that there is a power greater than oneself that can influence one’s life. It is the act of raising hearts and minds to God or a higher power. It is a form of communication and can be formal or informal. While formal prayer is an important element of worship, prayer itself is not synonymous with worship or adoration. 

There is no one set way to pray. Forms include spoken prayers, silent prayers, and prayers of the mind, the heart, and union with God. Prayers may be directed (e.g., prayers for specific things) or non-directed, with no specific outcome in mind.  

Prayer comes in many flavors!  Specific types of prayers include: 

  • Intercessory prayer – praying for someone else
  • Distant healing prayer – praying for the healing of someone
  • Petition prayer – asking God for a higher power for something
  • Centering prayer – centering on a word or phrase for a minimum of 20 minutes in silence, usually in order to open to the sacred
  • Contemplative prayer – opening to union with God or the sacred
  • Meditation – differs somewhat by religion.  Meditation may be practiced by sitting in silence, doing intentional movement, or using visualization, imagination or a specific object or mantra as a focus.

The following explanations have been offered as to how prayer helps improve health: 

  • The relaxation response - prayer elicits the relaxation response, which lowers blood pressure and other factors heightened by stress.
  • Secondary control - prayer releases control to something greater than oneself, which can reduce the stress of needing to be in charge.
  • The placebo response - prayer can enhance a person’s hopes and expectations, and that in turn can positively impact health.
  • Healing presence - prayer can bring a sense of a spiritual or loving presence and alignment with God or an immersion into a universal unconsciousness.
  • Positive feelings - prayer can elicit feelings of gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, all of which are associated with healing and wellness.
  • Mind-body-spirit connection - when prayer uplifts or calms, it inhibits the release of cortisol and other hormones, thus reducing the negative impact of stress on the immune system and promoting healing.

While we often think of prayer primarily as asking for something, prayer, properly understood, is a conversation with a universal entity. Just as we cannot hold a conversation with another person unless he can hear us, the very act of praying is an implicit recognition of another presence. And in praying, we strengthen that recognition of something greater than ourselves. That is why many people around the world make prayer an important part of their daily lives.  

The practice of prayer doesn’t make it perfect, but practice makes progress. Prayer is a constant, ever-evolving relationship with your higher power. Some of these ways of praying may feel weird and awkward at first, but sometimes it takes a bit of awkwardness to break through and have new ways of connecting.