Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Prayer?

     Imagine a time before mankind; a time when there were no top bananas, no egomaniacs, no whiney humanoids; a time when the Creator could enjoy his “garden” planet alone.
     Consider conditions now. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, one Deity or another, is called upon by millions of people all at once making every imaginable request from healing, to wealth.
     Does anyone consider this a reasonable scenario for either a Deity or mankind? Why would anyone create these conditions.
     What is Prayer? Before early man knew a God, did he pray?
     Prayer is generally accepted as the unique method humans use to communicate with Deities. Although this communication is generally a one-way street, there are some who claim to have a 2-way communication with Deities, but their only evidence for this is their word.
     Prayer takes many forms. Some prayers require ritualistic and prescribed positions at specific times of the day, while others take the form of a reverent and private utterance by individuals at any time of the day or night. Still others are very casual, without any formality, and take the form of a conversation with a friend. The various form prayers take is usually influenced by the culture or religion in which it is taught.
     There was no prayer until the fears and superstitions of conscious mankind encountered invisible forces which were causing unexplained and mysterious events affecting their existence. These mysterious and harassing events took many forms such as lightening, erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fire, unexplained deaths of members of the tribe, etc., were all events early man could not explain or predict and were attributed to the actions of unseen forces. Eventually these unseen forces were identified as Deities and given appropriate names such as, rain God, fire God, underworld God, God of thunder, etc. Attempts were made to communicate with these Gods for mercy, for help, for protection from enemies, etc., and these unique communication supplications eventually became known as prayers.
     The unseen forces, “Deities,” soon became associated with visible and earthly objects. A tree that managed to survive a lightning strike became considered as “sacred.” Animals also became associated with Deities as sacred, i.e., sacred cows, sacred monkeys, sacred eagles, etc. Even some people took on an air of sacredness.  Statues and images of all kinds were created depicting not only some Deities, but most if not all of the sacred objects as well.  Eventually, even the sacred objects were worshiped in the same manner as the Deities. Today, sacred objects are worshiped and prayed to in every culture in the world. Every religious and many secular buildings contain images of sacred objects that are used in worship and prayer.
     It’s impossible to ever know what the percentage of prayers answered in the manner requested by the petitioner, versus the percentage of prayers unanswered since the beginning of mankind. Based on personal experience it would be fairly reasonable to say many more prayers have been unanswered than answered in accordance with the petitioner’s request. I believe this has been the case from the beginning of the first prayers uttered by mankind. Because Deities have not granted the requests of mankind very often, mankind incorporated a very human trait with his prayer to help the Gods listen and make decisions in man’s favor; and that was to sweeten the request with gifts. Gifts began accompanying all prayers to gain favorable results. The types of early gifts would have been the same kind of gifts that might have been exchanged or given to other members of the tribe; a favorite bauble, a prized tool, a pet animal, a collection of feathers, etc.
     As cultures became more sophisticated, highly specialized individuals who were deemed to have a unique relationship with Deities were elevated to the position of religious leader. These medicine men, witchdoctors, shaman, priests, etc. were first recognized as having magical healing powers and were the natural inheritors of the later position of religious leader as well. They were eventually the final authority for setting the rules for all religious practices, including prayers, gifts and/or sacrifices, etc., offered to the Gods. These tribal religious leaders opened up a whole new chapter in attempts to get the attention and favorable responses from their Deities. Gifts and sacrifices became somewhat related to the seriousness of the supplications and requests being made.
     Mankind had always been a hunter and warrior. Killing game for food had taught mankind about early anatomy and the stages of dying of a mortal wound by observation. This same knowledge was applied to deaths of enemies as the results of battle.
     When an animal or human was mortally wounded, its blood was spilled out of the body and the victim became dead. Therefore, the strength and life of the victim was thought to be contained in the blood that was drained from the body. For many cultures it became a practice that the hunter or the victors in battle would be strengthened by consuming the blood of the animal or human that had been dispatched. From these discoveries, gifts and sacrifices to the Gods began to include the blood of animals, human enemies, virgins, babies, etc., anything the tribal religious leader decided was necessary to please their Gods.
     Today, most of the practices of animal or human sacrifice have been discontinued. Now, gifts or sacrifices accompanying prayer requests involve making a deal such as, “if God would grant me this request, I will go to church every Sunday.”, or, “If you crawl on your knees to the top of this sacred pyramid then pray to God, he will hear and grant your request.”, or, “If God would help us win this football game, I will never say a swear word again.”
     Until the Jewish Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 AD, animal sacrifices were practiced for the atonement of sins and the adoration of God. During Jewish high holy days, the priests who officiated at the alter of animal sacrifices were knee deep in animal blood. The temple in Jerusalem was the only place Jewish sacrifices could be made. When the temple was destroyed, the Jews lost their only official and approved place to make sacrifices. If, and when, the temple is rebuilt, Orthodox Jews will again resume animal sacrifices. Temple furniture, altars and accoutrements have been constructed according to Jewish law and are now awaiting the restoration of their temple.
     In the final analysis, it would appear that prayer in all of its variations of attempts to communicate with a God, has been initiated by the superstitions and ignorance of early mankind. Claims made by human beings of hearing God’s voice or words have wreaked more havoc and dissention among men than any Deity would create. I believe that if the creator of the universe wanted to make his will and wishes known to mankind, he certainly has the ability to do so in a manner that could not, and would not, be misconstrued or mistaken. The fact that there are more than 38,000 Christian denominations, cults, or sects, and easily as many non-Christian cultures in the world today, confirms my suspicions that God did not originate the Holy message that mankind thought he had received.
     Prayer is, and has become, an empathetic exercise, and expression of courage and sympathy, for and between, people. Persons in distress are comforted in the knowledge that other persons are praying for them. Personal prayer produces the same results as personal meditation; an attitude of calm and mental objectivity; solutions to problems are mentally explored during an attitude of prayer; acceptance of adverse conditions over which we have no control is softened; visions of well-being are imagined and acted upon, etc. Prayer produces the release of personal control and anxiety over situations we are powerless to change.
     Prayer has become as ingrained in our human character as the ability to verbalize thoughts. It has been our only means of dealing with the unknown and the unknowable. Until such time as we know all there is to know about ourselves and our universe, we shall rely upon conversation with the one who knows all of the answers in the hope that he will take care of us now, and in the future.

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