Someone once told me that prayer doesn’t change God’s mind but it does change your own mind. Another person said, “When you sing, you pray twice.” I’ve always questioned what was the essence of prayer. Somewhere along the line I learned about the seven different kinds of prayer – praise, petition, gratitude, penitence, adoration, - someone help me out here, I can’t remember them all any longer. Once I had to pray in a different mode each week as a spiritual exercise. I found it difficult to differentiate between praise and adoration. But, I’m not sure it matters. What seems to matter is that we do pray.
We bring energy from our hearts and minds and translate it into words – silent or spoken – words that carry our emotions, our thoughts, our yearnings. We hear them. We taste them. These words carry a reality that we may have only partially acknowledged to ourselves – then, there they are – right out there where I can see, hear, touch them – and surely God can do the same.
Do our words change God’s mind? I don’t know. Perhaps. I do believe that God can change the divine will, and I do believe that actions here on earth change situations so that God’s perfect desires can’t become reality. We speak that reality when we make petitioning prayers especially. The reality that falls short of what we want to be true, and possibly short of what God wants to be true.
Does God change? Probably not. God’s desire is the same; how it becomes reality changes with every action on earth. Just as the idea of a butterfly in Africa changing the weather pattern in North America, each decision we make changes how God’s desire is achieved. And, prayer is action. No prayer is wasted, even when our petitionary prayers seem to be answered with a big fat “NO.” The energy that we have put into that prayer moves through the universe like the fluttering of a butterfly wing, subtly changing the way the divine desire for goodness happens.
We may perceive a change in ourselves, or we may see our prayers answered in ways that we didn’t intend. If we pray for a person’s pain to cease and that person dies, what was the effect our prayer on the outcome? Nothing. The true cause. Probably neither. The effect of our prayer was an outpouring of love that took energy in the form of prayer and moved around the world. For love is an energy that never dies.
So, what does happen when we pray? Certainly we are changed in the moment that our thoughts become words or non-words or music or sighs. The laws of science say that no energy is ever lost (now don’t get me into the nitty-gritty of energy conservation theory); so the energy that we put forth goes forth, changes form carrying the goodness or evilness that we put into it – the positive or the negative. And, that energy is perhaps picked up by the neighbor who suddenly experiences a lifting of spirits or the nearby deer stops instead of crossing the road.
No, I don’t know what happens when we pray, but I’m certain that something happens. All my thoughts about prayer are speculation. I hope that goodness happens from my prayers, but I know that I have evil thoughts that take on energy as well, energy that changes me negatively. That negative energy goes somewhere, back inside me, out to sustain more evil in the world. I don’t know. That’s the real crux of it. I don’t know. But, I do know that I must pray; for in praying, I know myself, my world and my perception of God much better. I trust, totally without reason, that my intentional good prayers will be much greater than my occasional nasty thoughts.