In the book Positive Quotations: More than 7,000 quotations arranged under subjects by John Cook, there is a section on Peace of Mind with subtitles such as: Our Higher Power, or God, Faith and Belief, and Prayer, pages 112-165. On page 161 the quote is from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Prayer is communion with God, usually comprising petition, adoration, praise, confession, and thanksgiving.
I have read these quotations about prayer over and over trying to get at the core of each approach to prayer. At a very high level is the scholastic approach. It is one of direct communion with God, and attempts to put the individual into the “living” presence of God. The goal, in part, is to take on the qualities of God, that is, to move to Jesus’ Beatitude, KJV 5.8 – Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Perhaps they can move on to KJV 5.9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. I have seen priests coming out of their hours of prayers, and they do have a glow about them and do look like they know they have been communing with God. They look like those wonderful Renaissance paintings of Saints glowing with a godlike presence. Sadly, few people can carry out the years of devotions that it appears to require to reach this level of communion with God.
From some reports from personal friends who have been to Holy Sites where people place written petitions to God, where they can be read by penitent passers-by, most of the prayers are asking for help with personal problems. Help with diseases, financial problems, other personal problems, and often for similar problems being suffered by their children and family.
Here is a fine abstract example of what this type of prayer consists of, and my problem with this approach:
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the spirit, for such things as god has promised.—John Bunyan, p.160-1
My problem is that beautiful statement is laden with unsubstantiated claims, and worse yet for a critical thinker, unsubstantiatable claims; that is, there is no way to prove the claims. There is no way to prove that everyone’s prayers, even with a generous interpretation of the words, are “sincere, sensible and affectionate.” Some people are asking for clearly ungenerous things for people they don’t like or don’t know. For example:
God bless all those that I love; God bless all those that love me; God bless all those that love those that I love and all those that love those that love me. p.143 (Curse the rest of humanity?)
Even relatively benign prayers such as: I seldom made an errand to God for another but I got something for myself. – Samuel Rutherford. p.143…. Even here the prayer is made for the bounce back of a profit and thus becomes something basically selfish, and self-serving. That is an economic transaction using God; it is using God to manipulate reality for one’s personal profit and advantage.
There are other ways to pray that can be made visible to everyone.