I’ve just been out for a little prayer walk. This is something I try to do with a friend once every week or two. We stroll around the neighbourhood and we stop and ask people whether they would like us to say a prayer for them.
Some people say yes. There’s often something or someone on their minds and they really appreciate having someone to express what they are feeling in a prayer.
But some people look at us as though we are crazy. They say No thanks, we are atheists. Or No thanks, we are quite alright. Or No thanks, we don’t pray.
It’s like they are saying – why would we want to do something weird, like praying.
But is prayer weird?
Is prayer out of the ordinary – something that only a crazy minority of people do?
I think, in our very secular culture here in the UK, we forget that prayer is something very normal. Something that very normal people do very often.
As I type this, for example, I know that there will be hundreds of people crammed before the Western Wall in Jerusalem, swaying in prayer and posting their prayer requests on scraps of rolled up paper into the cracks in the wall. Or, as Pete Greig says in his book How to Pray, ‘On Mount Athos, two thousand metres above the Aegean Sea, big-bearded Orthodox monks are praying, as they have done for 1,800 years. Thirty miles north of Lagos, more than a million Nigerian Christians are gathering for a monthly prayer meeting at the vast campus of The Redeemed Christian Church of God. On the banks of the River Ganges at Varanasi, Hindu pilgrims are plunging into the sacred waters seeking cleansing and hope. Somewhere in Manhattan a group of addicts on a Twelve Step Programme is meeting, seeking through prayer and meditation to improve [their] conscious contact with God. High in the Himalayas bells are chiming, strings of coloured prayer flags dancing around against sapphire skies. Deep in the forests of Giant Redwood and Douglas Fir on California’s Lost Coast, Cistercian nuns are keeping vigil beside the Mattole River, where salmon and steelhead swim…’
Over two billion Christians regularly pray The Lords Prayer. Nearly the same number of Muslims bow towards Mecca up to five times a day.
There is an unending chorus of prayer resonating around the world every moment of the day. And this has been going on for as long as we know.
Sometimes these prayers will be formal prayers in a church or mosque. Sometimes they are simply the word please, please, please prayed over and over again by a mother sitting beside her sick child, willing that he gets better.
To be human is to pray.
And so, to pray is not really weird at all. It is a very normal and human responses to the challenge that it is to be human, to be mortal, to be sometimes with no other hope or option.
David Nott is a famous British surgeon who chooses to spend his holidays working in the world’s most dangerous war zones. He said in a radio interview in 2014, ‘I am not religious. But every now and then I have to pray and I do pray to God and I ask him to help me because sometimes I am suffering badly. It’s only now and again that I am able to turn to the right frequency to talk to him and there is not a doubt in my mind there is a God. I don’t need him every day. I need him every now and again but when I do need him he is certainly there.’
When we do need him, God is certainly there.
That has been my experience over the years too.
So, don’t write prayer off as weird - especially if there is something that is deeply troubling you. Join the great chorus of prayer that is already going on around you. And experience for yourself the peace and healing this brings.