Learning to Pray

Be honest and move beyond yourself, experts on prayer advise.

c. 2001 Religion News Service



Prayer may be a reflex and a refuge, a first response anda place we return to again and again. It has been both since terroristshijacked four American airliners, toppled the World Trade Center, toreopen the Pentagon, and left black scars in a Pennsylvania clearing.



As the violence of Sept. 11 unfolded, and in the weeks since, peoplehave prayed in the solitude of bedrooms and back porches; in thecommunity of churches, mosques, and synagogues; in ordinary places madeholy--sports fields, city halls, and hotel lobbies. A survey by the PewResearch Center found that 69 percent of American adults say they havebeen praying more since the terrorist attacks.



But what if you don't know how to pray? If you have no adultpractice or childhood training to draw on? If you feel moved by recentevents to pray but you aren't sure how prayer works?



First of all, don't worry about how it works, says MarcusBraybrooke, patron of the International Interfaith Centre in Oxford,England, and author of "Learn to Pray" (Chronicle Books). He comparespraying with plugging in an electrical appliance or logging on to theInternet.



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"It's a way of connecting," he says in a telephone interview from hishome near Oxford. "We may not understand how electricity or the WorldWide Web work, but we still benefit from using them.



"Likewise, when we pray we may not at first understand to whom weare praying, nor how we might be answered, but by daring to make theconnection we can access a reservoir of energy and understanding that is buried within us."



Braybrooke, a 35-year veteran of worldwide interfaith movements,sees prayer in broad, inclusive terms, believing that the urge to praymay come before belief or faith in a traditional view of God. "I startwith the assumption that people are by nature religious, even if theyare not observant in any particular faith community," he says. "Certainoccasions create a sense of wonder, put us in touch with the dimensionbeyond the ordinary." It may be the beauty of nature, the birth of achild, the death of a loved one, or the horror of terrorism that moves a person to prayer.



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