Learning to Pray

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

BY: Nancy Haught


c. 2001 Religion News Service

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

As the violence of Sept. 11 unfolded, and in the weeks since, people have prayed in the solitude of bedrooms and back porches; in the community of churches, mosques, and synagogues; in ordinary places made holy--sports fields, city halls, and hotel lobbies. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of American adults say they have been praying more since the terrorist attacks.

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

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

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

"Likewise, when we pray we may not at first understand to whom we are praying, nor how we might be answered, but by daring to make the connection 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 pray may come before belief or faith in a traditional view of God. "I start with the assumption that people are by nature religious, even if they are not observant in any particular faith community," he says. "Certain occasions create a sense of wonder, put us in touch with the dimension beyond the ordinary." It may be the beauty of nature, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, or the horror of terrorism that moves a person to prayer.

Whatever it is that calls us to prayer, prayer itself calls us to be honest, says Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Prayer" (Alpha Books).

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