Prayer – a topic that pops up every now and again in our talk together at church (surprise, surprise!). Like many faith topics I think we assume there’s an official understanding of “prayer” and an officially correct way of doing it. That is, a set definition and a fixed pattern for prayer.

If I’d stayed with that assumption, then I don’t think we’d have ever met up. I probably wouldn’t have been part of church let alone a minister, because I’d have assumed I failed in the prayer department.

What’s really interesting is the enormous variety of ways of pointing to what “prayer” seems to indicate. Prayer, prayerfulness, a way of being in ourselves and what’s around us, an attitude (of gratitude), an openness, receptivity, a reverence for the more than ourselves, a deep connectedness to the source of life and hope for the age to come.

We had a collection of quotations on prayer at church recently and I asked people to identify their favourites. What’s yours?

Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 20th century

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?

Corrie ten Boom, 20th century

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

Thérèse de Lisieux, 19th century

You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 20th century

Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 19th century

Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.

Soren Kierkegaard, 19th century

Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.

Satchel Paige, 20th century

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Frederick Douglass, 19th century

It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skim milk.

Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century

Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.

Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century

If you notice what you respond positively to among these, you’re noticing what’s important for you in the pattern of your life. “Prayer” for you is your habit of the heart that helps you in your humanness. In the things you struggle with and in tapping into your positive human potential, in your tendency to stand apart and in your longing to feel you belong.

One more quotation:

Praying is struggling for truth, for justice, for goodness, in us and in the world.1

Rangimarie Peace Shalom


1Megan McKenna, Angels Unawares, Paulist Press: 2015, p.29