What is Prayer ?
There are many definitions of prayer. Prayer and praying means different things to different people - just as it involves different rituals according to the various religions and types of spirituality.
Some people might not actively consider what prayer actually is in terms of a definition of prayer. That is understandable, especially if it is due to focus on the specific routine or ritual or on the subject of the prayer itself - be that thanks, praise, or a request for help.
List of Definitions of Prayer
The following definitions of prayer have been suggested for this article:
- Prayer is ... making conscious contact with the divine (also called "God", "Universal Life Force" and other names).
- Prayer is ... communicating understanding or desires to higher power(s) using any technique be it visualization(s), speaking or thinking specific words or other means such as music or prayer flags as used in the Himalayas.
- Prayer is ... an attitude, a way of life; performing daily chores to the glory of God and with Him/Her in mind.
- Prayer is ... a necessary but not sufficient (complete) part of most, if not all, of the world's major religions and spiritual traditions.
- Prayer is ... moving attention away from immediate physical surroundings and, instead, towards and perhaps into the presence of greater forces of love, wisdom and infinity.
- Prayer is ... a wise way to begin and end every day; even better to turn attention to prayer and the divine at times during each day as well.
There are also many more formal definitions of prayer offered by or for some of the world's major religions. Examples include:
- "Prayer is a form of communication, a way of talking to God or to the saints." catholicism.about.com
- "Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds." p 1, Chap 1 of Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science
- "The word prayer ... is derived from two [Sanskrit] words 'pra' and 'artha' meaning pleading fervently. In other words, it is asking God for something with intense yearning." Spiritual Science Research Foundation.
- "[Prayer is] the act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship." www.thefreedictionary.com
- "Prayer is a Jewish person's secret weapon in life. It moves a person to take a good look at their life, and return to doing what is right in the eyes of God and their fellow human being." www.themitzvahproject.org
- "Prayer is where we take 'time out' from our busy lives and remember our Creator." Aberdeen University Muslim Students Association www.aumsa.co.uk
These ways to define prayer in general don't depend on the type or purpose of the prayer, e.g. prayer for healing, prayer of thanks, prayers to saints, etc..
The first list of suggested ways to define prayer is thought-provoking and perhaps interesting to people who don't follow any specific religious rules. The second list includes some insights into how different religions regard prayer and what it means to them.
Ultimately, people who pray do so for various reasons and derive different benefits from doing so. People who have been taught to pray as children, perhaps as part of a religious upbringing or at a religious school, are more likely to have thought about why they pray and the meaning of any rituals involved than others who have only been to places of worship occasionally and might only pray in relatively extreme situations, e.g. if they or their loved-ones are actually in danger or perceive a strong need for something such as money, exam grades or a particular decision from another person or an organization.
It has been suggested that having a clear idea about what prayer is and how or why it is appropriate or beneficial can increase the perceived benefits of prayer - be that in terms of peace of mind, receptivity, sense of devotion, or physical outcomes.