The Problem with Prayer

It was bound to happen sooner or later…

Just before a worship service recently, a woman approached me and asked if I would anoint, lay hands on and pray for her. She was preparing to undergo surgery and was seeking prayers of healing and comfort. I asked if she would like the congregation to help me perform this ritual, or if she would prefer private prayer after the service. She elected private prayer. After the service, and after asking for her preference of “God language,” I–along with a clergy colleague who was in service with us that day–performed the ritual. Afterwards she smiled and said she really felt the power of our prayers.

My prayer and desire for her comfort and healing were sincere; still, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable performing this ritual. As a Religious Humanist, I’m certainly open to the mystery of everything we don’t understand–and I have no problem calling that mystery “God.” I just don’t see that mystery as a supernatural being. I’ve also witnessed healings–never immediate as in dropping the crutches and running the aisles of an auditorium–but the emotional, spiritual and yes, physical healings of people who were not expected to fare as well in life as they eventually did.

At the same time, I’m no longer comfortable asking an external deity for favors. Actually I haven’t been comfortable with this form of prayer for a few years now. I know too many people–including myself–who have prayed to God for the healing of people we love, for the peaceful resolution to relationship conflicts, for favorable results for job searches for other people, etc. only to see those prayers go unanswered.

And please, don’t tell me God sometimes says “No” for reasons we don’t understand. Yes, I know sometimes healing comes in different forms. Yes, I know that some folks get an even better job than the one for which they prayed. And I can understand saying “No” to prayers like winning the lottery or hooking up with that amazingly hot man or woman we’ve been watching from across the crowded room all night. At the same time, what kind of warped deity would say “No” to a child’s prayer for food? What kind of deity would say “No” to a child’s prayer for the abuse to stop? Yet we know children starve to death every day; and we know child abuse continues to be a reality.

So, what is a clergy person to do?

Strange as it may sound, I still pray. I lead prayers in worship services because I realize communal worship isn’t about me; communal worship is about the community, and if the words I use somehow help any person connect to the God of their understanding and experience healing in any way, then something beautiful and mysterious has happened–and I’m more than good with that.

My personal prayer life has changed in that it has become more of a practice of meditation. I also often simply verbalize my gratitude for food, clothing, love, family, career and shelter. Whatever positive energy I have I offer in service to the greater good, and not only do I seek the healing energy of others to help me live out of my highest self, I seek that same energy for all creation. Those are my prayers, and I can offer them with integrity.

Who knows? Maybe in the end prayer isn’t really about the exact words we use or even to whom those words are offered. Maybe one of the best prayers any of us can offer is to live out of our highest selves and thus bring healing and peace to our planet.

Blessings on your journeys!

5 thoughts on “The Problem with Prayer

  1. Danny,
    I have read and re-read a number of your blogs and as you prob. already know…I don’t get it. I am reading feelings and thoughts from a person who at one time preached the Trinity, power of prayer, and the healing and saving power of Jesus the Christ and yet now seems to avoid those topics. In this one you even talked of how you are no longer comfortable praying for someone’s needs. I sometimes think you are speaking in such a way as to not “step” on any toes. I believe that God has many names and that Yaweh and Allah are one in the same. I also believe that when Jesus said that if you have seen Him you have seen God because the two of them are one in the same (I and the Father [Creator] are one) which to me means we “christians” are not the only ones getting in. However I believe that to walk away from the Capital G God is stepping a little too far from the truth. Saying that you are praying with someone to the god of their choosing is a small g god, not a Capital G God.
    You say you are UU, that is fine, but how far are you going to take those teachings? You were proud of preaching your first sermon ever without any reference to the Bible and that scares me.
    I’m not sure if you are still reading at this point or not…may have already sent my words to the big trash can in the sky, but I want to add one thing. I love you and have a lot of respect for you. I know when you place your focus in a certain direction you are dedicated 100%, but I also remember when this same Danny Spears was worried about Jesus becoming an option with the MCC church and was ready to move on. What happened?
    Concerned and confused,

    1. Hi, Linda!
      Thanks for your comments–and no, I would never send you to the “great trash can in the sky!” We’ve always been able to agree to disagree. 🙂
      I can understand your confusion; you’re absolutely right that at one time I was a Trinitarian, and that I was concerned about Jesus becoming an option in MCC. Although I’m no longer a Trinitarian, I still think Jesus should not be an option in a Christian church. At the same time, I think some churches are far too concerned with being “right” about Jesus than they are about following his teachings to the best of their abilities. That is, it doesn’t cost people anything to say all the “right” words about Jesus. Following his teachings, however, is a whole different matter. As one member of my church put it recently, “Whether or not Jesus was God, literally rose from the dead, and is literally coming back again one day isn’t what inspires me–it is his teachings on how to live today.” So I still love Jesus’ teachings–as frustrating as they are sometimes. And I don’t discount the possibility of an afterlife. What I choose to focus on, however, is how I can make a positive difference in this life. I believe it is entirely possible to love God, neighbor, and self without making specific confessions about the nature of Jesus and his life’s purpose. You can, of course, make those confessions; I just don’t think they are requirements.
      When it comes to “praying with someone to the god of their choosing” I should clarify I asked what “God language” she preferred–Trinitarian, Unitarian, gender specific or not, etc. I do that with everyone out of respect for their beliefs about the nature of God.
      Finally, I’m not sure I said I was “proud” of preaching my first sermon ever without any reference to the bible; but I did feel good that I was able to make a connection with people of faith without using the bible. There are so many ways to talk about God, and I think all religious people do ourselves a disservice when the only writings we use are our own.
      Oh, and don’t worry–my views have already stepped on a few toes. 🙂 I don’t share my views to specifically offend anyone, either. I just think it’s important for me to be as honest as I can. So don’t be concerned. I’m fine and I love and respect you, too!

      Take care,

      1. I love you too…and oh you are still in my prayers. Tell Richard we love him and we miss you both.

  2. Danny, do you remember when for my 53rd birthday I asked if you would baptise me at MCC of Corpus Christi…..and I when you did, I cried…and you cried and I think half the church cried. Why,…because it just felt so right. The right time, for me, the right church and most Definately the Right Pastor and Friend. You, my friend, with all your hopes, doubts, faith and perseverence Rock!!

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