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How Do YOU Define Prayer?

by Robinmarie McClement, Director of Adult Programs Irvine United Congregational Church

Prayer comes in many forms.  Prayer can be as fluid as a stream that flows and it can be as solid as a rock. 

During a recent Adult Sunday school session on “The Mystery of God” at IUCC our class began to talk about prayer.  The discussion ranged from defining prayer to how people pray and when.  This has lead to an ongoing conversation I think not only our congregation but the wider UCC conference should be part of. 

According to Webster’s Dictionary, prayer is 1 a (1) an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought (said a prayer for the success of the voyage) (2) a set order of words used in praying b: an earnest request or wish 2: the act or practice of praying to God or a god (kneeling in prayer). 

However, it just isn’t that easily defined for many of us.  In fact, after discussing this over a couple of weeks with the thirty-some people who were in that Sunday School class, I would suggest that prayer is as unique, intimate and personal as the person working to define it and then practice it.  As this discussion has also come up during our weekly Bible Study classes, it is clear to me that it is on people’s minds. 

Some who shared during these discussions were quick to tell us that the “Lord’s Prayer” was important to them.  Others shared how being out in nature allows them to be prayerful; no words were needed.  Many said their prayer life is in hearing music or in singing. And others talked about how being in community with others and praying together was powerful and important. A few shared that for them prayer is reading poems and talking to God.  Then one of our more quiet and thoughtful members confided that for him, prayer was the hummingbird just outside the window of our classroom, dancing about from branch to branch.  One of our members said, “prayer is really all about awareness.”  For another, it is in the wind; for still another, in the seagulls that roam along the beach.  “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is for one of our members the essence for allowing prayer to enter in while sitting with the Divine in silence. 

Miester Eckhart says that, “Prayer is in every living thing that is on the earth, including every flower and every tree.”   And in the book Praying Our Goodbyes Joyce Rupp writes that, “Our God is a God who dwells within, a loving presence near to us who yearns for our happiness, one who walks with us in our struggles.”  This to me is one of the most important reasons to be prayerful and maintain a practice of prayer in my daily life.  Equally important to me is that we recognize the power that lies within each person’s prayer life as well as our own and tap into it as often as we can. 

How do YOU define prayer?  Do you make it a part of your daily life?  Do you talk with others about it?  Perhaps over a cup of coffee after church?   Why not?  I can assure you that you will never get the same answer twice and you might find; as I did (and as those in our classes found out) that what unfolds will broaden – and enrich – your own definition.

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