Each person prays in a very individual way. But there is common ground when we speak of prayer, and this helps us not only understand one another, but enable people of vastly different faith walks, religious persuasions (or none), ages, and life circumstances to unite in prayer around disasters, causes, individuals who are suffering, and other crisis-fraught situations.
One common element of prayer is that when we pray, we get out of our own way and focus on talking with God—and listening attentively to his response. The practice of prayer also takes us to different and more profound levels the longer we do it. We all start, perhaps, as I did, with pre-established prayers. We reflect on the words, taking them one by one, and let the meaning sink in. As we do this, we think beyond the prayer to more—more about angels, God, life, death, help, and grace.
As we deepen our prayer, spending more time in quiet contemplation, we recognize the hidden treasures within ourselves (very exciting) and face our frailty and faults (very daunting). This is similar to having a long conversation with a trusted friend and, after the superficial phase, finding out exactly what he or she finds that is wonderful about us and what might be improved upon.
In this candid level of prayer, we realize that we possess more riches than we previously recognized, but we also cannot avoid our failings, times, and ways in which we could have done better. We trip across our burdens of anger, resentment, and things we hold against others, God, or even ourselves. We realize that we should resolve them so that we can move ahead more closely with God, our friend.
By ourselves, we might feel totally alone, vulnerable, lost, and panicked. But when we pray, we open the door wide to strengthening the Spirit and inviting God to tackle the problems there with us. Even those who might not consider themselves people of faith on a daily basis might recognize what I’m talking about.
So often, I’ve heard people who ordinarily would not acknowledge faith say that they prayed at a time of deep pain, or when they felt there was nowhere else to turn. Prayer is a treasure that way: It is always available, just as a supportive, loving God is always available, too. And for anyone, especially for people who are not used to experiencing answers to prayer, prayer can be a life-changing experience that rushes them right into the center of the beauty of being human: the center that is the soul.