Lord, I will love you, and give thanks to you, and confess to your name, since you have forgiven me so many evils and so many impious works. To your grace and to your mercy I ascribe it that you have dissolved my sins as if they were ice.
To your grace I ascribe also whatsoever evils I have not done. For what evil is there that I, who even loved the crime for its own sake, might not have done? I confess that you have forgiven me all my sins, both those which I have done by my own choice and those which, under your guidance, I have not committed.
– St. Augustine, Confessions
Who of us, however faithful or faithless, doesn’t pray in a moment when the lump on the breast turns out to be malignant? Or in another moment when an officer calls to report an accident in which a loved one has been critically injured?
Who of us doesn’t pray at the birth of a child? Or at the death of a parent? At the Bar Mitzvah of a son or at the wedding of a daughter? Who of us doesn’t pray when a radio bulletin tells a nation its president has been shot or when a television broadcast tells a community that one of its children has been kidnapped? Who of us doesn’t pray when the young men and women of our country are sent into battle? Or when a baby has a temperature of 106?
Who of us doesn’t pray then?
Some prayers are wept in the foxholes of life; others, whispered in the serenity of a spring day. Some are spoken in innocence; others in repentance. Some, in faith; other in doubt.
Prayers are as diverse as the people who pray them, but together they reflect a universal longing for God. – Ken Gire, Between Heaven and Earth
Since the dawn of time people have prayed for all kinds of reasons and to all kinds of deities. They have prayed to Amon Ra, the Egyptian sun God, and to the pantheon of petty and capricious gods of the Greeks and Romans. Some have prayed to the earth; others to the sky. Some have prayed to Ball, the Canaanite deity; others to Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Some have prayed to Allah; others to Jesus. Some have prayed to a “higher power”; others to patron saints. Some, to angels; others to Mary, mother of God.
And though the object of their prayers differs, sometimes dramatically, the subject of their prayers doesn’t. Not substantially, anyway. Regardless of their faith, or lack of it, all people seem to realize the tenuousness of their humanity and their dependence of someone or something greater than themselves. – Ken Gire, Between Heaven and Earth
In a word, everybody.
Or almost everybody. People who pray come from all ages and all walks of life. From the very young to the very old. From teenagers to parents of teenagers. From monks to married couples. From Jews to Christians. From Catholics to Protestants. Popes to prostitutes. American Indians to agnostics.
Yes, agnostics. Even atheists. Surveys indicate that nearly one in five of them prays daily. Hedging their bets, maybe. Or perhaps they are drawn to prayer by a tidal pull on the ragged shores of their soul, a pull so irresistible it overcomes even the seawalls of their own unbelief.
The more appropriate question, maybe, is not who prays … but who doesn’t? – Ken Gire, “Between Heaven and Earth”
Maybe some say, “I know human love, and I know something of its power to heal, to set free, to give meaning and peace, but God’s love I know only as a phrase.” Maybe others also say this, “For all the power that human love has to heal, there is something deep within me and within the people I know best that is not healed but aches with longing still. So if God’s love is powerful enough to reach that deep, how do I find it? How?”
If that is really the question, if we are really seeking this power, then I have one thing to say–perhaps it is not the only thing, but it is enormously important: ask for it. There is something in me that recoils a little at speaking so directly and childishly, but I speak this way anyway because it is the most important thing I have in me to say. Ask, and you will receive. And there is the other side to it too: if you have never known the power of God’s love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it – I mean really asked, expecting an answer.
I am saying just this: go to him the way the father of the sick boy did and ask him. Pray to him, is what I am saying. In whatever words you have. And if the little voice that is inside all of us as the inheritance of generations of unfaith, if this little voice inside says, “But I don’t believe. I don’t believe,” don’t worry too much. Just keep on anyway. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” is the best any of us can do really, but thank God it is enough.
– Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat