Surveys show that 52% of Americans pray every day, 57% of Catholics pray every day, 41% of those who aren’t sure of life after death pray every day, and 15% of people who aren’t sure there is a God pray every day.

He said, with a grin, that people pray “to whom it may concern” or “occupant” and that some subscribe to the theory that “it can’t hurt”…

Yup. It’s Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist’s hat intact, bursting the bubbles of the accepted wisdom again.

Usually “church news” consists of hard facts, like a scandal or someone visiting somewhere.

And usually church “statistics” are again about the business of churching. LINK
and LINK

At the same time, the press is lauding books by fundamentalist atheists listing the sins of Christianity to prove their is no deity…something I always take with a grain of salt. After all,  Genghis Khan was the greatest murderer in history until Mao took over, and neither of them believed in a deity…

So to put things into perspective, Andrew Greeley gave a talk about the scandal or prayer at University of Massachusetts, Amhurst…

First, a definition: for Catholics, prayer is “lifting one’s mind and heart to God”.

This covers a lot of territory, from saying rote prayers to lighting a candle to meditation/contemplation without words, to dancing or music which opens you mind to something beyond the act, or simply relaxing and allowing one’s mind to go beyond the cacophony of the day.

The key point in prayer is that it is not making a grocery list for the big guy in the sky and demanding he fulfill your every need. It is merely acknowledging that you are yourself: Not the king of the world, but someone who is part of a pattern of life that lives under a greater power. In non monotheistic religions, this may be a blind power, or a oneness with the universe, but in the monotheistic ones, it means the higher power is loving and compassionate who cares about you.

Prayer places one into a state of reverence, recognizing you are not yourself a god, so that you see yourself and your actions in the perspective of eternity. Essentially, true prayer leads to wisdom.

Much of this goes against the currant “wisdom” that sees fundamentalists as dangerous bigots. ( and Greeley, sociologist hat intact, answers such opinions with a book of hard data that shows the complexity of conservative Christians).

One example he uses is that praying on one’s knees corresponds to opposing the death penalty. Greeley points out that “the very act of praying might make think seriously about taking another’s life”.

True. Too often one’s initial response is to say “black” and “white”. Yet often the time of prayer let’s one see things into perspective: my essay on if torture would be justified if it saved lives is an example of how prayer lets one see a perspective beyond cliches.

On a more personal level, this is why a 1981 Redbook survey showed Christian wives had happier marriages.

You see, if you pray, you need to confront your own faults and see the other’s actions with the eye of compassion. This doesn’t mean one needs to become a punching bag, but praying place the little faults that destroy relationships into another perspective, renewing the emotions of love.

And one of Father Greeley’s favorite statistics is that couples who pray together have a better sex life. This is because praying together is expressing an intimacy, where you as a couple are placing yourselves before God. Such prayer encourages communications that are necessary for marriage, but the sex part also makes sense because as humans we express love by our bodies.

Yes, it’s one of the themes of Father Greeley’s books and R Rated novels: that God loves us like a man loves his wife, that he courts us as a lover courts his beloved, and that he made us with a body that is not evil but good, and that pleasure, including sexual pleasure, is merely an echo of the joys of heaven.

Such arguments usually bring rage from the Catholic right,; but unfortunately for the puritans, it is also a theme of the “Theology of the Body” lectures of John Paul the Great…and the Song of Songs in the Bible…

The scandal of prayer in the life of the average American is that something that is so common is ignored for it’s complex effect on one’s life and actions.

Often, when as a doctor I saw overworked ladies, I would start them on an exercise that came from one of my business newsletters.

They were to spend 30 minutes each morning doing something that relaxed their mind . Usually it would be reading a great book or the bible, or praying the rosary, or doing yoga, but it also could be knitting or music. All these things can concentrate the mind while damping the the constant “Tryanny of the shoulds” and “ain’t it awfuls” that fill our minds with confusion.

After they learned to quiet their mind, often they could see things a different way, and THEN they could sit down and plan their day.

The next step was to view their lives and decide what was necessary…not what they were supposed to do, but what they wanted to do or they themselves needed to do. Pretending to look back on one’s life from age 80 was one way to see things into perspective.

Something everyone needs to do, even atheists and agnostics.

based on an article: Father Greeley speaks about “scandal” of prayer in America by Peggy Weber, The Catholic Observer, Nov2,2007


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. This essay is crossposted to her Ethic/region blog.

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