Whenever someone I know is facing a difficult time I always tell them I will pray for them. When I say this people thank me, of course, but I can tell they don't think it means much -- prayer. That's because most people are stuck with one concept of what prayer is. They picture a big powerful God up there, who is perfectly capable of healing whoever it is, but who won't do it unless you beg him to -- and even then he usually declines to help, cuz you know it's just "not His will" or it doesn't fit into "His Plan."
Most people who really think eventually come to realize that this kind of God either doesn't exist or if he does he's apparently a selfish, mean son-of-a-bitch who lets people suffer on purpose, but who will occasionally provide a little assistance -- provided enough people beg him to do so.
And I agree with that criticism. I don't believe in that God. I'm not sure I believe in "God" at all as an independent being apart from ourselves.And yet I pray anyways. Why?
My answer is gonna sound kinda "New Agey" but that's okay. We need SOMEthing to replace the old religious concepts and some of the "New Age" ideas at least make some sense.
I tell people I'm a "Recovering Catholic." I grew up going to mass every Sunday, getting ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday. Even nowadays I am acutely aware that Good Friday and Easter are approaching and I know these days will affect me deeply, as they always do.
I still believe that Jesus lived and said a lot of what is in those red letters in the Bible, and that he had a big following of rag-tag ordinary people, and that he was executed. I'm not sure what happened after that, but I don't believe in his bodily resurrection ascension into Heaven, etc. And I am absolutely certain that most of the Biblical writers got much of it wrong.
Of the Trinity that I grew up believing in, both "God" and Jesus are much diminished in my current Faith. But the third has grown to become a big part of my life. I believe in The Spirit. The Bible doesn't describe the Spirit in anything like the detail it gives those other two, and that's probably for the best.
To me The Spirit is like a field of energy that lives in all Life, and that gives life. When I was 15 I saw my other grandmother die after a long painful battle with liver cancer. In her final days she was in a hospital bed at home and we were all around her when the last air came out of her mouth. And with that last breath of air The Spirit left her body and you could see the difference immediately. What was left was not my grandmother, but just the shape of her. My real grandmother was still somewhere -- IS still somewhere -- as part of The Spirit.
People think this is goofy because they can't see it or feel it with their senses. We happen to have five senses through which we can determine what is around us. If you traveled to a planet where everyone just had four of our five senses (pick any four), imagine try to explain to them what your fifth sense is like. Just because we happen to have five ways of collecting information about Reality, should we be so convinced that there are no other ways?
Many doctors will tell you that when the patient has a positive attitude it helps healing. My mind can help my body heal. If someone I love is sick and I sit with her and hold her hand and share my positive thoughts with her and we meditate together, pray together, I believe my mental energy joins with hers and helps her body to heal.
And even if my friend is far away, when I sit quietly and concentrate my thoughts and pray for that person, I believe that my positive energy travels along that energy field that I call The Spirit and finds my friend and gives her more positive energy to help her body or her mood.
And when I go to church and we all pray together and the priest asks for what else should we pray today, and I speak up and mention my friend and we all concentrate our thoughts together on this one person, I believe that is a beautiful, powerful thing.