Reflections on Prayer
(Sebastian Athappilly is an Indian Catholic theologian)
Q: Prayer is an integral part of most religions. Some people might think that prayer is only about asking God for things. What do you think prayer is, or should be, about?
A: Prayer is friendly and childlike conversation with God. Prayer is in its right form very important to keep alive and intense our relationship with God. The place and importance of prayer in religious/ spiritual life is like water for a fish. Without a constant relationship of love, communion and communication with God one cannot grow in religious and spiritual life. Within this relationship there have to be some moments specially reserved for prayer, to be alone with God, to speak with Him and to listen to Him.
Q: How would you define being prayerful? How is it different from praying?
A: Being prayerful means to be in relationship with God; praying means to actually converse or speak with God. The former signifies a habitual continual state, while the latter the act of conversing or speaking with God from time to time.
Q: One form of prayer is making requests God for ourselves and for others. How would you respond to someone who says that there is no need to offer such prayers to God as God, being omniscient, already knows what we need?
A: Prayer is primarily loving dialogue or conversation with God. Prayer is not only asking God for things, though it does also include petition for others and/or oneself. This form of prayer does not presuppose that God does not know our needs. In other words, the prayer of petition does not have the function of first informing God of our needs and then requesting His help. He knows our needs already, long before we pray. Just as in the case of any human communication, the value of conversation here is to strengthen the mutual bond of personal love and relationship. In families, if we do not speak our relationships will get weaker and weaker. Likewise, prayer, in general, intensifies, strengthens and deepens our relationship with God. Prayers of petition also make us deeply aware of our need of God, that we are all dependent on Him and that He is the author this world. One of the best ways of fostering this personal relationship with God is conversation and communication with Him through prayer. God cherishes this. And this is a blessing to us as well to be able to chat with God.
In a conversation we can bring in all that concerns us. If I think that I can talk about only those things that my friend does not know, it would strain my dialogue and I will have soon no matter to speak about! Likewise in our conversation with God we can ask Him for the needs of others and ourselves even though He already knows them.