It often happens to me, I get into a conversation with someone in a shop or out on the street and they tell me their troubles and as we prepare to take our leave of each other they often ask, ‘Say one for me, won’t you.’
What are they talking about? They’re talking about prayer. In spite of the dramatic reduction in numbers of folks attending church, a recent study found that 6 out of 7 people still believe that prayers can be answered. And, surprisingly, it’s the young who are more inclined to pray than the older generation. Just over half of all adults in the UK pray, and just under half of those who pray said they believed God hears their prayers. Four out of ten go further, saying prayer changes the world.
So what are people praying about and when do we do it? For those who would not profess to have a faith, it is an instinctive response to a crisis: “Please, God.” Personal crisis or tragedy is the most common reason for praying, with one in four saying they pray to gain comfort or feel less lonely. When not in a crisis, praying for our family tops the list of subjects of prayers at 71%, followed by thanking God (42%), praying for healing (40%) and for friends (40%).
“We should not be surprised by these recent findings,” says Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester, because prayer, “reflects human longing for the mystery and love of God amid experiences of daily life.”
And apparently prayer is good for you. A study conducted by Lisa Miller, professor and director of Clinical Psychology and director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that people who pray regularly had a changed physiological structure to their brains; they had thicker cortices. The thinning of the cortice, especially in certain areas of the brain is an indicator of impending ill health, particularly due to depression. Thicker cortices indicated a lesser chance of suffering from depression, suggesting that prayer and spirituality really does yield some stunning benefits to the human brain. Other benefits have also emerged including strengthening our resistance to stress, depression and anxiety, building resilience in everyday challenges, improved recovery rates after physical illness, a healthier heart and a greater sense of well-being.
So what is prayer? According to Isabelle Hamley, chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury, prayer is “primarily a line of communication with God – thinking, reflecting, bringing one’s concerns and worries into a bigger picture.”
Prayer is a mysterious thing but time and again, I hear folks saying that they know instinctively that something is happening when they pray….maybe that is why I am asked to pray for those I meet so often.
This is how Padraig O’Tuoma describes prayer:
“Prayer is a cry…prayer is a small fire lit to keep cold hands warm. Prayer is a practice that flourishes with faith and doubt. Prayer is asking and prayer is sitting. Prayer can be a rhythm that helps us make sense in times of senselessness, not offering solutions, always, but speaking to and from the mystery of humanity…’
To pray is to imagine and in imagining, we may reach something that is bigger than our imaginings, a wideness, an embrace in which we and all for whom we have prayed are held.
From the 30th May to the 9th June, (10-3pm every day apart from Mondays) we are opening a prayer room in St Paul’s Church Frizington. We are inviting you all to come and be; you can just sit and take in the silence or spend some time listening, wondering, and expressing your deepest longings. The choice is yours. Let us pray.
Ó Tuama, P., Corrymeela Community, 2017. Daily prayer with the Corrymeela Community.
Link to research on prayer survey
Link to research findings on prayer makes us healthier