To discuss the importance of prayer.
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To discuss the importance of prayer.
Preparation and materials
- You might like to download some pictures from the most recent Strictly Come Dancing series (BBC1).
- I wonder if you watched the recent series of Strictly Come Dancing? If not, it doesn’t really matter, as you probably know the names of the two people I am about to talk about. One is a redoubtable unattached pensioner with a solid moral code and sense of justice; the other is an actress with four failed marriages, a penchant for rock stars and a family history that involves prison and crime. Yet former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe and actress Patsy Kensit have developed an unlikely friendship. They are an odd couple, it is true, but the two women are said to have bonded over their shared Christian faith – their Roman Catholicism – so much so that they pray together before the start of each show to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, as they probably both feel a lack of confidence at their ability to do well in such a competition as ‘Strictly’.
- What I would like draw out of this friendship is not that opposites attract, although they certainly do, but that the two women made a very public declaration of their faith by praying openly together. Prayer is something that most of us probably do unconsciously, ‘Dear God, please let this exam go OK.’ It also begs the question that if you claim to be an atheist or someone who has no faith, then who are you praying to? And are you expecting an answer? I am going to tell you a little story called ‘The Atheist and the Bear’, and please don’t be offended – it gets the point across very nicely. Are you all sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.
- An atheist was walking through the woods one day in Alaska admiring all that had come about through evolution. ‘What majestic trees! What a powerful river! What beautiful animals!’ he said to himself. As he walked alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning to look, he saw a 13-foot Kodiak bear beginning to charge toward him. He ran as fast as he could down the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was rapidly closing in on him. Somehow he ran even faster, so scared that tears came to his eyes. He looked again and the bear was even closer. His heart pounding in his chest, he tried to run even faster still. But alas, he tripped and fell to the ground. As he rolled over to pick himself up he saw the bear reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to deliver a killing blow. ‘OH MY GOD!’ he screamed pleadingly.
Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the powerful river stopped flowing. A brilliant light shone upon the man and a thunderous voice came from all around,
‘YOU DENY MY EXISTENCE FOR ALL THESE YEARS. YOU TEACH OTHERS THAT I DON’T EXIST. YOU EVEN CREDIT CREATION TO SOME COSMIC ACCIDENT. DO YOU EXPECT ME TO HELP YOU OUT OF THIS PREDICAMENT? AM I TO COUNT YOU AS A BELIEVER?’
Difficult as it was, the atheist looked directly into the light and said, ‘It would be hypocritical to claim to be a Christian after all these years and under these circumstances, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?’
‘VERY WELL,’ said the voice. The light went out. The river ran. The sounds of the forest resumed. The huge bear dropped down on his knees, brought both paws together, bowed and spoke . . .
‘Lord, thank you for this food which I am about to receive.’
- A funny story, obviously not if you are the atheist involved, but it makes an interesting point none the less. And I do need to point out that God in the story is operating very much like you or I might do in the circumstances . . . (believers would say that God is far more generous and gracious than he is being portrayed in this fable).
The whole point of prayer for anyone from any religion is the fact that prayer is opening communication lines with the Almighty, with God. By praying you are seeking out God and hoping to communicate with him. It might be to praise or glorify him for his creation or something wonderful; it might also be to thank him for something you believe that he had a hand in. It might be that you are praying to God for his help: it may be for yourself, like the exam example, or it may actually be for someone else that you are praying for. Either way, you are opening up a dialogue and using that time to talk to God.
Muslims are obliged, as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, to pray five times every day, and these prayers have a particular set of movements and have to be done at particular times – times for the Muslim to pray and be with God, and focus upon him and forget all other things. Prayer and a relationship with Allah are central to Muslims’ lives.
- Although Christians do not have specific times at which to pray, they do have a particular prayer, given to them by Jesus as a particular way to pray. You have probably said it: it is called the Lord’s Prayer. It is a pattern prayer and sets out praying to God by praising him, and asking for help for yourself and others. Prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Rak’ahs used by Muslims show a pattern and a way to pray that is specific, to help those who find it hard to pray. Many people find it strange talking to someone who isn’t there, but pattern prayers offer a way to start that communication with God.
- So back to Ann and Patsy – whether their prayers worked is not important. What is important is that they joined together, and their prayers and the act of praying gave them the strength and confidence to go out and perform on Strictly Come Dancing. The power of prayer is amazing: look at the faith displayed by the rescued Chilean miners, many of whom prayed long and hard for their release – the first thing they did when they got to the top of the mine shaft was to drop to their knees and pray. It is the same drive to communicate with God that Ann and Patsy have, and what makes people from all faiths open up those lines of communication. Because, maybe, God will answer. However, like the atheist and the bear, it might not be in the way that we expect.
Time for reflection
Do you pray? Even if it’s only when you’re in a tight spot . . .
What does this say about you? What do you expect to happen? What has happened when you’ve prayed like this?
Spend a few moments in silence to enable personal reflection.
Help us to bring ourselves to you and open up lines of communication to you.
Help us to listen for you, as well as expecting you to listen to us.
‘Say a little prayer’ by The Mamas and The Papas (available to download) ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (Come and Praise, 51)