“God doesn’t need our prayers. We need our prayers.” It may seem like an obvious observation, but this statement from my one of my professors moved me to some further reflection. Who do we believe receives our prayers? How do we pray? What is the expected outcome of our prayers? Why do we pray?
The specific answers to these questions will be different for every single one of us. The rich diversity of belief within our tradition surrounding the nature of God or the Divine does not lend itself to a single answer to the question of “who receives our prayers.” Personally, I love that there is an unknown range of possible recipients. But my professor’s words may help us find the shared foundation beneath the other three questions. We pray because we need our prayers. They are an expression, an action, or a pause born out of our experience of the world. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” It can take many forms – meditation, song, dance, marching, chanting, and scripture reading, just to name a few. Our prayers can serve a range of purposes, including praise, lament, transformation, connection, and remembrance. We can each engage in multiple forms of prayer depending on the moment and our heart’s response. But what is shared beneath all of this diversity is that essential core – we pray because we need our prayers.
We need our prayers to help us turn both inward and out. We need our prayers to connect with and express that which is most urgent to our spirits. We need our prayers to return us to a place of hope, to enhance our sense of gratitude, to give us the strength to feel that we are not alone but are supported and loved. We need our prayers to remind us that we are a vital part of something much greater than ourselves, that our lives have a purpose, and that we have the potential to do amazing things. We need our prayers to share with one another our heart's greatest pains and joys, our soul's frustrations and dreams. We pray to name the fears that we ask to be held in love, and to speak into that same love new possibilities. We pray, however we pray, because we need our prayers.