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The value of prayer

November 30, 2012

PRAYER constitutes the kernel of human existential reality. The act of prayer links every human being with God. The core of the human self overcomes its immense loneliness in this universe by engaging in the act of prayer.

Every word uttered during this act liberates us from fear and pain. However, the most important attribute of prayer resides in its ability to let us become part of the great cosmological interdependence created by God. Our prayers put us in direct communication not only with the Absolute Being, but also other creatures of the world.

Prayers are as necessary a part of human existence as the rising of the sun for the general sustainability of life on earth.

The cognitive programmes of the human self are so coded by God that man likes to connect with this ultimate reality in the darkness of night. Do the words whispered and spoken loud or resonating in hearts have any consequences? They do seem to possess an affective and cognitive importance.

Clinical research published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice has shown that repetitive and sequential cueing to human infants makes them respond to those stimuli. These infants respond to sequences of laughter and anger. Psychologist Jean Piaget has also conducted studies with children on their concept of God.

He has argued that children relate to God the way they relate to and understand their parents. Their understanding of God is connected to and shaped by their understanding of their parents and their role in their life. However, they experience a transformation in their cognition of God when they realise the ‘fallibility’ of their parents.

They start associating omniscience and omnipresence with the being of God. In fact, praying to God is nothing but a psychological reflection of our childhood cognitive resonances with that living reality, which gives meaning and broader relevance to our finite being within the general scheme of the cosmos. We are grounded in our prayers. This removes from ourselves the burdens of personal, cultural and historical incongruities.

The Quran also points to this cognitive programming of the human ego to reach out for God. In one of the verses of the Holy Book, God speaks to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and informs human beings that if they shall seek Him, their prayers shall be answered.

God hears the call of human beings and responds to them. Prayer thus creates an ontological relationship between the human and the divine. The words uttered in the darkness of midnight with joyful pain in the heart and tears in the eyes make a person the centre of the cosmic design. His heart resonates with the divine.

Prayer also indicates that there is a cosmic register which records our joys and pains without any alteration. The Quranic verse, “…We are closer to him [man] than [his] jugular vein” (50:16) testifies to this effect. Where else should human beings look for the healing of their pains, fears and losses, if not to the ‘Closest One’?

We discover when the moment of death arrives that we spent our entire lifetime seeking worldly status, power and money. We were enamoured with childhood games and chased butterflies which were never meant for us.

All religious traditions of the world have been engaged with this ceaseless desire to communicate with the living reality of the world. The Hindu yogi, the Buddhist bhiksu, the Christian monk and the Muslim fakir all have yearned over the ages to understand the cosmic soul and find effective ways and means to establish grounds of communication.

Some through self-mortification, some through meditation, some through sheer solitude and some through invocation have established authentic psychological practices which not only enlighten one’s ego but help in linking with the living reality of the cosmos.

The energy which is experienced by the praying ego can also be felt by other creatures of the world. The Quran testifies to this fact by telling us that the birds would join Prophet Daud in his prayers (38:17-20).

The Quran consistently through the exemplars of the prophets teaches every human being how to pray, using what words and at what time and seek which of God’s blessings. One can read in the Quranic text prayers for seeking forgiveness, prayers for thanksgiving, prayers for seeking knowledge, prayers for moral and spiritual growth, prayers for peace and purity of heart, prayers for bounty and giving, prayers for learning to worship God, and prayers for protection from the hidden evil of the world. Everything in the world knows its forms of prayer and remembrance of God.

Prayer leads our ego to the centre of our being which is nothing but a continuous participation in the cosmic nexus of eternity, life and immortality. According to the mystic Abdul Karim Naqshbandi, the words uttered during prayer and invocation from the lips of a mortal (man) makes him immortal and eternal because of the very intensity and energy of these words.

The mystic Bayazid Bustami states that God lives in the broken heart of a praying ego while Jalaluddin Rumi says in his famous Masnavi that the rhythmic beats of the goldsmith’s instruments are nothing but the reverberations of the living and praying heart.

The midnight prayers and solitary weeping do make a difference. They link us to the only true source of all life — the eternal and living God.

The writer is a social scientist based at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore.