This morning I advised a loved one to, when against a blank wall with no good course forward, just pray. It is advice at odds with how I mostly conduct myself when against a blank wall with no good course, because I lost prayer in the traditional Christian sense years ago.
Later in the morning, I was reminded by the overwhelming trials of a woman with whom I share a community of women, that among many (especially Christians) prayer is a reflex come habitual response any time there is something happening that is so totally beyond what we believe we have any power to influence. So we seek influence from somewhere out there — someone, something — that will intervene to do what we feel we cannot do, and so desperately desire.
There are great stories of miracles subsequent to prayer. There may be even more stories, arguably, of non-miracles subsequent to prayer. Religious humans have a honed ability to resolve the dissonance of the non-miracles by not blaming a god for failing to intervene; by assigning the outcome to something other than failure, say, a special ‘purpose’ or wisdom of the god to let things go unassisted. On the other hand, if it appears a positive outcome has occurred, the unquestioned and immediate credit is given to the divine power and mercy.
I think there is no way to prove to each other, without challenge, exactly what prayer does or doesn’t achieve for us through this journey. The Christian scripture asserts that the prayer of a faithful human avails much, so it would seem the prayer, itself a technology, is not determinative to explicit outcomes in every case. It is the faith of the individual(s) that is the locus of power. What this could mean, logically, is that the use of prayer toward some kind of outcome without faith is as likely to result in a failure as a success. That is, unless the act of prayer can be an end in itself, a measure of faith, however small, that at the very least momentarily helps the praying soul regardless of any change in circumstances. I think this is true, and therefore is why I can support and encourage the act of prayer no matter to what or whom it is directed, and no matter how many times a prayer is “answered” in a desired manner, or not. To build faith on winning outcomes is to relegate belief to signs, and prayer to a cudgel. Faith is something on its own, a greater blessedness not conditioned, as Jesus said, on that which “is seen.”
Prayer is hopeful action in times of hopelessness. So, pray on everyone, and let faith rise and fall and rise again, as it surely will do. If there is no other action clear and present you can do in the face of trouble, a silent prayer cannot hurt, and may be a great help — even if only for the gift of a quiet moment in which to relieve your heart.