(This article also appears in the April 2018 issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Kneeling, hands folded, eyes fixed on the church altar. Sitting by the window, Bible in hand, reading quietly as a candle flickers on the side table. Sitting, eyes closed, as tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar burn in a bowl. Walking, slowly and mindfully, along a lake blanketed by early morning fog. These are some of the ways people pray.
How do you pray? Why do you pray? What is prayer? If God is all-knowing, why should we pray? This month, we begin a series on prayer, which will explore these questions and more.
It may surprise people to know that prayer is “alive and well” in Canada, according to an Angus Reid Institute Survey released in 2016. Prayer occupies a “prominent” place in the lives of many Canadians even though they live in one of the most secular countries in the world, the survey noted. Among the key findings:
- 42% of Canadians pray at least once a week; 44% engage in a prayer activity each month
- 86%, even those who reject religion, believe prayer enriches the person who prays
- One in five say they pray daily
- 43% of those 55 or older pray once
a week; 23% of those 18–34 pray
once a week
- About three in four who pray “often” or “sometimes” do so at home
- Two in five of those who pray do so regularly at a place of worship—a church, temple or mosque
Surveys in the U.S. and the U.K. show similar results. Fifty-five per cent of Americans say they pray every day, according to a 2014 Pew Research Survey. Over half (51%) of Britons also pray and one in five say they pray even though they are not religious, according to Tearfund, a U.K.-based Christian relief and development agency, which released results of its poll in January.
Even without these surveys, some point to anecdotal evidence that while people are becoming less religious—at least in many secular societies like Canada—quite a number still believe in prayer or at least appear to do so.
How many of you have been asked by friends, even non-believers, for prayers when they’re undergoing a personal crisis? Each time tragedy strikes—a terror attack or a natural disaster—we are flooded with social media feeds asking for prayers or expressing one’s “thoughts and prayers.” Whether in fact people do pray or this has simply become a kneejerk reaction to unfortunate events that now occur with alarming frequency, we don’t know. But it’s a question worth asking and we will explore this one, too.
Canada, like the U.S. and the U.K., is, of course, a nation of many faiths and beliefs, and it goes without saying that its prayer patterns are diverse. But as ecumenical and interfaith co-operation grows, what are different faiths learning from one another when it comes to prayer? Or is there still resistance and fear about embracing something from another religion?
We are approaching this series on prayer with unfettered curiosity and a hope that it will not only broaden your knowledge, but help enrich your prayer lives.