IN so much conversation the word prayer just flits by without meaning anything in particular. It's really a way of saying there's a fairly serious need. No wonder that if prayer is mentioned as something to rely on, people may shy away. Maybe it seems well intentioned but naive.
There is another view of prayer, of course. Christian Scientists, for example, believe in practical prayer, but this is quite different from a popular impression of prayer in at least five basic respects, and probably many more.
First, Christian Scientists see prayer as something we all very much need to be involved in on an ongoing basis. In other words, it's not just an option when and if everything else fails. Very simply put, people need to pray. It feeds them with the spiritual sense they're hungry for, brings them closer to God.
Second, prayer is closely tied to yearning and striving to know more of the immense goodness that exists because God is. It isn't so much asking God to do something as doing something ourselves -- obeying what Christ Jesus called ``the first and great commandment'': ``Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.''1
Third, prayer actively chooses to take a stand for this goodness of God, Spirit, and the perfection of man made in His image. It isn't passive and compliant but rises up to resist evil in every form.
Fourth, prayer increases our need to bring our outward lives into line with our inward prayer. It also develops our capacity to do so. This involves more living of Jesus' second commandment: ``Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.''2
Fifth, there really is more to know about prayer than just that it's ``having faith'' or that it's asking God for an answer. Based on a Christianly scientific understanding, prayer becomes a reliable, steady guide and practical, healing help.
The last point is probably the most significant. But what does it mean to pray on the basis of a Christianly scientific understanding? And can anyone come to such an understanding?
The answer to the latter question is ``Yes,'' because understanding is the natural and simple result of really wanting to love and know God. When we really pray and mean it, we do inevitably come closer to God, wherever we are. We begin to discover ourselves in His presence because we are willing to put off what would make us feel separate and distant from Him.
It is encouraging to see when we pray that we are not pleading for God to change or to intervene against whatever material ``law'' of bodily disease or injury is causing us pain and difficulty. The discovery Christian Science has made is that God's laws are spiritual, causing only good. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gives this explanation: ``Laws of nature are laws of Spirit; but mortals commonly recognize as law that which hides the power of Spirit.''3
Spirit's laws actually sustain life, health, and fulfillment, as we can gather from thinking about Christ Jesus' ministry. In prayer we are turning to the actual law of God, or the Science of being, that underlay Jesus' healing works. This gives new hope and wings to prayer now -- enabling people to pray and to mean it.
1Matt. 22:37, 38. 2Matt. 22:39. 3Science and Health, p. 183.
This is a condensed version of an editorial that appeared in the February 6 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.