As he went ashore, he saw a gread crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark:6:34
Sometimes my father kept sheep in the pasture around our house. I believe they must have been old animals that a local farmer sold to him. My father liked having sheep around, and so did I. He would hire a man to shear them. My brothers and I would help out by herding them into a corner and catching them. On hot summer days, the sheep would find a corner of shade and stand very still and close together, shading one another with their bodies.
As we face the heat of midsummer, we remember the farmers suffering in a drought in the middle of the country. We have all been horrified by the shooting in Colorado. As Christians we respond to those who suffer by sending aid and through the the spiritual shade of prayer. The prayers shade us all, people of prayer.Prayer is our distinctive Christian activity.
If you say, or someone you know, says, what good is prayer, the answer to that reasonable question is long and slow, like a summer afternoon, way too long for a short paragraph. One might begin by telling what prayer is not: prayer is not a technology, not an application of knowledge; prayer is not a therapy; prayer is not power. If you read these through you understand why secularists and most of us–brainwashed by secular ways of thinking–say, then why pray? What’s the use of praying?
Prayer might be of no use, if we mean by use that prayer must produce something or cause some predictable or noteable effect. It might be of no use if we assume that our prayers have failed if what we pray for fails to happen. (The second petition of the Lord’s prayer–thy will be done–is the guard against the kind of prayer that is directed toward some outcome.)
Prayer is presence, spiritual presence with those who are not with us, with those who suffer, with those we love, with those from whom we are estranged, with the world. Prayer is communion and a special kind of attention, paid in the name of Jesus.
Prayer, for us, is of utmost importance. When we are in prayer, we are showing our true identity as Christians. Every other thing that we do or hope to do–as Christians–is an outcome of prayer. Simone Weil said that prayer is “attention in its purest form”. When a Christian says, I’ll pray for you, she/he means by this, at least: I will remember you, think about you, hope the best for you, not forget you, etc. Attention in its purest form. Jesus paid attention to people. When we pray, we pray in his name, because his attention was so impressive that it is “everlasting”. The healing that he did, that meant so much to such as the Evangelist Mark, is the result of his focused attention on people and their trouble.