Non-believers frequently refer to religion as mere superstition, an attempt by lesser mortals to attempt to explain and control a random and capricious universe.
Setting aside the condescension and blasphemy inherent in that view, I have to admit that, like most people, I have a streak of superstition. The success of the “Harry Potter” books demonstrates how attractive magical thinking is to most of us.
There is a temptation to let this tendency influence our attitude toward God and prayer.
I sometimes think about this when reciting a “ritual” prayer: am I praying from my heart or merely trying to manipulate God with special “magical” words?
In my personal prayer life I like to use the Disciple’s Prayer as a pattern; acknowledging God as my Father, seeking his will, asking for provision and forgiveness, etc. Using a pattern while tailoring it to my unique concerns and situation felt like a good way to keep my prayers from becoming rote recitations.
Since my situation and the people I care about are fairly consistent, my pattern prayer has become almost a “ritual” prayer. The other night when I fell into bed, exhausted from a trying day, and merely mumbled a hurried, “Thank you, Lord, your will be done,” I felt strangely uneasy. I felt that by not mentioning the usual people and issues, at the usual time and in the usual way, I was somehow exposing them to harm by failing to cover them with my prayer.
We are admonished to pray without ceasing, of course, but that is not because God will forget about us if we fail to nag him. At least as I see it, unceasing prayer is an attitude of mind where one communicates with the Lord constantly, acknowledging his presence in and awareness of one’s every thought and feeling…it’s a communing spirit.
While memorized prayers can help us to feel closer to God and “get the conversation going” when our own words fail us, if we begin to feel that the power of prayer comes from us and the words we say, we have moved away from God and his infinite power and love.