Question: To whom does one pray if one doesn’t believe in God?

Typically, prayer is thought of as “communicating with God”:  articulating your fears and concerns; your desires, fervent wishes or vows; relief, gratitude, joy or devotion.  In a nutshell:  your reality.  This articulation can take the form of prescribed prayers spoken from memory, from a religious text, or from your heart – with or without the aid of hands or body in a variety of positions.  Standard is the belief that God “hears” all these prayers and has it within his power to “answer” them (generally meaning to respond in a way that is in alignment with your wishes).  The belief that God hears our prayers and will answer them is said to give great hope where otherwise there would be only despair.

The problem with this, I’ve always found, is that so many prayers made my good people of faith are clearly NOT answered – not in a way they would recognize as a loving response.  So often not in a way that anyone “deserves”.  Bad things happen to good people, right?

So, is there another way to think about prayer?  Well, if the expectation of God’s ear is removed from prayer, what we are left with is:  an articulation of our reality.  And I believe that has tremendous value in and of itself!

Sometimes it is precisely in putting words to our reality that we gain insights into it, developing new perspectives (including much-needed hope).  Sometimes wrapping words around our experience gives us the courage to follow up in practical ways by resolving to commit ourselves to more helpful attitudes or choices.  Sometimes it’s enough to just be able to “vent” without fear of judgment (mortal or divine).

Whether or not your words of prayer are lifted up to “God”, and regardless of whether or not they are answered in the way you most desire, I encourage you to let them arise from the truth of your existence.  And let them be cherished as a sacred gift.

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