Health & Spirit

The purpose and power of prayer

By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: When someone is sick, we are asked to pray for them ... and if they die, it's often said that it was the will of God. But if they recover, the power of prayer is often given credit. Do you think enough prayers will change God's mind? -- Anonymous

A: The purpose of prayer is not to change God (that is magic), but to change us. It is a normal and natural human emotion to want to change things we cannot really change. Those are the kind of prayers we pray when we are young or scared or weak. Those are prayers for miracles, and miracles, though possible, are not predictable nor are they a sound way to relate to God. The point of prayer is to reconcile us with our human condition, to give us courage to repent of our sins and to recover our sense of awe as part of God's creation. If your prayers are overwhelmingly merely petitions from God, change your prayers. The best definition of prayer I know comes from Mary Oliver's poem in her book, "Thirst."

It doesn't have to be the blue iris,

it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones;

just pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try


to make them elaborate, this isn't

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.


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