I feel like I’m linking over to Tony Jones’ blog an awful lot these days. I’m sure this is because he posts on his blog, on average, twice a day, so his work is usually near the front of my mind. It is also because he is doing some great stuff. One of the things he’s working on these days is a book that is tentatively entitled, Why Pray? As you probably gathered from yesterday, I’ve often pondered that question myself. Why do we pray?
The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (clearly a book written in the Reformed tradition taught me that the word “prayer” comes from the latin “precari” which means “to entreat.” So at its etymological root, prayer is about asking someone/something/some-deity “earnestly or anxiously” to do something. (Thanks Google for that quick definition). The WDTT goes on to say prayer is “Human approach to God and addressing God in praise and adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession.” This seems to fit with the common notion of prayer as well as its etymological roots. It is the second sentence in the WDTT definition, however, that I find more intriguing: “A consciousness of God’s presence, love, direction, and grace may be experienced.” “May be experienced”? That’s odd.
So I turned toward Rome and looked up Prayer in The Catholic Encyclopaedia on NewAdvent.org. With the Imprimatur of Cardinal Farley (1911), prayer gets defined as “An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire a knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer.”
Both our Roman Catholic and Reformed brethren assuming that a key component to prayer is asking God for stuff, which we all know and understand. What I appreciate, even of TCE which says “petition is the principal act of prayer,” is that both also are very clear that prayer isn’t just about petition and intercession. Prayer is about “the application of the mind to Divine things.” Prayer is about “praise and adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.” To my mind, the most important end of prayer is that which Donald McKim couches as “may be experienced”: “a consciousness of God’s presence, love, direction, and grace.” That is, ultimately, what Bartimaeus was longing for. That is, thematically, why Mark uses this story where he does. That is, I humbly submit, why we pray.