Why I Pray

by Agnieszka Winkler |

A year ago last January my husband and I had the privilege of participating in a 200th Anniversary Expedition re- tracing Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin took five years by sailing ship to do this, while our expedition in our warp-Speed culture was condensed to one month by air. Darwin’s major insights, controversial as they were in his time, included the “tree of life” which was the understanding that we are all biologically connected. The development of DNA science has subsequently proven him right.

So, why do I pray? I pray because prayer connects me. Prayer connects me to the source of life, to the beginning and the end and everything in the middle. It connects me to a universal love which I feel almost every day with senses that I actually don’t even know I have.

With this connectedness, I see people whom I had not noticed before—the woman whose ribs show through her T-shirt as she stumbles though traffic in the Tenderloin in San Francisco; the bent black man with the beautiful smile selling the Street Sheet; the co-worker whose darkness under the eyes tells a story different from the polite placidity of her speech. I see and feel and participate in a world that is much greater than my own narrow confines of race, education, economic status, and emotional makeup on any given day. And why should that matter? It matters, because I know I can make
a difference, often as small as a smile or a hello. They make a difference to me when I receive them and they make a difference to others when I remember to send them. Prayer helps me remember.

Why do I pray? I pray out of a profound sense of gratitude—gratitude for a rich life of many blessings. That is not to say that
all goes well every day. There are problems with children, aging parents, death, sickness, economic reversals, disagreements—all the normal frustrations and issues of daily life. But I have always had enough to eat, even when my parents were penniless immigrants displaced by World War II. And I was always loved. In the end, what more does anyone really need?

I pray for others who may not have been
so blessed, who may be hungry or thirsty at this very moment, who may have never felt loved in their lives. I pray for those who may be loved by someone they know or by the God they do not, but cannot accept it.

I pray because prayer brings me peace. Through prayer I am more easily able to sort
out what is important and what is not. What matters in the long run and what does not. What is worth getting frustrated about and what is not. When there is a connection to a universal good, a universal God, a universal love, it is easier to keep my energy focused and to resist the temptation to let it dissipate in anger or frustration.

I pray because it helps me be more generous. Because when I remember what is really important, I don’t feel the need to cling so tightly to what I have amassed, whether that is material possessions or emotional energy. I can be a more generous friend or even a more generous enemy. I can forgive more easily, because prayer gives me the reminder and the strength. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Science and faith converge again, as medical knowledge supports the notion that an anger-free person is a medically healthier person.

I pray for forgiveness. My life has certainly not been free of vice. I have done things that
I am not proud of and not done things that I should have when I had the opportunity. Most troubling are the people I have hurt when I was not even aware that I had done so. I pray for backward forgiveness and forward forgiveness, because I’m pretty sure it will happen again, even though I don’t want it to.

I pray for wisdom to make better decisions in both my personal and professional lives.
I have personally experienced difficult and contentious meetings that changed their energy completely when the Holy Spirit was called upon to aid in the discussion and deliberation. With the changed energy came more open minds and hearts and better decisions that took into account shared benefit for all stakeholders.

The longer I live, the more comfortable I am with the “un-understanding” and “un-knowing” that comes with the human condition. It is perfectly comfortable for me to know deeply within me that the Great Mystery understands and knows, and that this is just plain good enough.

Win-win has proven to be better in business in the long run than win-lose.

I pray even when it seems difficult to focus and the distractions are many. I make the best of it because I know that the intent to pray is as important as the prayer itself.

I pray with great praise and awe and admiration for the God who has created this stupendously beautiful world with vast oceans that gleam with gold and silver depending on the light; with little birds who look like they move on roller wheels as they follow the foam
of the surf; for the majestic mountains of all colors from purple and red horizons to white needles poking the sky; for the tiniest frog and the biggest elephant. And for God’s people, from the nomadic family in the steppes of central Mongolia who shared fermented mare’s milk with us in their ger, to the shaman in mountains of Bhutan who blessed us just because we were there, to the 8-year-old indigenous girl on the edges of the Amazon who sang us a song of thanks for the pencils and paper she has just received, to the “Captains of Industry” with whom I had the pleasure of working for many years in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, New
York, and other places around the world. These CEOs, VPs, and managers care deeply that
their products really help customers in their business or personal lives. They care about
their employees’ well being and believe their companies are part of a community and that this means they owe something to that community as much as they do to their shareholders.

I have a lump in my throat and a tear forming in my eye as I write this and think about how much there is to praise and for which to be grateful.

Closing with our Voyage of the Beagle Expedition, our chartered 757 airplane was filled to the brim with type-A overachievers. They were all highly educated, scientifically minded, well traveled, and knowledgeable.
We had 18 formal lectures and many in situ impromptu lectures and discussions with our Stanford and Harvard professors during our month together. Our professors did their best
to keep the discussions about the existence of God within the historical context of the controversies that Darwin’s insights caused. Towards the end of the trip, however, once there was a greater sense of intimacy among
the group, the professors were unable to contain the discussions and they veered to a modern context of “Is there or is there not a God?”
and what role does this God have. We had all spectrums of belief and religious practice and non-practice represented. As the discussions became more intimate, it became apparent that some without religious tradition and even some without an expressed belief in a higher power, struggled within themselves on how to explain so much of creation and so much of what
they had witnessed in their own lives without acknowledging a higher power of some kind, an energy force beyond our humanness, a cosmic entity that encompasses time, space, and matter.

The longer I live, the more comfortable
I am with the “un-understanding” and “un-knowing” that comes with the human condition. It is perfectly comfortable for me to know deeply within me that the Great Mystery understands and knows, and that this is just plain good enough.

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