The power of prayer

On Speaking of Faith (whose site won the Religion and Spirituality Webby award, it should be noted) this week, Krista Tippett has repurposed some interviews from 2003, before the program was syndicated nationally through Public Radio International, and used them to create a program that examines prayer as a global phenomenon that takes place in many religious and even nonreligious traditions.

Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, talks about her background in Hindu prayer and meditation and how that was shaped growing up in England and California. Her prayer experience is largely set in the context of music, and she discusses Hindu chants and mantras. She also talks about her journey through faith; she put distance between her childhood faith and her relationship with music as a teenager, but as a young adult, came to realize that her music was infused with an intense spirituality.

Tippett also talks to Stephen Mitchell about the Psalms, about nonreligious prayer, and how he was drawn to the Book of Job’s revelations about the nature of human suffering. He draws a parallel between the insights he gets from Job and koans from the Zen tradition. It doesn’t matter, he says, whether prayer takes place in a sacred space or not, because prayer creates the sacred space. Mitchell’s love of the poetry of prayer makes a nice contrast to Shankar’s connection to music as prayer.

Finally, Tippett interviews Roberta Bondi, who says there is no “right” way to pray. Bondi has written several books about how she learned to pray, particularly in light of being a “rational, reasonable woman”:

Ms. Tippett: Abbas and Ammas were Christians from all walks of life who, around the fifth and sixth centuries, retreated from a church, which they felt had been corrupted by its own power. They went into the deserts of Egypt and Syria to pray. Politicians, generals, and peasants sought their advice on matters both spiritual and secular. Abba and Amma are Semitic words for father and mother, and their insights were collected by their followers and passed down across centuries as the sayings of the fathers and mothers. The theology of the desert transformed Roberta Bondi’s image of God. The Abbas and Ammas imagined a God more understanding, more compassionate than human beings ever are towards each other or towards themselves. They were Christianity’s first mystics and psychotherapists rolled into one. Their eccentric, earthy sayings changed Roberta Bondi’s way of thinking about religion. Still, she held prayer itself at a scholarly distance until a crisis of confidence early in her marriage to her husband, Richard. One day, as often, he was late coming home.

Prof. Bondi: I was sitting there on the couch and all of a sudden the Abbas from the ancient desert started saying to me, “Roberta, Roberta, we have something to say to you,” and I said, “Shut up and leave me alone. I’m worrying.” And they said, “Oh, oh, no. Come on now. Come on. Listen.” “Shh, shh, I’m worrying. Leave me alone.” And finally I said, “All right. All right. What do you have to say?” And they said to me, “Well, now, you know that the main thing we’re doing out here in the desert is prayer, and you have spent a lot of time studying us and working on us, and you might consider whether this might be something for you.” And I said to them, “Oh, come on now. Look, I am a rational, reasonable woman, and I’m an academic, and this is, what you’re suggesting, just is not really for me.” And the answer to that was, “Ho, ho, ho, you might also consider as part of this that you have put Richard into the place of God for you. You know how we say that no one or no thing can fill that hole in your life except God, that your identity rests only in God and that all other loves come out of that, and that no human being can ever fill that. Of course you feel the way you do.” So I was very embarrassed, because I knew, of course, instantly that they were right.

Recurring themes in the three interviews include the resonance, intimacy, timelessness and creativity of prayer.

You can listen to the whole thing, as well as accessing resources such as transcripts, unedited interviews and an annotated guide to the program, here.

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