Praying or Worshiping can be considered as trying to have a one to one conversation with God. It also means seeking a rapport with a deity such as God, Allah, Tetragrammaton, Elohim, Parvardigar, Waheguru, Vishnu, Ahura Mazda or many other names given by different religious groups to their principal object of faith. Even though there have been so many names and shapes of God since the history of mankind, some monotheistic religious groups believe that all theists actually worship the same God, whether they know it or not. Surprisingly, some polytheistic religious groups believe the same too. It’s not hard to believe that some atheists think the same way also.
A little research will show that so far humans have had at least 500 different names for God. In history, Gods have not always been supernatural beings. Imagine, some 50,000 years ago a human looked up at the night sky and pondered over the question of his existence. Anything with the power to destruct or affect strongly in any way, like sun, wind, river, fire, a ruler, an invader, a leader, food, sex, even love could become the reason to create a depiction of God, someone not understandable, unreachable or untouchable. This was the time when statues or idols came into existence. From ruins all over the world, we have found that many humans started worshiping the earth mother, because it gave them food and life. The oldest representation of earth mother is most likely the Venus of Willendorf, is a 4.25-inch (10.8 cm) high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE and found in 1908 at a Paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Austria.
Polytheism was the need of the time and a God was created by humans for every element or concept. From Gods which were responsible for just an element or a concept, emerged the next interpretation of God which could control everything and protect every human and every home. This shift happened probably with the advancement of mankind, when humans became a little stronger and learnt how to control, the fire, and water and wind. They learnt how to make use of the elements to their advantage rather than being affected adversely by them.
Sumeria was one of the oldest known civilizations on earth, Enki or Marduk was the name of the God that protected the city. Enki is also known to be oldest known name of God known to mankind and monotheism is thought of being based on the myth of Enki. Enki was not the only God the Sumerians worshipped. Sumerians actually believed in a triad, and also believed in the story about the great flood and the story of how the world was created, just like many religions of the later times. The earliest clear articulation of monotheism was known as Atenism – the religion of Pharaoh Akhenaton which existed in the 14th century B.C.E. The most known forms of monotheism start in the seventh century BCE in the shape of Zoroastrianism and later in more complex way in the 5th century BCE in the shape of Judaism and the name Elohim was attributed to the God. Time had come when God was meant to be all good and no evil originated from him. Humans had to pray to please the God and many shapes of prayers were formed such as petitionary prayers, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, or praise. Distinct forms of prostration by placing the body in a reverentially prone position as a gesture of submissiveness to God were adopted by various religious groups, which surprisingly resembled the forms of prostration practiced by the earliest humans of 50,000 years ago. Almost similar acts of prostration as of today have been used in the history of mankind to show respect to rulers, civil authorities and social elders or superiors and have often been an important part of religious, civil and traditional rituals and ceremonies.
As most religions required praying in one way or another, the prayers have been primitive, ritual, cultural, philosophical, mystical, and prophetic, and associated with certain forms of prostration requiring a strict sequence of actions or placing a restriction on when to pray in which shape or with which purpose. Some pray according to standardized rituals and liturgies, while others prefer extemporaneous prayers. There are morning and evening and afternoon, daily, weekly and yearly prayers, graces said over meals, and reverent physical gestures. Some bow their heads and fold their hands. Some regard dancing as a form of prayer. Some take a bath and some wash up. Some whirl and some chant. Some play music and some listen to music. Some sway back and forth and some bow. Some knee a little and some kneel all the way. Some just touch their heads and some touch the whole body to the ground. Some just stay silent and do nothing, even say nothing. It is also common that people in even the same religious groups pray in different ways depending on the sects they follow or cultures they belong to.
It seems that humans have always felt the need to pray and worship. They have drawn on the cave walls, they have built statues, they have wandered the deserts, and they have fasted and they have stood still or been in motion to pray and worship. They have always searched for some higher unreachable power to pay their homage to. Kings or kings men alike have tried to find and please a God. Sometimes, praying can even be related to the emotion of love for someone, something or an idea. What will we not do to get closer to or build a rapport with the one we love or to bring our idea to fruition. Its just a matter of choosing the right way that would be acceptable to the beloved. If no one has ever met with God, then no one knows what form or praying God likes. If someone has met with God as most religious groups believe that their leaders or prophets have; then obviously something somewhere has not worked as many did not believe in the instructions and still followed their own different ways. Who is to say that God will accept only one way of praying as we know that a loved one can like us for many of our ways.
In reality if we believe in a God or not, and it does not matter which religious or sectarian or cultural group we belong to, we all have our own individual interpretations, depictions and expectations of God. The concept of praying has been challenged by many contrarians when it comes to asking God for something in this life as compared to just praising God or asking for a better place in the after world. Asking God for something may mean that the petitioner does not trust God for being able to do what’s best and is therefore requesting, suggesting or instructing God to do so. Praying or worshiping is also considered by some people as an alternative to actually doing something themselves or striving to do so, because they have asked God to do it. There is also a notion that praying can heal people when certain simple measures could have been taken to avoid a disease or a have a cure.
Needless to say that praying shows our faith in God and frequency of our praying depends on the strength of faith a person has or intensity of his love for God. But shouldn’t having faith in God and truly believing that God is sovereign be enough. It seems that praying is nice but unnecessary. Does God not know what we need, before we ask him or is praying sort of a reminder to keep the faith on its path and losing the urge to pray might result in weakening the faith. It thus seems that praying not only makes the faith stronger but also sometimes provides the much needed drive to do something which might be considered as impossible, irrespective of the results, and can be attributed to God listening to our prayers. Probability of achieving something by doing something is much more than not doing anything at all. On the contrary, one might say that God might be waiting to act until there is prayer.
Almost every religion promises that fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. The two words of much significance are “fervent” and “righteous”. One who shows real love gets more attention. Men have also prayed fervently and then gone to war, killed people, plundered others livelihoods and committed heinous crimes. They have prayed all their lives but never cared much for fellow human beings. Some have gone to pray to run from their responsibilities in this world. They have parked their cars on un-designated spots blocking others and obstructing road traffic not to miss the designated prayer times. Men have prayed and still discriminated against other races or colors or genders. Men have prayed only to please God selfishly and not to please or help God’s creations. Praying to humans has been a habit and it seems praying does help some and then does not help others at all.
We are all God’s children and God must love us the same way we all love our children. Imagine the immense pleasure we get when our children ask us for something and how much joy we get when we give gifts to them, toll day and night to provide them with good life, food and education, solve their problems, allay their fears and soothe them when they are hurt. Think of the smiles we have on our faces when our children are begging us innocently for small petty things. Now Imagine the smile God has when we act like his children…