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Ventura County Religion | RELIGION

Many Different Faiths Find Answers Through Prayer

November 18, 2000|NANCY KINSEY NEEDHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Pilgrims bowed their heads in prayer to express gratitude for their first bountiful harvest in the New World. This tradition of reflection and expressing appreciation to a higher power now includes millions of Americans of many faiths and traditions.

Prayer and Thanksgiving are greatly intertwined. And just as distinctive as the tenets of different faiths are the methods believers use to pray.

Some sing prayers, while others recite the words. Some study for years to learn how to pray with scientific exactness, while others emphasize the importance of spontaneous prayer. And at least one religious group, Buddhists, does not stress prayer at all.

Pastor Craig Brown of United Methodist of Thousand Oaks said prayer is a two-way communication between an individual and God that can be expressed in different forms: written prayer, extemporaneous praying that's created as a person speaks, silent prayer, hymn singing, or intercessory prayers done on behalf of others.

"We draw strength from prayer," Brown said.

According to the Rev. George Reynolds, associate pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption in Ventura, the Roman Catholic Church teaches there is a need for prayer as a way to converse with God.

There are several forms of devotional prayers said in groups, such as during Mass. Others are designed for specific purposes--including to bless meals and for night and morning prayers.

During Mass there is a cycle of set prayers that change with the seasons. Before Vatican II, in the fall of 1962, these prayers were all spoken in Latin by the priest during Mass. These days, Mass is spoken in 86 languages in the diocese that reaches from Los Angeles up to Santa Maria.

Catholics also pray to have their saints intercede for them, and sometimes light candles along with praying, Reynolds said.

"We ask saints to unite their prayers with ours in the same way you would ask a good friend to pray with you," he said, adding that the candles are lit as a symbol of the light of Christ.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also places a strong emphasis on prayer.

"Latter-day Saints are taught from a very young age the importance of daily prayer to their Father in heaven," explained Scott Barrick, bishop of the LDS' Thousand Oaks First Ward.

LDS members believe prayer is the means by which great things can be summoned into individual lives.

Mormons are encouraged to pray regularly with their families, their spouses and alone, using heartfelt words rather than repeating standardized language. They are taught to pray in four parts. First, they begin the prayer by calling upon God using words such as "Our heavenly Father" or "Father in heaven." Second, they thank him for the blessings he provides.

Third, those praying may ask God for blessings, such as inspiration about a decision, guidance at work, help in school or for answers to spiritual questions. Finally, Latter-day Saints are instructed to conclude their prayers by saying "in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

But for Buddhists, it's quite a different story.

"Buddhists do not pray to anyone because we don't need prayer," explained the Rev. Sensei Kakei Nakagawa of the Buddhist Temple in Oxnard.

"It is not that we don't believe in a superior or supernatural being--it is that we do not need one," Nakagawa said.

The world's 250 million followers of Buddha believe that correct thinking and self-denial will enable the soul to reach a state of release into ultimate enlightenment and peace, known as nirvana.

Because so many Westerners associate religion with praying, the Buddhist Church of America, headquartered in San Francisco, came up with something called the Metta Sutra, words that sound prayer-like but that do not call upon a deity, and that can be used for all occasions, Nakagawa said. The recitation begins, "May all beings be happy."

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Prayer is an important aspect of the Church of Religious Science, whose practitioners believe learning the intricacies of prayer requires many lessons, explained the Rev. Marilyn Miller.

To learn how to call upon the universe based on a system of affirmative prayer, believers may take classes for 2 1/2 hours a week for about three years to receive certification as a Religious Science practitioner. Any member, not just those interested in becoming church leaders, may participate.

The time is well spent, said Miller, a leader at the Camarillo Church of Religious Science, who has taken these extensive classes that examine how spiritual energy works. She said she has witnessed the benefits of praying for health, jobs, homes and other needs large and small.

In Religious Science, the technique of prayer is simple; the extended lessons are to learn how to be receptive to answers, Miller said. Prayers go unanswered all the time, she said, because those asking do not know how to listen to the answers.

For Jews, the primary purpose of prayer is for communication between a person and God, explained Rabbi Richard Spiegel of Temple Etz Chaim of Thousand Oaks.

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"A lot of prayers are given in thanks to God and for blessings we have, or supplications to ask God for strength and wisdom," Spiegel said.

Rabbi Michele Paskow Cohen of Congregation B'nai Emet in Simi Valley said the prayer book, called the Siddur, means order and "provides us with a walk through Jewish history."

The book contains prayers by many writers from all over the world and from many periods of history, she said.

Jews have different prayers to say every morning, afternoon and evening. They are said in Hebrew and have Hebrew names. Some Jewish prayers are set to music and are sung by a cantor during temple services, Cohen said.

"We have liturgy for every occasion--funerals, weddings and personal prayers," she said. "Prayers are a time of meditation and reflection, and are meant to lift the spirit."

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