Jason Pitzl-Waters has a great post up about the differences between Christian and polytheistic conceptions of prayer. Hoosier Heathen Dave Haxton wrote the initial post about the recent study supposedly disproving the efficacy of prayer. Haxton argues that the study is nonsense from a Christian worldview (why make requests of an omniscient, omnipotent being?) and meaningless from a Pagan one. Jason comments:
In my years as a Pagan, I have seen things that could be considered miraculous - remissions, lives extended, prosperity and sanity regained - all events prayed and "worked" for by the groups I was associated with at the time. But I have also seen senseless tragedies, lives ended, and fortunes squandered. If I believed in an omniscient God, these times of trouble could have shaken my faith, or made me wallow in questions of theodicy. But I know I live in an interdependent and interconnected web of life that connects me to all other things divine or mundane. I don't need a study to tell me that sometimes prayer fails, because to say otherwise is to make me a tyrant and nature my servant.
I rarely pray in a traditional sense (talking in my head to God/dess), because that doesn't make sense to me given my beliefs. I accept that ritual and casting spells are forms of prayers, and I say blessings before my meals and regularly thank the universe for things. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I rarely petition the Goddess for anything other than helping me learn to align myself with nature. And that is the key point. As a Pagan, I'm not looking for supernatural intervention. I don't ask God to come to fix things. If anything, what I do is more in line with that Christian prayer, "not my will but Thine be done." I don't believe the Goddess has a will, per se, but I believe that my task as her daughter is to align myself with her ways. To live in accord, the Pagans say. I will pray for healing, but healing isn't the same thing as the disease going away. Healing is about living as whole beings and honoring our interconnections with spirit and all other beings. Healing can include illness and always at some point includes death. Healing also doesn't occur to an individual in an isolated context. It depends on the web - everything from access to good care, health insurance, the health of the natural environment, love and community. I don't think prayer can be isolated as a variable in order to study its efficacy.
Human beings suffer from great hubris as a species, and I believe one way that hubris expresses itself is in the belief that God takes personal requests. I believe that prayer, for Pagans, is a way to align ourselves with the natural order of things. It is not my wish that my will be done. I rather wish to honor and tend my place in the universe; to surrender my will, and along with it my struggle; to watch, learn, ride the waves, and align myself again and again. So mote it be.