My interest in prayer has to do with what prayer can or cannot do. Mine is the quest of the doubter who would believe. I want to know what efficacy there is in prayer.

Can our prayers change the outer world? I suspect not, but I’m interested in stories that claim otherwise. Once a woman, whose beliefs I’d challenged, told me that she needed a swimsuit so that she could go into a medicinal spring that would help ease her back pain. She told me that she would pray for a swimsuit, and God would provide one that was within her rather meager budget. We were on a trip and in a hotel. So off she went to the hotel gift store. They had swimsuits, but all were far too expensive. A woman had overheard us talking, however, and followed my friend to the store. She offered to lend my friend a swimsuit and did. My friend returned to me triumphant. I protested that the woman had eavesdropped and thus her offer couldn’t be counted as an act of God. But my friend only laughed and said that I couldn’t restrict how God answered.

Many people in my family believe that God hears their prayers and intervenes to heal minor illnesses and to remedy daily difficulties in their lives. They find such a God reassuring. I find a God who would heal my sprained ankle while doing nothing to stop rape, torture, and starvation to be horrifying. But I don’t tell them that. I like it that they can believe. It helps them. And we all need help.

I’m more inclined to believe that prayer can change us. I’m interested in how. And why. And whether some forms of prayer change us more deeply than other forms.