No longer interested's picture
No longer interested November 22, 2012 - 8:35am

I need your help! I'm writing a first draft of a fantasy novel about a middle-aged Atheist who develops the ability to hear other people's prayers. Prayer is a ridiculously private issue and it's often difficult to get those I know well to open up about it.  Regardless of your religious/non-religious/spiritual/agnostic/atheist tendancies, I'd love to know more about if and how you pray.  Do you have a particular prayer practice?  What does prayer mean to you?

Thanks for your help!



Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch November 22, 2012 - 9:51am

Prayer? What's prayer?

Tony Koval's picture
Tony Koval from Jesustown, Bible Belt, Texas, USA is reading more and more and more November 22, 2012 - 11:57am

I, personally, don't pray, at least in the traditional sense. 

From what I've gathered, people pray when they want something from God.

When I was a child in the Bible Belt, prayer generally followed this format:


Dear _________, 




In Jesus' name, Amen.


You'd thank God for whatever blessings you could think of, then you'd ask him for more blessings. 

I won't go into a tirade about how I feel over this. 


If you want your Atheist to hear Mormon prayers, try....


Dear Heavenly Father,

Lots of thees and thys, etc., generally archaic language.

Lots of thees and thys, etc., generally archaic language.

In Jesus' name, Amen.


Some people just talk to God like he's their friend. They tell him about their day, and sit around having a chat with them. Some of them apologize for the bad things they've done and ask for forgiveness. I think a 'forgiveness' prayer would make an interesting read, especially if it was written well enough to stir some type of emotion.


You might also consider the different religions and whose prayers she's hearing. Is she hearing everyone's prayers, regardless of what religion they follow? Or is she just hearing Christian prayers? How about Catholic prayers? Muslim prayers? Jewish prayers? Native American prayers? All the prayers of those little people in all those little huts and on those garbage piles in undeveloped and third world countries? Does she hear the intentions of the prayer, or the prayer, itself? Will she be getting prayers from Mexico that she can't understand?

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK November 22, 2012 - 12:20pm

Go to church. Spend time with a pastor/vicar/priest. Tell them you're writing a novel about an athiest's redemption. They'll try to convert you, maybe go along with it for research. Depends how cold blooded you are.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 22, 2012 - 3:12pm

Some prayer is pure ritual; some prayers are distilled emotion. By what conceivable (though fantastic) mechanism could someone psychically hear both?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 23, 2012 - 6:54am

I am a Christian and I pray often. This is just what I've seen in an American protestant church, others may have experiences that vary.

In the same vein that J.Y. was discussing you first need to define what 'hearing prayers' consists of. I can change, but at each stage in needs to work the same or such. What range, silent or out loud, does she only hear Christian prayers, and most importantly does she understand other languages/context? Does just hear "Please help Kim God," or does she know that Kim is the man's dying wife? She'll need some limits or she'd just get some much noise she couldn't function in day to day life. Also what counts as a prayer? Does it have to be a deliberate prayer to God or do admonishments (get ye hence Satan), prayers to saints, and prayers to angels count? Do vague unvocalized prayers while thinking on God count, and how does she hear them? After you answer those you'll get much more useful feedback.

Making her powers wide in scope (all prayers) gives you room to play, making it narrow (a single location or church) gives you a tie to other characters.

Without getting into theology I'd expect the parts she would 'hear' would be either be silent or spoken, group (how does she hear group prayer btw?) or single, and composed or ritual (Lord's Prayer, and most denominations have various prepared ones you can find in 30 seconds on Google). So one would be a silent single composed prayer, the next a spoken group ritual and so on. Most will have an aim, the entity whom the prayer is directed toward. Mary, God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the saints, and the angles are all common depending common.

If you take a few moments to match denomination to who they pray to it will sound much more believable. For example I am a Methodist, so I'd be shocked to hear someone at my church pray to Mary. However I would expect a Roman Catholic to address on to her on occasion. That is a very live and let live thing among the Christians I know, but if you set it in another time and/or place that may not be so. The entity being prayed to is most often mentioned with a honorific such as 'Father God' or 'Mary Mother of God' at the start of the prayer, although that is not always done. It is mostly assumed if you leave that out they will be able to tell. The one most likely to not have it is God, which ties back to the whole "I Am" thing, God simply is.

Reasons for prayer often included thanks (most common during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and grace before meals), confusion (desperate people who aren't sure why they are praying, sometimes not even who they are praying too), forgiveness/help forgiving, outpouring (often several of the other reason or just telling about your life since you last prayed), change (asking for specific guidance, miracles, health, protection in general, protection during travel, alteration of hearts/mind), and commanded (praying for your enemies). There may be others.

Scope of prayer varies wildly. Mundane, middle of the road, and the most important issues are all things people pray about. I've prayed about everything from finding my keys to the fate of my Dad's soul after he died.

You should be aware of the Trinity, the basic concept of God being 3 people at once without that being a contradiction of Him being one God. The Father who is prayed to in heaven, Jesus whose life as a man is imitated, and the Holy Spirit that enters are souls to help us do those things are explained by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity very well. I'd suggest reading at least that parts on the Trinity, it should be in most libraries.

Christians pray more among each other and alone then when around non Christians. Reasons I've heard include not wanting to make others uncomfortable and Jesus said to pray in private and feeling like they are rubbing other's noses in something they don't have. It seems the phrases 'I pray in Jesus's name', 'In Jesus's name we pray' (even when it is one person praying alone), and 'If it be your will,' are all common in spoken prayers.

Discussions of prayer are common and include phrases like, 'How is your prayer life,' 'Please pray for X,' and 'I'll pray for you.' Group prayers are most often led by church staff, the head of household, oldest person present, or someone who volunteers to do so. Holding of hands and/or standing in a circle is common, to the point I've never seen someone decline to take a hand offered. I'm not sure what the reaction would be. Free form silent prayers are common.

People find something about prayer reinforcing else it wouldn't be such a common practice. You may think that is just the same as the effects of meditation but it is something. Something to keep in mind.

Although sometimes ritual can rob meaning of things, I've seen people cry at the Lord's Prayer so don't assume that is a constant. Also something to keep in mind.

For further research I'd suggest bribing a seminary student. They can give you very good details, and are very low on cash so they will work cheap. A pastor at almost any church will be very busy and not able to put a lot of time into a project like this. Also it is coming up on winter break so they should have some free time soon, but they employment offices will still be open after the holiday.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. November 23, 2012 - 9:55am

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.  Dear god.  How's it going?  It's okay here.  Please bless ....  Please help me do....   Thank you for ... etc.  In your holy name, amen.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch November 23, 2012 - 10:04am

The only prayer I know by heart is the Lord's Prayer in Old English:

Faether ure, thu the eart on heofonum. Si thin nama gehalgod, tobecume thin rice, gewurthe thin willa on eorthan swa swa on heofonum. Urne gedaegwamlichan hlaf syle us todaeg. And forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfath urum gyltemdum. And ne geled thu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. Sothlice.

I learned it by heart when I took history of Enslish language in college. 

Am I redeemed?

No longer interested's picture
No longer interested November 23, 2012 - 11:35am

Thank you all for your comments.  You've all helped me more than you could know!  

I don't want to ruin the story by letting on too much prior to posting chapters for review, but suffice it to say - if it comes off as I sincerely hope it will - it will make no judgement on any particular religion or spiritual practice and will leave the reader with as many questions as it does answers.  At the heart of it all Liana draga, you have it right.  What is prayer?  What is redemption?  What/who is God?  Does a God exists?  If so, how does this deity interact with and respond to prayer?  These are the questions that I hope to highlight with my fiction.

Thank you all again for sharing and offering advice!  

In joy,

Melinda Eliza

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch November 23, 2012 - 12:56pm

Oh... Didn't expect that! 

I was hoping there would be more people with more practical advice than I could give. But sounds like a cool project you have there.