The Natural Power of Prayer
For much of my life I have looked people in the eye at the most crucial moments. Most of the time, I'm multitasking when you are talking to me and I'm going 'blah blah blah get to the point'. But when you make a promise or declare something to be true, that's when I look up and stop humming and look you dead in the eye. That means most of the times during public sermons and prayers I am looking you dead in the eye. This is discomforting, I think, to those who would rather I bowed my head in penitent silence. I've only recently, that is within the past 2 years, actually come around to obeying the custom. There was never any sense of disrespect, it's just that if somebody is suggesting we all do something in the presence of God, I'll be damned before I let that person off without my strictest scrutiny. Plus, I want to see who else might be cracking jokes while people have their heads down in respect.
These days when my head is down, it is in respect for the practice. And quite frankly, I'm doing a lot more internal 'blah blah blah get to the point'. Many ministers and public prayers are invoking ritualistic phrases, few of which have a determined logic. But I think there is a very logical way to pray and I'm going to develop that here.
But the implications of the looking or not looking, the bowing or not bowing, is that it matters to the people standing in the circle or down on their knees in the pews. But should it? If you believe as I do that prayer is a discipline - that it is an opening of a channel to the divine within, and a concious reminder of a sacred duty, then really all one needs to do is pray to God with your mind and that's it. So what are we to make of the idea that when two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there? I'd say the distinction is that you are praying for those who hear, and in that way a prayer is very much like a speech.
A public prayer must be a mutual dedication. It is a public reminder and invocation of the divine to our commitment before God. It is not the same as a sermon, which is one way, or a blessing which is a passthrough proxy kind of thing. It is best a hand-holding, a huddle, a briefing, a pinky swear. And so the power of prayer in this regard has nothing to do with the power of God but rather with the ability of the person leading the prayer to properly invoke the duty of the faithful. It is a mutual promise to act as God would have us act, and in that it has great power.