Guest Column

Say your prayers


cartoon by CAM

It figures. The National Day of Prayer was Thursday of last week -- and I forgot to pray.

I'm not very skilled at praying. Like a lot of folks, I don't pray until things go sour or I face some daunting challenge.

I pray on Monday mornings when I'm way behind on projects that are due -- and I am behind EVERY Monday.

I pray every April 15 -- right after cursing.

I pray when people I love are ill or worse.

When I was younger, my best prayers followed long nights at the pub - what we call "praying to porcelain."

Plenty of folks struggle with prayer.

It is something people of every religion and culture have felt the need to do since there have been people.

One of the most extensive polls on prayer was conducted by U.S. News & World Report in 2004. Some respondents had wacky ideas about what prayer is about.

One fellow prayed that his broken car would heal itself; he claims it did.

Another fellow prayed that a couple who helped break up his marriage would also break up; he claims his prayers did the trick.

The now-deceased Osama bin Laden had some nutty prayers. He prayed for America's destruction. He prayed, no doubt, before his boys struck the twin towers -- and after the towers fell.

He prayed for the wrong reasons, of course.

If you believe, as I do, that there is order in our conflicted universe -- that there is good and evil, at battle everywhere, every day -- then isn't the purpose of prayer simply to understand and embrace the truth?

We pray to know the good. We pray to align ourself with it. We pray to root out dishonesty and evil from our being.

Surely you agree there is good and evil in this world.

Greek philosophers had names for good: prudence, temperance, courage and justice were virtues that all people longed to master.

As we strive for good, we must fend off evil: excessive pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.

These are known as the seven deadly sins -- and as activities I usually save for the weekend!

I'll leave it to the Almighty to judge bin Laden for his worldly acts, but to my feeble human mind, it is clear that bin Laden was blinded by the sin of excessive pride.

He had it worked out in his mind that he and his small band had a direct line to God, who told them to slaughter innocent people.

Didn't he see himself as pious and subservient when he was really an egotist and narcissist who misused his religion to drape himself in power and the adulation of millions?

Didn't he misuse prayer -- not to get closer to God, but to justify his own misguided ambitions?

His was such a clever form of evil that the fool thought he was doing good!

These terms sound Biblical, but are they really? You need not be religious to agree that there is a battle regularly going on between good and evil.

This battle rages in every human heart. It rages within every religion, every political system -- and on and on.

This battle rages because we humans are mighty flawed and in continual need of improvement.

If you believe there is order in the universe, then mustn't we continually align ourselves with the good and root out the bad in our political systems, our organizations -- ourselves?

We must root out excessive pride and embrace humility. We must be more kind and charitable, less angry. We must be less greedy, more generous.

Honest prayer is helpful in that respect.

I sure pray that I get better at it.

- Tom Purcell is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is nationally syndicated by Cagle Cartoons (


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