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The Power of Prayer

6 spiritual leaders offer advice on how you can pray

Pope Francis I waves from a balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. — Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina was elected Pope Francis I on March 13 after two days of debate, discussion and prayer by the College of Cardinals.

Prayer plays a role in various spiritual traditions in different ways. Although a majority of Americans say they pray on a regular basis, there's no clear consensus on the best way to do it. We asked a panel of spiritual experts about how to make the most of prayer in daily life — and whether it's OK to improvise.

The late Mother Teresa prays in Calcutta, India, in 1989.

The late Mother Teresa prays in Calcutta in 1989. — Raghu Rai/Magnum Photos

Cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass.

Mother Teresa was asked once what she says when she prays to God. She answered, "I don't say anything. I just listen." "What does God say to you then?" they asked. "He doesn't say anything. He just listens. And if you don't understand this, I can't explain it to you." This is a very beautiful notion of prayer: refining the art of listening.  

Prayer is a process of purification. We're using prayer not only as a request but also as a way of transforming our own hearts and minds. This transformation is what we are asking for in prayer: the purification of our hearts from forces that cause suffering, greed, hatred, ignorance and so on. If we understand prayer as having this function, we can work internally to purify things we want to change.

Next page: Pray in your own way. »

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