by Peter Stanford
All religions have their prayers, ceremonies and rites of passage. Their purpose is to forge a link between humankind and the gods, to provide a forum for spiritual exploration, and to remind individual believers that they are part of something bigger than themselves, both in their own times, and throughout history.
For many believers, the prayers, rites and rituals of their faith give shape to their lives. The sacraments of Christianity follow the landmarks of an individual’s life from birth, through adulthood and on to death. For Muslims, praying five times a day is one of the five practices known as the ‘Pillars’ of Islam.
The time-honoured formulas of words found in prayers, said among fellow believers, in a familiar setting, are often as treasured as the theology or insights of a religion. Prayers and passages from sacred books, regularly read aloud to congregations, or chanted by those taking part in some Eastern religious traditions, distil the essence of the faith, and this was important in times when the majority of hearers were illiterate. As Christians intone the Apostles’ creed, or Credo, they state and absorb a compressed version of the key doctrines of their Church. Historically this process was known by the Latin phrase, Lex orandi, lex credendi, which translates as ‘the law of prayer is the law of belief’. More simply, what you say out loud in a rite or ritual is what you believe.
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