'Gravity,' the science fiction thriller, raises an unexpected question: Is the ability to pray inborn or is it something that must be taught?
The sci-fi hit Gravity was bumped off its orbit this weekend, after spending three weeks leading at the box office. But the thriller’s questions linger. Perhaps its most poignant moment comes when character Ryan Stone laments that she doesn’t know how to pray, that nobody ever taught her. Which raises the question: Is the ability to pray inborn? Is it something everyone has? Or is it something that must be learned? Taught?
The Rev. Carole Crumley is an Episcopal priest and program director at the ecumenical Shalem Institute, which for 40 years has offered support and training programs for Christian contemplative living. She differentiates formal prayer, which must be learned, from a more loosely structured encounter with the divine.
“I always look at the scriptures,” where, she points out, “the disciples say to Jesus ‘teach us to pray.’ ” Having grown up Jewish within the life of the synagogue, they surely knew the structured prayer, she says, but they saw that Jesus often went off alone to pray in silence. They wanted to learn this more open, direct, responsive way, and people today often want the same.
But while prayers can be taught, Rev. Crumley believes the yearning for God is innate. “We could say that people are born with this desire – that God has planted that desire in us and that our hearts are restless until we are caught by God. Many people experience that connection in an unmediated way,” through nature, for instance. No matter what their faith, adults can help themselves and their children foster that connection, simply by setting off like Jesus did for some regular quiet.