This week, people across the world will take time to pray.
They will ask for God's help and trust that he hears their voice.
And then they will hit enter.
Online prayer sites are prospering. They are places where people ask for prayers regarding physical health, mental well-being and, increasingly, financial solvency.
On a site like ipraytoday.com, Nikita requests prayers for "peace throughout the world."
Darlene needs prayers for her "blood pressure spikes . . . also for a potential major plumbing/monetary issue for our house in Michigan."
Jack asks people to pray to save his marriage and that "forgiveness, trust, and peace should reign in my home."
Other people then offer their prayers in return, the site becoming a community of believers.
There is no church, but there is a digital gathering of people together in need and in faith.
This type of prayer is similar to, but different from, typical prayer.
"Classically, prayer is either in a community of sharing the same place at the same time or something you do alone," said Cynthia Lindner, director of ministry studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "Technology, and the Internet specifically, has collapsed that thinking."
Online prayer represents a change in the way people pray. But not necessarily why they pray.
"Humankind has always sought its creator. This is a new way to do it," said the Rev. Marian Fortner of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Phoenix. "It's a modern response to an ancient quest."
. . .
Our burdens are heavy and numerous, from illnesses, marriages, relationships, imprisonment, job loss . . . and so on and so on. Lord, in you we hope for a way to overcome.
- a Dec. 15 prayer on ipraytoday.com
Paige Wheeler started the prayer site ipraytoday.com from her home in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix.
It is a place where people can request a prayer for whatever they need.
Visitors log on to a site, type up a prayer and post it to the Web page. When somebody offers a prayer in response, the person who first posted the prayer is notified by e-mail.
"I did it because I wanted people to pray," Wheeler said. "I wanted to help others help others."
Wheeler is a small woman with big dreams. She hopes that one day in the near future, her site will be the biggest prayer site on the Internet.
She started it earlier this year when her young children returned to school.
Wheeler asked God what he needed from her.
"I prayed on it, you know, just point out what you want from me, what you need, and I'll do it," Wheeler said.
The plan came to her in a "very vivid" dream, Wheeler said. "I could have written the flow chart right there."
Wheeler has been a practicing Catholic her entire life and sends her children to Catholic school.
But each morning when she begins to work on her site, there is a Buddha statue in the room, representing her intent that the site is hospitable to all people and religions.
ipraytoday.com advises visitors: "Pray how you like and to whom you like. We are not here to define your God, but rather to unite the resources of those who believe in a Divine Source and showcase the power of prayer."
Wheeler believes that all prayer is good and that it only becomes more powerful when different religions come together.
Wheeler says thousands of people have subscribed to her site, which means they receive a daily e-mail alert that "highlights one situation that is in desperate need of prayer."
"It's making a common ground," she said. "It's making a funnel that directs all these prayers to the same source."
. . .
I am a single 59 yr. old lady who raised 3 children alone and I am currently unemployed and I am feeling so much stress and frightened of what is going to happen to me. I pray several times a day to God, to hear my prayers for help as I can not do this task alone.
- a Dec. 8 prayer on ipraytoday.com
The Internet and prayer may not be as far apart as they initially seem. Both can be a way of searching for something.
"A place to find commodities, or dates, or like-minded people," said Lindner, by phone, from her office at the University of Chicago.
It is only natural, she said, that people would use the Internet to find spiritual well-being.
People have prayed by mail and phone for more than 100 years, Lindner said.
"Prayer has always been multiform," she said.
A Missouri ministry shows how prayer has changed with technology.
Unity started publishing a magazine about prayer in 1894. Over the years, the organization used prayer by mail, prayer by phone and prayer over the radio.
Now unityonline.org takes requests for prayer through the Internet.
Last year, unityonline.org received 200,000 e-mail requests, according to Lynne Brown, vice president of Silent Unity, the organization that runs the site.
Like many sites, unityonline.org is Christian, but it also says that prayers can be requested by people of any faith and that people should expect that all faiths may respond to their prayer requests.
The Rev. Peola Hicks, prayer department manager at ourprayer.org, another online prayer site, says her organization has been taking prayers by mail and by phone for more than 50 years.
With 1,500 new requests each day, online prayer now makes up 65 percent of the prayer requests. Fortner of All Saints' Episcopal speaks of Moses climbing a mountain to better communicate with God.
Lindner believes that the growth of online prayer represents an increase in prayer generally.
"A bad economy or a terrorist incident will have people searching for a bigger meaning," she said.
People will also turn to prayer in reaction to war, the uncomfortable union of faith and politics, or in response to arguments over doctrine.
"They return to the things they should be focusing on," Lindner said. "Away from the intellectual even, and towards actual spiritual practices."
The only difference is that now, people are more inclined to do so online.
"It is primarily a way of reaching out," Lindner said. "And a way for others to say, 'I'm here, and I hear you.' "
. . .
Father, into your hands, your children we place, praying for your tender mercy. Father, lifting all your children and their concerns, seeking your divine help, for in you we believe and have great hope. May all find your arms waiting to embrace them. Help us O Lord, for our needs are great.
- a Dec. 4 prayer on ipraytoday.com
Perhaps it is because of the anonymity of the Internet that people bare their souls on prayer sites.
Some postings are deeply personal. Reading one can feel like a diary.
Other postings feel like a laundry list of the writer's needs. Reading one feels like reading a letter to Santa. People ask for prayers regarding infidelity, gambling problems or drug addiction.
Others want a new job or a fatter bank account or for their roof to stop leaking.
Some, like Kathylou Meehan, 49, of New Jersey, say that prayer is a constant part of their day. So why not the Internet?
"I pray everywhere, including the bathroom at work, in my car in traffic, etc," she wrote in an e-mail. "It is rewarding when someone replies to my prayer request. It increases my faith in my request and in mankind."
Kim Womack of Kentucky goes to prayabout.com to search for help and to help others.
"We are also taught to bear one another's burdens," she wrote. "Sites like these allow us to reach out and pray and support one another."
Stephanie Demeniuk, a 20-year-old Colorado woman, said that when it comes to prayer, more is better.
"I pray online because I need other people to pray for my needs, and I feel like prayers will be answered," she said by e-mail. "The experience is different because it's online and people all over the U.S. pray for you, and I can also pray for others who have hard times like I do."
An increasingly common prayer request is for God to help people out of their financial troubles.
"In the last six months, the number of those types of prayers has skyrocketed," Wheeler said. "There are so many people out there who are praying for help in any way they can get it. It breaks your heart."
More difficult for Wheeler, however, are the prayer requests from people who feel alone in the world.
When she recalls some of the prayers that have affected her most deeply, she begins to cry.
"There are people that are so alone. They hope that somebody somewhere cares enough about them to pray for them. That means so much to a person."
. . .
I've requested prayer before and can feel the "power of prayer." Pray that somebody will come into my life soon so that I won't be alone for the holidays. . . . I am a "senior" and am so lonely. I pray for others on this site regularly and want them to know that somebody cares.
- a Dec. 5 prayer on ipraytoday.com
Many of the people who pray online cite Matthew 18:20, in which Jesus said: "Because where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them."
The Rev. Fortner is familiar with the verse and what it means to people. "That's an ancient prayer. I love that prayer," she said. "It doesn't promise that he will fix everything, but he promises that he will be with them."
Fortner says she is glad to see people praying, no matter what the venue. She only has one concern about praying online.
"We can't hold hands over the Internet. There is no human touch," she said. "And sometimes that is a profound loss."
Despite its limitations, online prayer continues to thrive.
More than 2,000 years ago, in a small fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus spoke very specifically about prayer.
"I tell you with certainty that if two of you agree on Earth about anything you request," he said in the Book of Matthew, "it will be done for you by my Father in heaven."
Hicks, at ourprayer.org, says she will not pretend to know if Jesus, "in his infinite wisdom," was already aware of the potential power of the Internet when he was speaking to his disciples.
"But I do know this. He knew people needed fellowship. He did know that people needed each other," she said. "We have found another way to find that fellowship."
Paige Wheeler of Phoenix created ipraytoday.com, a site where people post their hopes and ask for prayers.