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Many finding peace through daily prayer

MIAMI — Phil Whitley, man of science, a biomedical engineer, had questions not easily answered in a textbook or a chemical equation: Why was his baby daughter, Hannah, born with cerebral palsy?

He found his answers in what he calls "fervent prayer:" God assured him that Hannah, now 2, was a blessing — and Whitley finds her sweet nature reassuring every day.

"I can't worry about it," he says. "I have to live, to love her."

He's now trying to help others find time to pray — and gain respite — in a special monthlong Sunday School class at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Pinecrest.

In a 24-7 world, busy people have to find time for heart-to-heart talks with God, he says. Otherwise, they'll have trouble getting past crises.

Consider it time management for the soul.

Find at least 10 minutes a day to talk to God and you'll find yourself calmer and more serene — no matter your hectic schedule, says the Rev. Phyllis Wolkenhauer, who co-pastors the church with her husband, Alan.

The prayerful are "more at peace, lead happier lives," she says. "If I take time to pray — which I usually do first thing in the morning — I am able to handle all the stresses. I'm much more relaxed, focused."

She and her husband decided to incorporate more prayer with Lent. Instead of giving something up, they asked the congregation to add prayer. In a sense, members are giving up "time" to pray, she said, but they're getting the benefits of a richer spiritual life.

Around the country, other congregations — of all faiths — are trying to lead followers to prayer.

Spiritual leaders are urging their flocks not just to show up for weekly worship but also to take time to establish a one-on-one "talk" with their Maker. Religions around the world are creating Web sites for prayer. Yahoo! now lists 784 sites, from www.pray911.com to an interactive database of Islam prayer times for communities around the world (www.uwm.edu/cgi-bin/burooj/salat.cgi).

"I believe people get a great deal out of praying if they do it on a regular basis," says Rabbi Gary Glickstein of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach.

Studies, in fact, have shown that the prayerful have "lower rates of depression and anxiety-related illness," according to Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat in her column in the March/April issue of Living in Balance magazine.

"Prayer makes a big difference," agrees Nassim Baksh, ameer — spiritual leader — of the Muttaqeen Mosque now under construction in Pembroke Pines, Fla. "It really helps us."

Muslims are required to pray five times a day. But instead of finding it a burden, Baksh says prayer lifts people's spirits, enough for them to handle life's curves.

"Prayer is a form of relaxation, of meditation," he says. "If you pray regularly, you find you don't have stresses. It breaks our day up and we are able to reflect what is most important to us."

People are calmer, more relaxed after they turn off their cell phones and beepers and go to Pinecrest's Bet Shira Congregation's daily morning prayer services, Rabbi David Auerbach says.

But they have to learn the right attitude.

"The point of prayer is not to go to God with a shopping list," he says. "The purpose is to change us. And the capacity to change us comes from opening ourselves to change within."

"What we're trying to do is take a step out of the everyday world and take a minivacation for the soul, even if it's 10 minutes," adds Rabbi Edwin Goldberg of Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Fla.

But finding time for even 10 minutes of prayer is not easy in an era when Americans are working more than ever, when money is the No. 1 worry, even in affluent suburbs, says the Rev. Win Green, pastor of Everglades Community Church in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

"It's hard," he says. "It's not convenient. Busy people don't find time for prayer. Lazy people don't find time for prayer. Normal people don't find time for prayer. You make time."

"Jesus," he adds, "got up early in the morning and went out to pray."

Green's wife, Stephanie, writes in a prayer journal — an increasingly popular way. Some members of Christ the King ordered prayer journals to get them started.

Clay Mitchell, a lay leader at Everglades, finds time in his car during his twice daily half-hour commute to work. "I pray a lot in my vehicle," he says. "It's kind of my quiet time."

Sometimes, Laura Morilla finds she has to stop her car and go into a church to light a candle and pray.

"It's almost always unplanned," she says. "Sometimes when I'm driving by a church I'll zip in."

Her favorite: St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach.