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Prayer needs both power and pattern

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MEMBERS OF THE LDS faith don't pray to Jesus. They pray to God in the name of Jesus. So it has always struck me as odd how many prayers in the Book of Mormon are directed to Jesus himself.

I think of the wife of King Lamoni.

Not many women are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but those who are mentioned are women to be reckoned with. Each seems to embody grand principles. There is Sariah and her amazing capacity for sacrifice. There's the beauty and sanctity of the Virgin Mary. Even the charms of the harlot Isabel are formidable and show what can happen when self-indulgence goes berserk.

But the wife of King Lamoni has to be in a league of her own. As a queen, she is both the essence of humility and empowerment. And when she prays, it is with a great gulp of a prayer that begins, "O blessed Jesus."

Not long ago "The Prayer of Jabez" — a book about a slight, Old Testament prayer — became a best-seller. But the wife of Lamoni's prayer is a

haymaker compared to that one. It sounds shouted.

It was her prayer, in fact, that got me thinking about prayers and patterns and the unbridled cries of the heart.

I think most people believe God pays attention to any prayer from the heart — whether it's directed to Heavenly Father, Allah or even St. Augustine. God is not in the business of turning his back on his children.

"For every one that asketh receiveth," it says in Matthew. "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask fish, will he give him a serpent?"

The scripture goes on to say that if human beings are so generous — and they are flawed — think how much more generous God must be when you ask him for help.

Of course, if God always takes the call when a sincere prayer is on the line — no matter how it's said — the question is: Why do we even have proscribed ways for praying in the first place?

Well, I think religious patterns exist not for God, but for us.

Patterns help us organize our brains. They help us pare away superficial things and run a string through the beads of our scattered thoughts.

All meetings have a pattern — a "liturgy."

The ordinances have patterns.

The hymns follow patterns — as do the scriptures.

We even sit in the same place in the pews each week.

Patterns lend themselves to repetition. Like a map, they keep us from getting lost. And repetition adds weight. Each prayer that's uttered, each hymn, each scripture, is laid on the altar with all the others that have gone before. And together, they make a great counterbalance to values of the world.

As for those "cries of the heart" in the Book of Mormon and elsewhere that follow no pattern — let me say I have heard children utter prayers that are confused and almost unintelligible; but I'm convinced God heard every one of them.

And, to paraphrase E.A. Robinson, all of us are simply children — children trying to spell the word "God" with a scrambled set of blocks.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com