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Maria Magdalene praying.jpg
Mary Magdalene in prayer.

Prayer is the act of attempting to communicate, commonly with a sequence of words, with a deity or spirit for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins, or to express one's thoughts and emotions. The words of the prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person's words.

The great spiritual traditions offer a wide variety of devotional acts. There are morning and evening prayers, graces said over meals, and reverent physical gestures. Some Christians bow their heads and fold their hands. Native Americans dance. Some Sufis whirl. Hindus chant. Orthodox Jews sway their bodies back and forth. Quakers keep silent.

The act of prayer is attested in written sources as early as 5000 years ago. Some anthropologists believe that the earliest intelligent modern humans practiced something that we would recognize today as prayer.

Praying has many different forms. Prayer may be done privately and individually, or it may be done corporately in the presence of fellow believers. Prayer can be incorporated into a daily "thought life," in which one is in constant communication with a God. Some people pray throughout all that is happening during the day and seek guidance as the day progresses. There can be many different answers to prayer, just as there are many ways to interpret an answer to a question, if there in fact comes an answer. Some may experience audible, physical, or mental epiphanies. If indeed an answer comes, the time and place it comes is considered random.

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