man with hands clasped in prayer during evening at bedside
Can prayer be a good practice for agnostics?

The following guest sermon was submitted by ULC Minister Bob Barlow. All ULC Ministers are invited to contribute their own sermons for consideration/publication. To submit a sermon, please email it to

If I had a bigger brain, I’d be an atheist. As it is, I have only a medium-sized one, so agnosticism is as far as I can go. All of which is to prepare you for something that may shock those who know me. Because it sure shocked me.

I prayed this morning.

Before that, I brought my wife, whose shoulder has been causing her great pain for more than a year now, a cup of tea. Then I lay down on the carpet next to the bed to spend a few silent moments marveling at Lily, our four-year-old goldendoodle “puppy,” who sleeps under our bed and is the last to rise most mornings. Then I pushed myself up off the floor in preparation to go upstairs and meditate.

I made it as far as my knees.

Kneeling next to the nightstand, the urge came. I brought my hands together, adjusted them a little so they were pointing more upward, and I prayed.

My beliefs hadn’t changed. I was still an agnostic — a person who believes that there’s no way to know for sure if there is or is not a god. And yet, I prayed.

I hope praying isn’t like the wish you make before blowing out your birthday candles — the one you’re supposed to keep secret if you want it to come true. Because I’m about to tell you what I prayed for.

It’s probably a variation on what most people pray for. I prayed for the health and safety and happiness of my daughter and son. I prayed for my wife’s shoulder to be all better. I prayed for Lily to have a long, sweet life, full of chasing sticks and barking at delivery trucks. I prayed for family near and far. I prayed for peace. Lastly, I prayed for myself, because like so many folks nowadays, the ground beneath my feet doesn’t feel as solid as it used to.

As I said, I’m not exactly a believer — at least, not in the "angry, old, white God" I learned about at Sunday school. So I can’t really address what happened to my prayers after I prayed them. Just the same, I was glad I prayed, whether there’s a supreme being or not.

I may be an amateur at this, but I know you’re not supposed to pray for the trivial. “Hearing” my prayers reminded me what I care about most. What I love most. What I want most desperately. You who pray regularly are probably saying “no, duh” at this point. But to me, it was a revelation. Praying shines a light on what matters to you. And that makes it a little easier to let go of the less important stuff.

There’s more I could say about the experience — the good feeling of unburdening, the possibility that someone is actually listening, the chance that my prayers might have an effect — but I’ll save that for the next time I write about this.

For now, I’ll leave it at this: To my surprise, I prayed this morning. And I will probably do it again.


  1. Rev. Dr. James Jacob Showers Jr's Avatar Rev. Dr. James Jacob Showers Jr

    I am responding to the gripping testimony of the young minister who has raised his awareness from Atheist to Agnostic. It reminds me of my days on the streets. I was homeless for some 18 1/2 years. Whether it was the Salvation Army, the City Gate or Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, to the Dallas Life Foundation, or the Baptists Church in Dallas, Texas. It is wonderful to know, that the Almighty Creator has provided a way 'where there seemed to be no way'. I have had Parkinson's Disease Plus since 2005, I received the Official Diagnosis in October 2013 and had the STN DBS surgery in January 2014. For my sanity, I must-everyday, choose to be grateful for one thing or another. I receive my medical care at the local VA Hospital, for my service in the Gulf War Era. I joke with folks that I would be bankrupt within 7 days, if it weren't for the astounding medical specialists at the VA'S Worldwide, this is to include the PADRECC in San Francisco, California. I bring up this compelling testimony to show the world, that regardless of our knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding, the Almighty Creator, meets us where we are. What I didn't tell the congregation of the saints, is that within the time I have been homeless the ULC, Seminary, Monastery, Ministries, have helped me to attain about 7 Doctorates and PhD. I have written close to 80 Texts. I haven't sold 10-but it is done. Now a days, I spend my days doing research, trying to find a cure for Parkinson's Disease, Studying of the Master Key Society, the Classic Literature, having my DNA genotyped to find a cure-sounds selfish when said aloud, but when said aloud and to your 'good orderly direction', or 'Higher Power', or 'God'. The OmniPresent God hears even my prayers. When my prayers align with the vision they or he has for me-its like studying the 'Treatise on White Magic'-by Alice Bailey, things just click, and not like some type of Post Hypnotic Suggestion or as I call it reel-to-reel communist oppression propaganda. I find when I align myself with the one or two word prayer-I find a great strength. Its not a tumble in the left pew isle, but it gets me through the day. Good for you my Dear friend-Good for you. May your days be filled with grace and peace. Jamie

    1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

      @Rev. Dr. James Jacob Showers Jr Thank you for sharing a wonderful story of how you put your faith in God the Almighty Creator who gave you a terrible disease and you have now turned to science and modern medicine to cure you. This is a story that needs to be shared with others.

  1. John's Avatar John

    As an atheist I believe there is great value in prayer. As a former physical therapist I would upon request pray with my patients and although I can't say clinically it made a difference in the outcome, I do know that it brought comfort. And there's never anything wrong with that.

    1. Val Jester's Avatar Val Jester

      If you are an atheist, to who do you pray?

    2. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

      While I am not atheist, am close to being theistic agnostic, as is my Mrs. I believe that prayer is a salve for the soul, as medicine is a balm for the body.

    3. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

      @John I'm confused, you provided treated patients and you don't know the outcomes of your treatments? Got to say if I had a PT who wanted me to pray before receiving treatment I would think the PT was poorly trained or was a quack.

    4. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      It's a form of mediation John, and what you are basically referring to is getting patients to become "grounded", which I think can be of great benefit. Having them think they are contacting a mystical deity in one way or another is a whole different ball game for any form of wholesome recovery.


  1. The Right Reverend D. Batch's Avatar The Right Reverend D. Batch

    Very moving testimony! Thank you for sharing.

  1. joe's Avatar joe

    If God is all powerful and all knowing then doesn't he know what you want and need perhaps better than you ? If he doesn't exist...

    1. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

      The purpose of prayer isn't to convince God to do something that He wasn't going to do, anyway, or not to withhold some good from us, but to get us to agree with Him and go along with His will. He has other reasons for not granting every prayer and sees the biggest picture that we can't see. We are the ones who need fixing and not God Who needs fixing, and Him brought down to our way of thinking and doing things and agreeing with us, but, rather, our being brought up to His way of thinking and agreeing with Him. For example, the Nation of Islam conceives of a "God" who approves of racial enmity and division between black and white people, making "God" after their own image and the "Big Black Muslim up in the sky" and many other people also make "God" in their own image and to support their agenda, instead of letting God be God. Common sense tells those of us who have it that God didn't put people in the world for them to hate and separate from each other and want to kill or hurt each other, but only to love each other, and any other "God" is just made up to suit what people want "Him" to be to "justify" themselves!!

      1. joe's Avatar joe

        The first part of your reply is essentially what I meant. God is gonna do what God is gonna do. The remainder is about religious extremism. It mostly involves taking writings out of context to justify an agenda. It's a little off the topic but I agree with you.

  1. Mark Hannon's Avatar Mark Hannon

    I pray. I don't know for certain that anyone is listening but I know that I am. It helps me place perspective in my life. I see what's really important and what I shouldn't waste my time thinking or worrying about. I seem to count what I consider blessings and to see where I could be more supportive of others who are not so similarly blessed.

    I try to be serious about it at least once a day. My problems don't disappear but I get to live a bit more peacefully for that one day.

  1. Nicholas J Page's Avatar Nicholas J Page

    I thank God silently every morning that I'm still alive after 10 long years after my brain tumor op The fact that I had dreadful headaches for 4/12 years.That no meds worked.Until I was involved with another church group.Who prayed for me laying the hands on me .The next morning the head aches completely disappeared.That is a true miracle

  1. Rev. Dr. G. Waldron's Avatar Rev. Dr. G. Waldron

    A wonderful sermon and expression. The Holy Spirit seems at work. I too strayed away, but now I am found. + + + AMEN

  1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

    First of all, as a minister in any congregation, you should not be revealing what you are thinking if it's contradictory to the faith. You could affect someone's faith either by losing it or taking everything you say seriously. Shut you're damn mouth and leave the faith.

  1. Bishop William Dusenberry, DD's Avatar Bishop William Dusenberry, DD

    As a ULC Bishop, with a Doctorate of Divinity (who, additionally is a Secular Humanist Pantheist) — if I remember to do so, whenever I witness the Earth turning towards the Sun (what Earthly cosmological ignoramuses call the Sun Rise) I pray the following.

    “Oh great Star” (our Sun)

    “Where would your beauty be — if not for those for whom you shine?”

    Because we SHP’ers know (don’t merely believe) that God and nature are one and the same thing — every time I’ve prayed (by reciting the “Oh Great Star” Prayer above) the Earth has always turned towards the Sun” because nature is as nature does.

    If anyone always wants their prayers answered - pray every new day, that the Earth will turn towards the Earth tomorrow, then turn away from it in the evening.

    Then you’ll have a prayer-success rate, of 100 percent.

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      We care about you William, lease get well.


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