I haven't heard anyone explain … in a relatively straightforward way what they think of themselves as doing when they pray.I've been thinking about it a bit more. My sense now (from what I imagine people are really doing when they pray and from what people tell me about it) is that prayer is not an attempt to do something in the sense of accomplishing an end. It's probably more like an attempt to invoke an internal state, similar to what one does when one listens to music or participates in some other activity that leads to an internal change.
In writing this I'm not attempting to be cynical or deprecatory. I suspect that people who pray have a sense of awe and inspiration about the way they look at the world that they enjoy when they experience it and that prayer is a way of helping themselves remember and return to that state. In many ways I am now imagine prayer as analogous to what people do when they listen to music that inspires or transports them or when they participate in an artistic experience that they find transforming. I also imagine that it's like reading a book that reminds one of a particular way of looking at the world that one finds inspiring and comforting. I also imagine that it's like taking a drug or doing some other ritual that brings one to a state of mind that one finds positive an agreeable.
So when Bob Park asks whether Harriet Miers believes that physical effects are caused by people putting their hands together, etc., I think he is asking the wrong question. Physical effects are caused—in the minds of the people who pray—in the same way that internal physical effects are caused when people engage in nearly any activity. But for Bob Parks to imply that everyone who prays believes that prayer overrides the laws of physics is to probably misunderstand the nature of prayer.
I didn't start writing this post as a defense of prayer. I don't pray, and I'm certainly no expert on or spokesman for prayer. Perhaps many who pray will disagree with what I've just written. But having thought about it, I can understand for myself why some people would pray and why it's no more foolish a thing to do than, for example, playing a musical instrument.