Friday, September 28, 2007


What is Prayer? (besides weird)

This is an outgrowth of Erin's "Synchroblog" on prayer from a few weeks ago. I've been continuing to think about it.

One could wonder why I should bother thinking about anything like this. Of what use is an intellectual Christian? We're just supposed to follow Jesus, right? "Stop thinking. Go out and do something." I could also ask "Of what use is an introverted Christian?" but I don't know the answer. I don't know the use of an intellectual, either, but that's the way I'm made. I can go against what I know of my nature and become angry, or I can follow this murky path behind God and see where we end up.

How much do I trust God? When He says "My burden is light" does he really mean it? Is the whole objective of niceness to put me off-guard so that the citadel of my soul will fall from the inside? Am I supposed to quit thinking about things and just believe? That has never been my way; those occasions where I've simply gone with the prevailing flow, I've been screwed. Whose responsibility is that?

God could have prevented such things. He could have painted a big sign on the car keys before I loaned them to my ex-neighbor before he smacked up the car and left me with a bunch of unpaid parking tickets. But He didn't offer a sign. I was nice and got the shaft. My fault. So, if it's up to me, it's up to me. How am I supposed to figure out which things are up to me and which are up to God?

Those who pray for world peace... what are they doing to bring it about? Those who pray for their friends... is God the Cosmic Computer and prayer the input program and if done just right or repeated often enough will produce just the desired results?

It seems to me the whole thing is more complicated than generally accepted. So, recycle the count to zero and start over. Who is God? We all thrown the phrases around: "God is Love." "Maker of heaven and earth." Etc, etc. Creeds, statements, fences built of brick and stone, containment structures. God is this and nothing else.

What if He is something else? What if He is someONE else? This is where I started four years ago: scrap the beliefs and ask God to teach. If He's real then teaching shouldn't be a problem. I prayed that he would help me understand. At the time I thought it was kind of a one-shot deal. Instead it was opening the first of a series of doors, one leading to the next and each less probable than the one that was opened last. If God were contained in creeds this would be impossible. If God is a person then what else could one expect? Especially a person who sees everything ahead.

So, God knows. He could bring about world peace. He could heal every sick person and heal our sick planet while he's at it. Why doesn't he? Perhaps we haven't asked in the right way. Perhaps we haven't treated God in the right way. The Cosmic Computer idea really doesn't fit. At least for me. Perhaps repetitions of the Prayer of Jabez really do help some people but I'd bet that it has little to do with God and much to do with placebos and self-hypnosis.

Psychologists call such cures "transference." The problem has been transferred to someone else and control goes with it. That person says "Everything is OK." and it's believed through authority. What if you no longer trust nor believe in authority? By standard Christian models you're in trouble. In God's terms, what else is new? All of my life I've looked for answers that work after the sun goes down. An answer isn't much use if it collapses the first time it's used; I've simply had my fill of transference even as I crave the easy way out. Especially now when everything seems like work.

So, prayer as I see it is a way of discovering who God is. Finding answers. Of course, those answers change perception. Answers move me along the path. I assume certain things about that path and get concerned: will I like where this ends up?

If I pray for God to remake my soul, what kind of soul will I end up with? Is introspection an externally applied veil? Do I want to find out? I resist, which makes the journey harder. I argue. I think about things, trying to make sure the way ahead is safe and reasonably comfortable. Others throw themselves into the challenge. All I want is peace and quiet. What am I doing in Los Angeles, capital of the police chase and helicopter-borne news crews? Paths lead in odd ways. God is interested in the whole person and I just want peace. Yes, there is some strain there.

Most of the thicket that blinds me is made of assumptions. Even I, long-time iconoclast, have beliefs about God and the rest of the world that may not match objective reality. Even I resist learning the reality as the foundation stones I've trusted begin to shake and move. I wonder how much of the trouble is self-made as I work to understand and control what we do. Yet, that's the way I work. Self-protection imposed over the years, or more basic? I don't know.

Understanding is basic to me because every time I do something without understanding, something breaks and I'm left lost. This works with electronic hardware. Does it work with spiritual vaporware? Can life really be made of moonbeams and dreams? Without dreams where does one go? Who leads? Does God really want to share the tiller with my hands? If I'm just a passenger then why am I there? Could it be that God gradually loosens his hold on the tiller as I gain skill in steering and seeing the course ahead?

Perhaps prayer is a unique personal response to God's presence in one's life. Perhaps God, rather than working to impose a one-plan-fits-all Purpose, is working to turn the monoculture of Earth into a garden of unique flowers. Getting there won't be easy. Our world is big on standardization. Reminds me the song about wildflowers... "I uprooted myself and left the garden..."

Ah, who knows. I think God wants to celebrate His people. I think we don't know how to celebrate, and, having been brought up in a world that denies the very possibility of celebration, how could we even think about it? And how to explain celebration to those whose lives are unremitting pain and toil? I don't know. I doubt that standardization is any kind of answer, and I also doubt rote prayers will make much difference. I think God wants people to dig in and ask deep questions. But then I'm biased. My guess--well, more than a guess--is there's a path for everyone, and that God if given the chance will teach us all how to ask and perceive.

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