Prayer

1 Dec

I recently spoke with someone very close to me concerning the subject of prayer.

I have relatively little traditional background when it comes to this aspect of the religious experience. As an adolescent, I regularly attended Hebrew school and Shabbat services, but because I could only pronounce, rather than actually understand Hebrew, prayer is something I’ve almost never authentically practiced in a formal setting or traditional manner.

Once, when I was six, I prayed really hard for my recently-deceased salamanders to come back to life. They remained limp and were subsequently flushed down the toilet by my mildly sympathetic parents. Since this was before my parents decided that, despite their apathy for organized religion, I should have some exposure to it, I’m still not sure who I was praying to.

The conversation took place over AIM. The basic question concerned how one could reconcile a desire to find refuge in prayer with 1. the reality that most prayers are not answered and 2. the absence of any apparent rhyme or reason as to why God would answer some prayers and not others. Out of respect for my interlocutor’s privacy, only my input is included here.

zNomadSun : prayer doesn’t have to include the assumption that someone or something specific is listening and putting your requests on a to-do list
zNomadSun : prayer is, or at least can be, taking the uncertainty and pure potentiality of the future into one’s hands, and submitting one’s hopes and wishes to the infinite and unpredictable forces that will bring it to pass
zNomadSun : because prayers aren’t answered in the same way as orders at a restaurant
zNomadSun : there isn’t a person at the controls of all activity in the universe intervening here-and-there because certain people figured out a way to ask him to

[she asks, in essence, how i think prayer does work, then]

zNomadSun : it doesn’t work; i think, that’s sort of the point i’m making — submitting a wish to the chaos of the universe isn’t going to change the universe’s mind about how to treat you, precisely because the universe doesn’t have a mind
zNomadSun : but rather, prayer is an admission of finitude and humility in the face of a world that is too complex for us to ever wholly grasp or understand, and a future that is always beyond our power to control
zNomadSun : we articulate our hopes, so that they might leave the pure interiority of our minds and come back to us with the worldly affirmation of the spoken word, and we ask that they will be fulfilled, because we know that they cannot be fulfilled through sheer force of will alone
zNomadSun : something else is required: grace
zNomadSun : every success has been achieved thanks in part to factors beyond the control and awareness of the individual who succeeded, and in recognizing that, we admit that we need the help of a power, or powers greater than ourselves, transcendent to human consciousness and intrinsically mysterious — thus, the heavy burden of pure responsibility is lifted from our shoulders, and we can take some solace in the very limitedness that once seemed to be the primary cause of our suffering
zNomadSun : and because we are human beings, always painting the world in the colors of human spirit, the mysterious unfolding of the present into the future stands in relation to us as a force that holds some share of human sentiments, and in constantly providing us with the material by which we synthesize the past with the ever-collapsing present (i.e. a pure, two-fold stream of fresh time and infinite possibility), it connects us to ourselves as creatures always hoping forward, as ekstases carving on surfboards of pure will inexorably down that inexhaustible temporal stream toward infinite) — and whatever we might find in this force of mysterious unfolding that calls out to us with an undeniable demand for deep, devotional regard as sacred, I see no reason to not also call God.
zNomadSun : or, that’s my perspective, anyway
zNomadSun : your mileage may vary

I haven’t taken the time to go back and analyze the extent to which these thoughts might be half-baked, unclear, or incoherent, but they felt valuable enough coming out to share with you.

Any comments appreciated.

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3 Responses to “Prayer”

  1. Al-Kantabi December 3, 2008 at 10:38 pm #

    I like your conception of prayer, Will, I’ve come across similar conceptions put forth by theologians in my wanderings. Prayer’s a complicated thing, it’s something that seems very simple but is invested with so much meaning.

  2. joshua December 27, 2008 at 12:14 am #

    It’s no mistake I was gifted to learn of this conversation. The beauty of life has led me to a mind that eloquently spoke of thoughts that I have seen in my own but have been clouded and uncertain. You have progressed my growth and I thank you for that.

  3. b March 6, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    well said.

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