I’m interrupting my Go Deep Or Go Home Series as the other night I found myself laying awake praying and doing so with focus. For a guy who likes his sleep this was beyond unusual. I had even gone to bed tired and then transgressed one of my golden rules. I opened an email from a person who emails me occasionally and, unexpectedly, found myself with a lady immersed in a family crisis involving long term and potentially terminal illness. I was surprised and maybe even mildly shocked, so, I found myself praying. I later discovered I was in good company for around the world “a whole host of rosary-sayers, Koran-prayers, Bible blessers, yogis, shamans and even this morning waitress” were “in on the act”.
God answers prayers in his own way, not ours.Mahatma Gandhi
Having prayed I eventually dropped off but not before I had asked myself a lot of questions, many repeated from previous occasions. You see I believe as a process, as a mechanism, prayer works and should be part and parcel of the normal life. I have done it, not always frequently, for years. There are times I have chosen not to do it because my reason for doing it has seemed to lack integrity. I have gone about it a number of ways. I’ve experimented. I’ve had some success and some failure. But, hands up, I confess that after years I probably understand prayer less now than I ever have. It’s a real “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” moment.
Think. Whilst claiming exclusivity, all religions pray to the Divine. Different names but still the Divine. All believe they have exclusive access. For me this is beyond lunacy reducing God to something far less than any of them want God to be. But, then who am I to question another persons religion?
Then there’s that thing where people pray when in a crisis. It’s like humans are hard wired to pray when the chips are down. When desperation sets in. Others pray daily. Many have a ritual that their particular form of religiousness puts upon them. Times, mats, beads, sounds, standing, kneeling, prostrate. Whatever, prayer seems to happen at some point in most people’s lives and everyone seems to have a rudimentary idea of how to go about it. There’s an instinct.
Ok so far?
Then I have this observation. For most people, comforting as it may be to think the All Mighty has been involved in their situation, prayer just doesn’t normally work. Harsh? Well I make that comment based on observation over a long period. I’ve attended varying prayer gatherings as both participant and as observer. I have watched people petition their concept of the Ultimate Being with request, in urgency, in frustration and then return, same time, same channel, the following week, to repeat the process. And nothing changes accept maybe the prayer which loses some of it’s initial passion and ‘God heal this person’ becomes ‘God guide the doctors hands’ becomes ‘God help the medicine work’ becomes ‘God comfort this person in their time of distress’. Does a reduction of the request make it more likely God will intervene? Or does every reduction reduce the size of our God?
As said I don’t understand and I think something has gone wrong. If the medicine works maybe it was always going to work and declaring “God heard me” is only filling my need for comfort and security. It’s no proof of a relationship we may imagine we have.
I know now, Lord, why you uttered no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?C.S.Lewis
Finally, there’s the ultimate defence of one’s position and interaction with the Divine. The assure declaration that God’s failure to act on my behalf and grant my prayer is in fact God hearing my prayer and, lovingly and wisely, answering ‘No’. If that sort of thought makes you feel good, reassures you and affirms your place in relation to the Universe, well, bless you. For me the absence of an answer, be it ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is not an answer. Think, a parent doesn’t establish that a child shouldn’t have or do something by ignoring the child. I mean, without an answer the child could just as likely go off and do that thing. The responsible parent explains why we don’t jump from heights with cardboard wings tied to us so the child knows it is not a safe or desirable thing to do.
Which all brings us to relationship and here I’ll stop until another letter.
Yours, still searching,