Friday, February 15, 2008

Prayer Is Odd

The concept of prayer has confounded me for years. Let me be more specific: the idea of praying for something. Meditation makes sense. The idea that one pauses to reflect and clear the mind. The idea of emptying all thoughts and then bringing them back in anew. The idea of repetition, a mantra, to ingrain a mind set or character trait. Beyond that, prayer is a strange action that is more akin to insanity in that you are talking to someone who isn't there from a tangible standpoint. You can believe "It" is there but you can walk into any psych ward and find many people who will tell you of the voices.

For example, you can pray for patience. But what happens when you pray for someone to get well? If the person dies is God not answering the prayer? Were you praying for the wrong thing? Were you not "saintly" enough for God to hear your prayer? The Bible says Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.–Matt. 18:20. But what does that mean with respect to answering prayer?

If prayer is evaluated in hindsight then prayer because utilitarian. By that I mean a vehicle through which objective validation becomes the measuring stick. Prayer should be spritually edifying. If you make it something to prove out, the subjective aspect bears nothing to its need.

Karl Barth notes that it is always better to pray for something, even if you think it might be inappropriate, than not to pray at all. But that points to the idea of prayer as a means of establishing a relationship and in turn the outcome should not matter. Is that the goal: a relationship rather than an answer? In that light prayer does not become something that demands the "Other" respond but rather that the "Other" just be there. This of course begs the question of what said presence may be and how you come to conclude there is presence. But here we have the subjective religious experience in which the participant constitutes the "Other". Even if the qualities given are false, it may not necessarily negate presence but rather substance.

To hear someone say "I prayed wrong" or "I prayed for the wrong thing" is merely stating the fact that one cannot know the outcome of events nor can we change them. Furthermore it explicitly claims we do not know what is best with respect to the world as progress. I admit this implies we exist in the best of all possible worlds and accept that. But doesn't everything imply a foundation of which we presuppose something? In this light, prayer really becomes something that is just as intangible as the "Other". It is subjective in process and outcome. And what then becomes the distinction between the psych patient and the football player taking to himself before the play compared to the parishoner on their knees?

This blog is a great read though sadly not updated for years.

The onus of this word salad are 2 simple songs that I have found puts in the proper state of mind. There are many that do but these are special.

Jars of Clay - Surprise

We are so beautiful when we sleep
Hearts of gold and eyes so deep, deep, deep
But love won't cure the chaos
And hope won't hide the loss
And peace is not the heroine that shouts above the cause
And love is wild for reasons
And hope though short in sight
Might be the only thing that wakes you by surprise
Surprise, surprise

Jars of Clay - Oh My God

Oh my God, look around this place
Your fingers reach around the bone
You set the break and set the tone
Flights of grace, and future falls
In present pain
All fools say, "Oh my God"

Oh my God, Why are we so afraid?
We make it worse when we don't bleed
There is no cure for our disease
Turn a phrase, and rise again
Or fake your death and only tell your closest friend
Oh my God.

Oh my God, can I complain?
You take away my firm belief and graft my soul upon your grief
Weddings, boats and alibis
All drift away, and a mother cries

Liars and fools; sons and failures
Thieves will always say
Lost and found; ailing wanderers
Healers always say
Whores and angels; men with problems
Leavers always say
Broken hearted; separated
Orphans always say
War creators; racial haters
Preachers always say
Distant fathers; fallen warriors
Givers always say
Pilgrim saints; lonely widows
Users always say
Fearful mothers; watchful doubters
Saviors always say

Sometimes I cannot forgive
And these days, mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep
While I lay, I dream we're better,
Scales were gone and faces light
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other
Sometimes I can close my eyes,
And all the fear that keeps me silent falls below my heavy breathing,
What makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder
We all feel the need for wonder
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the thunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give
Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat all the wounds that money causes,
All the comforts of cathedrals
All the cries of thirsty children - this is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers - this is our greatest offense

Oh my God
Oh my God
Oh my God


Unknown said...

I concede that you are confounded, but I don't understand why you believe that prayer is "odd". If you are going to analyze the concept of prayer, it seems that you would base and begin your argument with the source, "It's" instruction on how to pray: "Thy will be done". It's as simple as that. You quote Matthew 18:20 but not Matthew 6?

(1) It is easy (and a bit cheap) to denounce bedside or pre-sports prayer; do you honestly believe that Matt. 18:20 promises eternal earthly life if one prays for it every day? This is not a promise of God, but, using the logic you put forth in your argument, that premise must be true.

(2) If you are going to construct an argument against prayer, why not discuss the Biblical incidents of it and not try to equate a personal "Other" connection with a broad generalization of mental illness? Using your definition of "insanity", speaking on the phone is insane.

(3) You accidentally typed the word "because" instead of "becomes"; should that one sentence negate your whole argument? No, I consider the context put forth and understand the meaning behind what you meant to write. Now it's your turn; build your "strange action" argument considering its Biblical context, not one facet of its earthly use.

(4) "what then becomes the distinction between the psych patient and the football player taking to himself before the play compared to the parishoner on their knees?" -- There is no distinction and why should there be? Prayer is an equal-opportunity pathway, trod by each individual in his/her own way. Surely you are not suggesting that a parishioner's prayer is more important or more "right" than anyone else's. If so, again, read prayer's Biblical context; you might clear up some of that confusion.

B. W. Fullford said...

Thank you for your reply. I'll respond according to your comments.

Paragraph 1:
Hopefully my response will further elaborate on why prayer is odd. With respect to your comment on instruction "thy will be done" it begs the question of why prayer should be more than a simple "thy will be done". If that is all I'm asking for then why get into specifics? Why pray for healing?

1. I'm not sure how you interpreted any denoucing. I merely used specific examples of how people may utilize prayer. I accept these are but a small sampling. Matt 18:20 warrant discusion regarding what is meant by it. What does it mean to be in the midst of them and if it is only 1 person is God not there.

2. This is not an argument against prayer. How did you come to that conclusion? Regarding the "Other", it is critical to prayer that the "Other" is defined. If not the "to whom" of prayer is undefined. If, as you noted, we are to discuss biblical incidents, I must first define the "Other" as the God as defined within the biblical context. What validates that in order for me to take that "leap of faith"? As I note further, that move is subjective and can be validated individually.

With respect to insanity, I would disagree. I can physically pick up the phone. When the voice answers I know it is not mine. If I have a picture phone I can watch the person speak to me. Now we can all be Hume-ian skeptics about this but I am closer to belief that I am not insane if I'm on the phone as opposed to praying. Do we here auditory responses when we pray? If I recorded a prayer and a phone conversation, which would supply me with evidence of an "other" existing? The key word is "tangible" and a phone conversation offers more tangible validation.

3. I'm not sure why you felt the need to even question whether my argument becomes invalid because I used the word "because" instead of "becomes". Seems trivial and insignificant to the discussion.

I believe I have satisfied the strange action position based on the lack of any tangible validation. To elaborate using your example, if I go to the house of the person which I called on the phone and find them there I now have tangible validation. Where is my tangible validation in prayer? Where do I go to validate God?

4. I am not suggesting either is more or less important. I think you completely misunderstood this post. The greater context is defined by the discussion on relationship, a component which you completely avoided. Further, you have not addressed the commonality between the 3 examples nor how the diety would address them. My contention that whether they are answered or not is insignificant as noted by the Karl Barth quote.

Your assumption is that the "Biblical context" is true. If I assume that to be the case I'm still left with the problem of unanswered prayer. Further, there is nothing you stated which compels me to believe that a parishoner on their knees speaking to God is any different than the man in the psych ward speaking to the little blue man on his shoulder. How can you tell him the little blue man doesn't exist?