Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not a trip to fairytale land


Life is short. And fickle, maybe particularly fickle. Circumstances keep reminding me of that fact. Somehow for our faith to be honest we have to accommodate that randomness. People who do what I do often get asked about prayer and particularly about its efficacy. In the short run, the answer is not great; there is not much quid pro quo. Only upon lots of reflection and reorganizing does it come to be good news.

What we get from prayer is God, just that. Honestly that is not what we are always looking for. I am speaking from experience here.

We have all sorts of requests -- prayers for people we love, for jobs and things, for health and safety, for someone to love, for world peace and the end of hunger. There is no end to our intercessions. I often wonder if we need to rethink the whole concept of prayer. For example, what would prayer be like if we tried to pray just to know God, to experience the presence of God or, even better, if we prayed simply to be quiet, to sit in the presence of God? There'd be everything to gain -- like God, for example -- and a whole lot less to lose, less potential for hideous disappointment in the outcome.

But, of course, any kind of praying is infinitely better than not praying. Ann Ulanov, in her seminal book Primary Speech, writes that our praying for others creates an "ocean of connectedness." Somehow I know very deeply what that means: just saying someone's name in the quiet of prayer puts me along side him/her in a way that other thoughts can't quite deliver. It gets me out of myself for a moment, and that is almost always a good thing. I plan to keep that up.

Though I treasure Anne Lamott, I am never quite able to fully embrace her theology of prayer no matter how much I want to. She believes in some ways that I just can't quite manage, but I love one of her sound bytes about prayer. She says that her praying can be summed up like this: "help me, help me, help me, and thank you, thank you, thank you."

Maturity about prayer is adult stuff. I am afraid that many people are disillusioned with religion because they never learned an adult way to pray. The truth is we know that it is not a trip to fairytale land, and we probably need to be as honest about that as our anxiety will allow. In the end, prayer is a relationship with a real deity and with real people in our lives.

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