Saturday, September 22, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 22, 2018 - The Language of Prayer

Prayer is a confusing exercise sometimes. For the non-religious, it conjures up thoughts of compelled speech, rote memorization and even banging one’s head against a wall. We hear scriptural ideas like “ask and ye shall receive,” but how’s that working for you?
The likely truth is that what often comes out of our mouths is not what’s coming from our hearts. That’s where the confusion originates. I’d guess it’s not only confusing for us, but for God, too. For how can a prayer be answered when we often send such conflicting messages? How can we get that million we are asking for when our hearts are projecting a lack of self-worth? And how can we have faith in the act of prayer when it seems those prayers are rarely, if ever answered?
I can’t say that I fully believe in the idea that all we have to do is ask and what we want will be given to us. At least not in ways that we understand. What of a little boy whose mother is dying? He prays and prays, but still his mother is taken from him. Should be he compelled to believe that all prayers are answered? Should he be made to feel that he somehow did it wrong or simply wasn’t a good enough little boy to deserve his prayers be heard?
This is a problem that I, and so many others, wrestle with on a continuing basis. And frankly, I don’t have the answer for it. Greater things are at work than any of us has the capacity to understand. We are encouraged not to ask why because it is an unanswerable question.
Yet I still believe in prayer. Because I believe that we have a power within us so compelling, so connected to the web of all reality, that to imagine we are not in possession of a direct line is the same as imagining being cast adrift in space. Maybe that’s just my faith talking. I don’t know. But I feel that all reality is connected. And just like a spider web, the plucking of one tiny thread in one out of the way corner by even the smallest versions of life makes the whole thing vibrate.
So what shall we do with this power? Especially since it seems that we love to ask for things which do not appear to be deliverable. First, be at ease with our limitations. Find a way to relax about things over which we have no power to change so that we enhance our power to change the things we can.
To me God is listening and willing to speak to us in whatever language we choose. I see no difficulty in the idea that traditional Christian prayers are equally powerful tools for communicating with the divine as tarot cards, tea leaves or symbols in the clouds. If God is listening at all, then It is listening to everything. Perhaps God is just waiting for us to choose a language through which It can speak to us. Waiting for us to refine our definitions to the point that we actually hear through our symbols and signs. Perhaps there is so much love out there just waiting for us to grasp it.
But the one, overarching idea which seems to be available to us all is knowledge. So the question I would ask God if It were a being standing in front of me is, “What would you have me know?” Because then I might understand a bit more about why that little boy is motherless, or why the million dollars I asked for years ago isn’t filling my bank account right now. Maybe there is a perfectly good reason for suffering and I just can’t comprehend it.
God would likely know the source of my suffering or the scope of my desire. Also, God would know the shortest pathway to my relief and fulfillment. Would the answer come through direct speech? Likely not. But if I remain open, if I hold the question of “What would you have me know?” deeply in both my mind and my heart, the answer will probably come. It might arrive at my feet in ways that I might never have expected and faster that I’d believe possible.
But the most compelling form of prayer I can imagine is likely not a prayer at all, but the most loving act imaginable: Simply listening.

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