Saturday, July 19, 2014

Praying for peace, for faith, even in the absence of it

I recently received the following question via Facebook chat:
I was scrolling through my news feed and saw a comment on one of your posts. I'm having an existential crisis over it. This is not a new thing; I have one just about every day. Ha. Anyway, here's the comment: "'I remember hearing similar prayers 30+ years ago' [for peace in the Middle East]. And that shows the power of prayer." So, people have been praying for peace between Israel and Palestine for 30+ years and they are no where near peace. How does that show the power of prayer? To me that shows the pointlessness of prayer, in terms of actually changing things in the world. It makes the pray-er and pray-ee feel better, but that's about it. I guess that's something. I don't really think it does much else though. Does it?? Am I asking the wrong question? I am failing at being faith-full. See? Crisis. Sigh.

Here was my response (which I first attempted using Facebook's new audio voice message system):

I have a friend who is a philosophy professor who is an avowed atheist who likes to say things like that. My response to him on that thread is what I really believe: Prayer is a strange thing, but who knows how much worse the world would be without our participating in the sustaining energy of God through our prayers.
And second, you aren't failing at being faithful, you are being faithful by asking good questions. Like the Psalmists.

Here was the reply:

PC, for a long time now I have had a secret fear that maybe I'm really an atheist in denial. That is how strong my doubts have been. I read your response last night, then took the dogs for a good long walk, and then read through the compline service in the hymnal. And I realized that I'm not an atheist. I had a moment of clarity (how very Indigo Girls of me, haha). Anyway, thank you.

I think our chat illustrates how rich brief faith conversations can be, and how multivalent, encompassing such wide-ranging media as the hymnal (which we give as a gift to those being baptized at our Easter Vigil), the gathering power of the daily prayer offices to lift our hearts in prayer even when we wonder whether we have the capacity to pray; the importance of silence while walking the dog; the enduring capacity of great music to focus our thoughts; and the ongoing nature of such conversations.

We are all always building up or tearing down the faith of others. Faith is always being given, always under construction, always seeking out and finding us. It is never finished.

I'd also add that if prayer is anything at all, it is probably everything. So my atheist friend is correct to believe that in the absence of God, prayer is nothing. In the presence of the God we know in Christ, prayer is truly everything, even as it remains, on another level, a mystery in which we participate.

Because prayer is the basis for Christ's relationship to the Father, and all our prayers really do is gather us up into the ongoing conversation going on between the Father and the Son. The continuing presence of the Spirit among us in the enlivening power of this ongoing conversation. For this reason prayer really is everything. And because we know what that Son is like, we know he is lamenting to his Father, and singing out in the words of the Psalmist,

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May they prosper who love you." (Psalm 122:6).

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