This is the third and last reflection on issues that have come to mind during recent forum conversations. It would be, as I thought, by far the most controversial, yet, as I have worked through it in my mind, I find it gentle and not threatening in the least now. I suspect it will appear so at first glance, and may be why when I raised it a couple of times, no one came forward to debate the point. It requires a deeper thought I think to come to a proper conclusion, at least that is how I found it to be.
The issue of prayer invariably comes up in that stupid discussion about Mary and the saints. Some Protestants inevitably start the argument that Roman Catholics, and some others, pray to Mary and various saints. Of course it is easy to explain this, since we know this as intercessory prayer, prayer to those we believe in heaven, asking them to pray for us. We are doing no more than anyone who says, “please pray for my father who is having an operation today.”
I suspect that those persons who continually bring this up, know as much, but they perhaps are as bound by dogmatic pronouncements in their faith traditions as some of the rest of us. In any case, I began to really think about this and came up with a rather frightening realization.
First let us state what we believe about God. Most all of us would agree that God is omnipotent, fully capable of doing pretty much anything he wishes. We additionally believe that God is omnipresent, available everywhere to everyone, aware of all that transpires in his universe. Third we believe that God is omniscient. We don’t all agree what this means. Some believe that God knows everything that each of us will do, and knows the outcome of history and how exactly it will come about. Others of us believe that God knows all possible choices and in combination with all other choices made by all other people and creatures, knowing every possible outcome.
This is what I believe, since I cannot reconcile the former definition with free will. God doesn’t know which of the choices I will make, but is aware of all the choices I have, and how all would play out in an infinite interplay with all other choices. That is a mind boggling conclusion, but one no doubt God is up to.
If you add in that God is not subject to time and space, then in a real sense, God knows what choices we have made before we make them, so the first definition is also true. Confused enough?
We all believe that God is ultimate goodness, and makes decisions based on what is for the best for us and for his ultimate plans. That is if you believe that God micro manages things. That is an entirely other post of course, does God actually grant or refuse our prayers? Most people would say yes, I tend to think not. But as I said, that is for another day.
The issue before us is what value is prayer and what does it say about what we think about God. If we pray, and ask others to pray for us, we must admit that we think that God is persuaded by prayer. That presupposes that God isn’t aware of all things and must be enlightened. If not that, then God must at least be influenced by numbers of requests for the same thing sometimes. Sometimes he clearly is unmoved by numbers as well, as when hundreds and perhaps thousands pray for rain. But then is he persuaded by the quality of the person praying? Such that the Blessed Mother and other saints are more helpful that say Joe the Plumber? (Joe of course may be a saint, I’ve just so far seen no evidence of this.)
Some would say, that prayers are denied when God finds them in conflict with greater plans of his. This but kicks the can down the road if you will. It is a convenient way out of the dilemma, but doesn’t answer the philosophical issue.
The simple point is that the very concept of prayer of any kind suggests that God is manipulatable, or possessing of less than full information. And that goes against the very beliefs we hold about Him. If he is all good, all knowing, all powerful, and ever present, then he needs no cheering gallery of beggars to persuade him to answer any prayer. He simply does so upon standards that we cannot penetrate.
Does this mean that asking our loved ones for pray on our behave, or those of saints, or even our own efforts are wasted? Are we engaged in a useless, illogical practice?
It might seem so, and that is depressing indeed. That would be the logical conclusion. But logic, I find is not always truth, or at least not the entire truth of the matter. Upon deeper thought, I think there is indeed efficacy for prayer.
In order to see it, we must flip the equation. We must stop thinking of prayer as our means of trying to convince God to do our bidding, or to alert him to our needs. God needs no convincing, and he knows our needs “before we do.”
No prayer is not for God, it is for us. Prayer is offered to us as a means for us to clearly understand that we are not in charge of things, we are subject to something ever so much greater than ourselves, and that is God. We, no matter our age, our wealth, our position, our intelligence, are called upon to bend the knee of our hearts, and in all humbleness ask God to help us.
Moreover, prayer serves to help us unite with the infinite metaphysical world in which God inhabits. It gives us the opportunity for brief moments in time to see ourselves as part of the wholeness of creation, a small piece of an infinitely large puzzle. We lose ourselves in God’s embrace, finding peace and solace and removal from the cares of this world. God offers us prayer as a means of connection.
That, I conclude is its real purpose, and it’s real value. Some will still be dismayed no doubt, but I find this frankly all the more sacred. It changes my prayer to one of thanksgiving and the desire to uphold all of mankind, all of creation in the cosmic wonder of this God who is our Creator, friend, parent, comfortor, commiserator, upholder, and so much else.
And while you’re at it, pray for me. I’m preparing a meditation for Good Friday on Christ’s next to last statement from the cross, “I am thirsty.” Oh and ask that I receive wisdom. That is what I desperately need today as I research and prepare to write. .