So, on my mind a lot recently has been the meaning and usage of prayer. I’d really like to do an entire project devoted to just prayer and how it is viewed by different people. I have a feeling that the answers would be different even among those attending a single church. Instead of asking everyone I meet, which would be tedious, I’m asking here and there and keeping my eyes and ears open. I have seen prayer as speech and song, heard it described as a solo activity, and seen it done in a large group. I have read a few different takes on what is to be expected of prayer. They boil down to one of the following answers:1)prayer is about maintaining a relationship with God and getting in touch with God’s presence 2)prayers of the faithful are answered, pray and don’t stop, you will get what you ask for. Why is prayer seen in two such vastly different light’s? I don’t know, but I’m watching out for more information along my journey.
Meanwhile, Jesus explained how to pray in the new testament. How would this be expressed if he retold us today? I tried my hand at guessing:
Heaven: The Big Chair
Dear Holy Dad,
Let your kingdom be here with us on earth. We want to do what makes you happy. Give us food each day. Forgive us when we mess up. Remind us to forgive others who mess up. Remind us not to get into precarious situations. Help us when we are in need.
2 Replies to “Lord’s Prayer Rewrite”
I have a huge problem with prayer as option 2. I had a problem with option 2 even when I thought there was a god. It’s a bit presumptuous. Option 2 describes some kind of divine technology. God, in option 2, has no agency. With enough nagging he’ll do whatever you like. When I believed in a god the problem I had with option 2 was that god is no longer omnipotent and he lacks free will: the human with the most faith can make him dance like a puppet.
Very few people really like to go that far. So the interpretation of prayer I’ve heard offered most frequently is similar to option 2 (call it option 2*), only god gets to have a say in the outcome. Please see the onion for how that goes (http://tinyurl.com/23schj7).
Brushing aside the problem of evil raised by the Onion with option 2*, there are further problems. Option 2 isn’t a divine technology so much as it’s a human technology. It’s this handy tool by which those of us with privilege can blame those who lack privilege for their crappy situation. It lets us avoid responsibility to do all those Jesusey things like healing sick and feeding the poor. It let’s us victim-blame. Because if all those good-for-nothing poor people just prayed harder, god would give them money! And if all those sick people prayed harder they’d just get better and we wouldn’t have to have any discussion of fixing the healthcare system. If we prayed hard enough, we just plain old wouldn’t need one. And we’d just be enabling people’s lack of faith if we helped them, so we should just do nothing and hope people learn to pray.
Option 2 is deeply flawed and runs counter to Jesus’ central mission, what with all that love thy neighbor, sermon on the mount stuff he’s always going off about.
And you never get to option 3 because no one much likes to talk about it. Pretty much no one brings it up but Jesus and atheist activists. Matthew 6:5 describes the prayer we see the most: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” Again, prayer is a human technology, not a divine technology. Prayer is a political tool that has nothing to do with god. Prayer is a cheap signal. For zero cost, I can convince you of my devoutness by praying in public. I can pray for things I could care less about but that I think will resonate with my audience. I can convince you I am part of your religious tribe and am therefore moral (unlike all those other people who heed Jesus’ instruction to pray privately and therefore are clearly moral reprobates).
I think prayer is a cognitive exercise, close to your option 1, but not quite. I don’t think there’s a god to get close to. If you’re a deist it certainly gets you closer to that je ne sais quoi that you cast as god. Maybe think of it as wisdom-seeking meditation? Just after his what not to do (option 3), Jesus gives you this (Matthew 6:6) “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Prayer as described by Jesus is a really useful process akin to meditation or self-therapy. What do you pray about? Stuff that’s bugging you, people you care about, issues you care about, etc. It lets you give yourself exposure-therapy-lite for your fears. It helps you be mindful of the things you value. It lets you knock ideas around in your head that are of concern for you in the now, which might bring you closer to finding practical solutions. As a process it gives you time and space to collect your thoughts. And so on.
You’ll note that the reward is unspecified. It is not, as in option 2, god doing whatever it was you told him to do for you. Nor is the reward, as in option 3, prestige and political goodwill from constituents impressed by religious theater. There is simply some unspecified reward. That reward could be peace, understanding, a few baby steps towards dealing with some deep seated trauma, a chance to collect your thoughts, a few minutes of rejuvenating procrastination, or something as simple as nice memories that drifted in when you thought to pray for some long-lost childhood friend.
*A NOTE TO OTHER READERS *
Elizabeth references The Onion, which is something of a joke site. The link in the above comment shouldn’t be taken as an actual news article. It is written as such to make a point.
Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your thoughtful comments. It’s definitely an interesting way of describing my ‘option 2’- as technology. I can see it causing difficulty if we all just thought of God as a vending machine we had to jiggle for a soda. It does seem like few people and even fewer clergy-people actually see ‘option 2’ as the right way to understand prayer. As you point out it’s can be rather scapegoat inducing. A lot of what you wrote resonates with me.
I don’t visit the Onion too often. The page you linked is fairly heavy handed but the point is relevant. How does one explain a good God saying no? It’s definitely something I haven’t found a satisfactory answer for yet.