Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Praying for rain: why pray for things?

Out the workroom window. Pouring. And kept on all night. A good solid downpour, soaking deep into the soil. Just what we needed, and started about 1/2 an hour after I prayed the Votive Collect for rain. 

Emily Dickinson, #1235

Like Rain it sounded till it curved
And then I new 'twas Wind —
It walked as wet as any Wave
But swept as dry as sand —
When it had pushed itself away
To some remotest Plain
A coming as of Hosts was heard
It filled the Wells, it pleased the Pools
It warbled in the Road —
It pulled the spigot from the Hills
And let the Floods abroad —
It loosened acres, lifted seas
The sites of Centres stirred
Then like Elijah rode away
Upon a Wheel of Cloud.


Look for my upcoming 2-part thing for the Remnant on "Praying for things".

Basically, just approaching two questions:

How do we know our prayers are efficacious? If I pray for rain and it rains, doesn't that just mean that rain was coming anyway?

And what are we to think when there is no apparent response to prayer? Or worse, what are we to think when we pray to avoid some bad thing and it happens anyway? How does the problem of evil relate to prayer?

And, bonus round: what's prayer really for, anyway? Why pray at all, since God knows everything and already knows what we need?

Most of the time, in our degenerate times, if people think of prayer at all they either have some vague idea about it, usually derived from nonsense New Age rubbish, that it's "Just talking to God," as though he's just some guy down the pub; or they just think that God is there to be asked for things, like a divine version of Amazon.com.

This rather raises the question of what on earth nuns and monks do all day. When you ask them they say, "We pray." Yeah... but ... all day? Seriously? You don't run out of things to say? Prayer for most people is a matter of listing things to ask for. The Churched will perhaps add lists of things they think God wants to hear about their sins and failings. Most of this, as C.S. Lewis said, is "parrot talk" - reciting things they vaguely remember being told God wants to hear.

So, what DO monks and nuns do all day? What does it mean to spend a lifetime pursuing union with God in prayer? How do you get from the shopping list kind of prayer, or rote recitation of vocal prayers (a good thing, btw, and a necessary start) to the Ecstasy of St. Teresa?

Even a very little acquaintance with the writing of the saints on mysticism will tell you that there's a good deal more going on with them and prayer than most of us are being told. There does seem to be some huge secret or mystery about it that we're no longer being told about.

If mysticism is all based on prayer, then there has to be more to it than the parrot-talk. So, what is prayer, really?


Here's a tease:

"In our better moments, we can see by looking back in our own lives how something that might have seemed bad at the time might have worked out to make things better, to make us better. So we extrapolate from that and say that even though we don’t know the logic of the greater good that comes from this evil, God does. Our answer is arithmetical, and God’s knowledge defies all our linear, merely arithmetical logic. 
"If we believe in God at all, and if we believe about Him what the Church tells us is true, that He is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, then it can’t be otherwise since there is nothing “random” in His universe. The fact that He hears and answers prayer, all of which He Himself inspires in the first place, follows necessarily from His nature, revealed to us in Christ. 
"We are told to be confident in prayer, to come to Him in all necessities. But is this all prayer is? What if prayer for intentions, our own or those of others, were only step one in a much larger and richer divine scheme to bring us to Himself, in fact, to transform us into Himself? A daring thought."


Fr PJM said...

Some gifts God has arranged to give, from all eternity arranged to give, in answer to our prayers, which, if we don't offer those prayers, we don't get.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Thanks Father, yes. That's it.

Another point about prayer that I think I didn't pay enough attention to in the piece was that even the desire to pray, even the little prompting one gets to do something simple like make the Sign of the Cross when passing in front of a church, or the little urge to say a Hail Mary when you see an ambulance or police car, even those little bitty things - are all the prompting of the Holy Ghost. He's whispering to you all the time, "Just say a little prayer now. Say, 'Jesus I trust in you.' or 'O God come to my assistance.'" All those little moments when you turn your mind to Him are Him speaking to you. We can't even want something good without His help.