While listening to the latest TNT episode with Two Friars and a Fool (TFAAF) on why we should never pray again, I kept thinking over and over to myself that this is such interesting stuff. Just asking the question ‘what is prayer?’ is so much fun. It’s really important stuff to think about, and I love how the guys from TFAAF are deconstructing prayer and asking what it does and how it actually functions in peoples lives. Too many folks just don’t think about this stuff. We should be the answer to our own prayers more often. I agree.
That being said, I’ve got to stick up for prayer and interiors a little bit here.
Now look, full disclosure, I haven’t read the book yet, just listened to the podcast, but I think I get what the TFAAF folks are attempting to do, and I’m all for it. Advocating for a more orthopractic shaped faith is fantastic! We shouldn’t wait around for our wishes to be granted by a magic genie in the sky. I personally love Earthy, radical, immanent, beatitude and justice focused theologies like those found in the Mennonite, Quaker, Franciscan and Liberal Protestant traditions of Christianity. But one common trap that we seemingly can’t avoid—no matter how hard we try—is that when we begin to emphasize one side of a binary, the other side is unfairly, and most times totally, denigrated. I say this because it’s too easily forgotten that with progress inevitably comes pathology. The two are intimately intertwined it seems, just like everything else in the universe I guess…
Which brings me to my two main points:
1) One’s understanding of reality—or what’s ultimately real—just means so much, doesn’t it?
2) Accordingly, if it’s a question of doing something concrete (action) vs. doing something not concrete (praying) that we’re dealing with here, we should at least recognize the presupposition: one thing is real and meaningful (the concrete) and the other thing doesn’t necessarily mean so much.
Not so surprisingly, I’m in agreement with process philosophers, like John Cobb, who argue that the boundary between the physical and mental worlds are much more fluid than many people suppose. I think one who outright dismisses certain types of prayer, such as confession or intercessory, are actually showing their metaphysical cards. If the world functions like a medieval clock, based entirely on pushes and pulls between material bodies, then great! Intercessory prayer is a bunch of mystical hog wash, and you are better off never praying again for one of those few and far between supernatural miracles.
What if God is intimately connected and involved with nature? And what if everything we do (physically AND mentally) makes a difference to us, to the world, and to God?
Now things are interesting again.
I’m continually fascinated by one of the most beautiful insights explored by process-relational thought. It is the idea that our experience of one another is not only mediated by sensory cues. As John Cobb writes so succinctly, “We actually feel the feelings of others much as we feel the feelings of the cells in our own bodies. These relations are not limited to immediate proximity.” As Whitehead would say, we are constantly prehending other people all of the time. We are the observer as well and the observed.
John Cobb continues:
“Modern thinkers still resist the notion of “action at a distance.” But in fact the evidence for this in physics is now beyond dispute. There has long been evidence for this also with regard to human experience. That intercessory prayer can have an effect on someone who is not present does not violate the known facts.”
Cobb’s understanding of prayer is what I tend to hold on to. Namely, that the “function of prayer is opening ourselves to God’s gracious working in our lives and seeking to align our own intentions with God’s call to us.” I’ve written before about how the conscious choices we make really do affect the possibilities that become available to us in any given situation.
Further, in regard to what prayer is/could be, I also really like the idea that the stance of our entire life should be one of constant prayer which, coincidentally, I liken very much to Brother Lawrence’s very immanent Practice of the Presence of God.
Finally, In the interview one of the TFAAF guys mentioned that he tries to refrain from using the phrase ‘I’ll pray for you’ because he sees it as an unnecessary, and most times hollow, replacement for the phrase ‘I love you.’ I thought this was a really sweet sentiment and a great intentional exercise, one that I’ve practiced for a while myself. For me, though, I also substitute the phrase ‘I’m thinking of you’ quite often because, as Richard Lubbock poetically writes in his great essay, “every time we move, OR think, we disturb the whole universe.”
So yeah, I will probably keep praying…as well as thinking, learning, hearing, contemplating, feeling, seeing, sensing, intuiting, and taking account of things, because when we do these psychic or mental activities, we are really doing something (as opposed to doing nothing), and these things do indeed matter (pun intended).
Photo Credit: jharada