Call this one your surprising (but not really) must-read of the day, Vanderleun on prayer:
For a certain type of extremely stupid smart and educated person, prayer is something to be sneered at their entire life right up to the moment when they see the intergalactic candle snuffer descending on their head or the head of those they love. At this point, it is the rare wiseguy who does not spontaneously discover his or her capacity for prayer. Indeed, it strikes me that it is often the agnostic or the atheist who become the most voluble bargainer with God under unfortunate circumstances. Lord knows, I was.
It is only recently that I’ve come, in my dotage, to see that prayer — even unheard or unanswered — can be a powerful intellectual force in one’s life. And by this I mean prayer in its most personally humiliating and elevating form: down on the knees and speaking out loud. Daily. Very abasing and very uplifting at one and the same time.
For most of the time, answers come there none. But that’s the way of prayer. If prayer were the vending machine of God, we’d spend all our time on our knees between meals and lovemaking and let basic maintenance of roofs and refrigeration go to Hell. Nope, prayer as a constant begets random answers, and not always the straight-forward ones we were looking for, because we are a very simple Smart Monkey.
Indeed, it has occurred to me, in my very dim monkey brain, that prayer can work even if God Himself does not exist. (Yes, He’s just that clever.) Prayer seems to be a need hard-wired into our limited cortex. If you doubt this, please go out, find a war, dig a hole, and sit in it under an artillery barrage for an hour or two. Then come back to continue this discussion.
As I was saying, prayer — with or without God — makes us stronger and our desires and abilities more focussed just by happening. As a result, things you pray for tend to happen to you more often than things you don’t pray for simply because your abilities are more concentrated on the outcome. Pretty clever wiring for a God who does not exist.
Those of us who’ve been reading Vanderleun for a while, can’t be surprised by anything he says, but if you’re not familiar, check out his contribution to last-year’s online retreat.
On a different subject, but a must-read nevertheless, Fr. James Martin writes about Christians and civility:
The Spirit is always at work in the church and in the lives of believers. And while ugly suspicion, rampant mistrust and widespread contumely in the church–especially between warring “factions”–is a continuing scandal, the Spirit moves beyond all that, into the hearts of believers.
It’s Pentecost every day in the church. The Spirit is speaking. But are we listening? Or are we too busy blaming to hear her?