Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Praying for Favors

- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I was in church this past Sunday and during the course of the service the congregation was invited to “place their petitions before Almighty God.” Prayers were subsequently offered for the sick and suffering, for this nation and the world, for leaders and those who hold authority over others.

Last Sunday, as these prayers were “voiced” I wondered what it was that people thought they were doing? Were they “praying for favors,” submitting petitions to a distant “Almighty King” capable of either granting or denying the requests? My guess is that this is precisely what many people thought was going on as they “placed their petitions before Almighty God;” but I must say that I was totally unable to identify with this image.

I never imagine “God” to be a distant king who sits on a heavenly throne looking down at lowly subjects as they come begging for favors. Instead, I imagine “God” as an all-abiding, intimate Presence at the heart of everyone and everything that “is.”

I also have another problem with “petitioning God” with prayer requests. In my experience, when people make their divine requests they are often hurt and even angry if “God” doesn’t answer them favorably. They wonder why God ignored or denied their petition?  Did they do something wrong, are they being punished?

On the other hand, as I listened to all those offered prayers last Sunday, I also realized that I didn’t want the prayers to stop because I do believe that praying is important and it makes a difference. I just redefine what praying means.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, has some wise insight about “how” pray works and “why” praying has effects. Rohr suggests that when we move away from an image of God as a distant, controlling power and redefine God as the abiding energy in whom everything and everyone is interconnected, the whole idea of “prayer” takes on a whole new perspective. Rohr further suggests that the discoveries of today’s new scientists who talk about the principle of quantum entanglement may help us get a better idea of what “prayer” does.

All reality is nonlocal, in other words
things can affect one another
despite distances or time space coordinates.
Nature is not composed of material substances
but deeply entangled fields of energy.
The nature of the universe is undivided wholeness.

When we pray for one another, the prayer “disturbs” the entangled field of energy (like throwing a little pebble into a pond as the ripples spread throughout the entire body of water.) “God” is the energy of Universal Love in whom we are all connected. Our prayer is a pebble thrown into that “field” of love.

So yes, I do think we can and should pray for one another and I also believe that our prayers have effects. They stir up the energy, they make a difference and you can be an agnostic and maybe even an atheist and still "pray" for others when you think of prayer in this way.

The ecologist John Muir once said:

Pull on anything at all and
you will find it connected to everything else in the universe.

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