Sunday, August 03, 2008

Today in church, we did something really great.

We prayed for the guy who shot up the congregation in Tennessee.

I don’t pray often, to be honest. My conception of God is that God is a force not at all unlike gravity, pulling at us all the time and changing the way things behave in ways that are so seamless with our reality that we can be forgiven for missing God’s presence. (Yes, you can argue this one out with me if you wish, but that’s not really the point of this post.)

So when I do pray, I’m pretty aware that I’m talking mostly to myself.

I’m also aware of Robertson Davies’ comment “Prayer is petition, intercession, adoration, and contemplation; great saints and mystics have agreed on this definition. To stop short at petition is to pray only in a crippled fashion. Further, such prayer encourages one of the faults which is most reprehended by spiritual instructors -- turning to God without turning from Self”

But I think I can be aware that I’m talking mostly to myself while at the same time trying to remove myself from selfish concerns. But am I motivated to try to remove my thoughts from selfish concerns by Pride or by wanting to feel good about myself for having done so? Eh… Dunno. Either way it seems like a good practice. And besides, we can’t ever completely leave ourselves out. We can look beyond ourselves to some degree, but we’re kind of stuck in the perspective we’re in. A dog who loves one still expresses his affection as dogs express affection.

Still, even among people who do pray as a regular thing, I don’t think praying for those who attack us is very common, even though the bible pretty much straight up says we should pray for everyone. (Ok, that’s the way I read I Timothy 2: 1-4*, given what jerks most of the biblical kings were.) It has given me great pride in Unitarian Universalism to hear about how forgiving we have been and how we have been reaching out in all directions spiritually, not just the easy ones.

Even though I’m a humanist who doesn’t pray much, I see it as crucial for our own dealing with this tragedy to look to the shooter with compassion in any way we can, prayer included**. When we reach out, to heaven and to one another, and call out to those whose personal concerns are well beyond our own, by the very nature of the act we are increasing our own awareness and growing spiritually. Will compassionate thoughts lead to compassionate action, leading to compassionate acts and feelings on the parts of others, setting off a chain of events that makes the world suck less?

Maybe not, but, hell, let’s give it a shot.


*1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

**Ok, if prayer straight up doesn't work for you spiritually, you don't have to pray. Note again that I stretching the concept of prayer somewhat. But the ideas are still worth contemplating on and considering.


Lilylou said...

This is a terrific post, CC. I love it when you offer your thinking about these kinds of things. Thanks.

fausto said...

Ok, that’s the way I read I Timothy 2: 1-4

Evenmore to the point, there's the old war-horse of Matthew 5:43-47:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy." But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?

Chalicechick said...

Oh, duh. Good call, Fausto.

Thanks, Ms. Kitty.


Anonymous said...

Hey CC,

I think you've hit the nail on the head with this one... I find it especially heartening that we, as a community, have responded so well to this tragedy. It shows me that I'm in the right place...


PG said...

There is a big billboard when you drive south on 59 toward Houston, that says something like "Have You Prayed for Our Nation's Leaders Today?" and Timothy 1: 1-4. I am not sure if it is affiliated with these folks.

L said...

"When we reach out, to heaven and to one another, and call out to those whose personal concerns are well beyond our own, by the very nature of the act we are increasing our own awareness and growing spiritually."

Amen, sister. I think you wrote a beautiful post on the power of prayer.

LinguistFriend said...

CC, this is an interesting essay on an important topic. Fixing significance on 1st Timothy is doubtful in the sense that it is unlikely that it was written by Paul, although it does reflect many of his opinions. I don't like its incidental gay-hatred (chapter 1, 10). I suspect that there are better sources (e.g. Kittel; Fausto's certainly is one), but when one gets into detail in such things as prayer, it is hard to sort out whether one is dealing with older Jewish or Greek, or novel Christian traditions. For instance, as I have pointed out earlier, the Lord's Prayer in Mt. and Luke is thoroughly Jewish, although it is a trademark of Christianity. It is a hard subject, but a very worthwhile one. Thank you.

Chalicechick said...

We've had this argument before LF, so you know I have never understood why on earth we would care which long-dead-person-about-whom-we-know-little wrote words that have inspired people for centuries.

To me the effect of the words, not their source, is the important thing.

PG, I had seen a similar billboard someplace, I think and that's why the words from Timothy came to mind as opposed to Fausto's example which is more on point and better known.


PeaceBang said...

Thank you for a great and heartfelt theological reflection, and BIBLICAL no less! oy! I'm schepping naches!

Chalicechick said...

WASPy girl from McLean isn't entirely sure what that means, though she got the jist from googling.

And I'm glad you liked it.


Comrade Kevin said...

My conception of prayer has changed drastically over the course of my own personal faith journey.

And, like you, I don't do it much, for many of the same reasons you've cited. Prayer has remained one of the big enigmas of faith and mysticism that I've never completely resolved within myself.

Freewheel said...

Have you read this: