I know it's hardly the most Christian-friendly let alone Catholic-friendly paper but I am rather fond of The Guardian. It's easy to read, the Comment & Debate section is...interesting plus it's the only big paper I can actually manage the crossword in. (Doesn't say much for their compilers now does it?) But I was flicking through their website and an article popped up in their comment section entitled What does prayer achieve? by Andrew Brown. Being young, blonde and niave I was hoping to read an article extolling the beautiful depths of prayer, the faith-building benefits of surrendering yourself to the Almighty...hmmm...not so much!!
thing whether it be for yourself or someone else. And yes we often pray with an intention (or two...or three...or four...) and yes we pray in faith that God hears and answers us even if we can't see it immediately. But, more importantly, that word achieve makes it seem as though prayer is all about us which, of course, it's not. When you pray you humble yourself, completely and utterly, before God and implore His mercy...it is not our actions that accomplish or warrant anything. What we do doesn't cause a person to get what they want, we don't achieve or earn the graces we are given, they are all amazingly generous gifts from God. Some may then wonder why we bother getting on our knees each and every time. But what could be better in times of trouble, in times of prosperity and joy, even in times of total and utter boredom than to turn to a father that loves you more than the brain can ever fathom? I mean God knows us better than we know ourselves, so who better to talk to? And let's not glaze over the point that there is no one who deserves more praise that the person who has given us everything.
So...moving on from the title...(and I probably ought to recognise that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an expert on anything Christian so my opinions are just that, opinions and not founded in or on anything but my pea brain...) Brown goes on to talk about prayer in the context of life expectancies and medical intervention. Trying to quantify the effects of prayer...I suppose it's a bit of a futile exercise because they're never the same. We are individuals and we are treated as such...what helps one person is not going to work for the next. Okay, so we've probably all prayed for a miracle at least once, but, again, what we pray for is a blessing on that person, for them to feel God's healing touch. There's a thousand and one ways in which that can happen. Sometimes that is through a miraculous cure, sometimes that is, in fact, through medicine (God can act through any medium after all) and, more often than not I think, it is through finding your strength, your courage, your hope in someone else. It is about giving yourself over to someone more powerful, more wonderful, more merciful than yourself and trusting them with everything not just extending your life ten years. If you have that kind of relationship woth God, a true communion with Him then it doesn't matter what day you're number's up. You're always looking forward, always looking higher to something better, something bigger. Ten years here in nothing compared to what awaits us.
Brown proceeds to go on to say that by praying for someone else, especially someone who is an atheist, you are merely making a show of yourself, perhaps even doing it just to get a reaction. To be fair there are quite possibly some who do do that...but I don't think that the majority of folk see it as something so superficial. I think they do it out of a deep sense of compassion. Jesus told us to love our neighbour, how better to love them than to commend them to you Father in heaven above yourself?
Like I said before I am no expert on prayer...or anything really. I can waffle on to you about corneal vascularisation and the perils of poor contact lens hygiene but other than that I am an utter novice in all things...and I'm quite happy to remain that way. The day I think I know it all, the day I think I know how to pray and exactly what I will accomplish by my puny little attempts at it is the day I am furthest from God altogether. Brown's article was a bit of an eye-opener, but only because it showed me how...distorted some people's view of Christian life and spirituality is. Prayer is never a transaction. Prayer is not human. A very wise person told me once that we don't instigate prayer, God does. He reaches down, calling us to Himself and we (if we can and/or want to) respond to that. God makes great...allowances for our human fragility, comes to our level, and not in a resentful or condascending way, but out of immense love to draw us into His divine life. And do we achieve anything by answering this call? No. I don't think so. We are merely given one of the biggest gifts we could ever hope to catch a teeny weeny glimpse of, God Himself.