Prayer and Reassurance

One of the things that has always puzzled me is the need many people have to be reassured that the community prays for them and their intentions. Not only that, but pray in a way they have specified. Now, while I understand devotion to a particular saint or to the Rosary, say, as a form of prayer, I would still want to insist that prayer itself is bigger than personal preference or devotion, bigger than any sacramental, no matter how good or holy. It is also, very definitely, not magic. God does not need certain formulae or rituals to agree to our requests. He knows what is good for us, and his love for us is unchanging. He likes us to bring our concerns and worries to him because what he desires is us, in all our mucky imperfection — everything implied in our being children of God — but superstition plays no part in that. We cannot, as it were, bend God to our will by our words. Love alone has the power to change things, and it is God’s weakness that he loves us infinitely.

Not an infantile relationship

Being children of God doesn’t mean being infantile in our relationship with him. Most of us have known the relationship with our own parents change over time, from the absolute dependence of babyhood, through the companionable adult years, to the caring roles we assume as our parents grow older and frailer. With God we never assume a caring role, but friendship with God is something we do strive for: a loving adult relationship. 

First steps in prayer

Our first steps in prayer are probably rather noisy. The analogy with babyhood is almost painfully accurate. We chatter away, merrily ‘ear-bashing’ God, bawling out our demands and frequently sulking when we don’t get what we want: God doesn’t listen to me; he never answers my prayers; I’m not going to talk to him or believe in him any more. Some of us never get beyond that stage. Hopefully, however, we shall mature and grow in grace and experience, then our prayer tends to become quieter. It is less about us and our wants, more about listening and simply being with God. Inevitably, wonder begins to take the place of preoccupation with our own concerns. A friendship develops; and as it deepens, so does our trust and acceptance. Friends don’t need many words, often none at all. The understanding is mutual. One of the amazing things about this kind of friendship is that it draws others in. The circle becomes wider and wider, as it were, to embrace first this person, then that, and ultimately, one hopes, the whole world. That is Christian prayer in operation, the prayer Christ prays unceasingly to the Father and into which we are drawn.

What reassurance do we need?

With such a powerful prayer as this, do we need the reassurance of certain formulae and rituals? I’d say not not, but we must remember we don’t all receive the same grace or in the same way. Those who use our prayerline receive a little generalised message saying we will pray for them, but those who email us in other ways or tweet or message us usually don’t — if we responded to all of them individually, there would be days we had no time to pray! So, please be reassured that your requests for prayer are acted upon by us and, more importantly, heard by the Lord himself. He will answer as and when he chooses. Trust Him.

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Superstitious Prayer and Lack of Trust

For many years our community has maintained a 24/7 prayerline here. It is well publicized, and, on the whole, I think it has worked well, allowing people to ask for prayer (anonymously if they wish), at any time of day or night. We are scrupulous about reading every request and faithfully praying for all who ask. Our prayerline sends back an automated message assuring people of this.

I have remarked before that we are increasingly seeing people sending in prayer requests and asking — demanding might be a more accurate word — a personal response or ‘proof’ that we are praying for them. How does one prove prayer, I wonder. We are also finding that more and more people don’t bother with the prayerline but telephone instead, often forgetting the time differences between, say, the UK and the USA, or the demands of the monastic time-table; or they send messages via Twitter or Facebook, or add prayer requests to posts about entirely different subjects; or they append another request to the automated response of our prayerline and whizz it back to us. None of this would matter very much — we try to pray for everyone, no matter how the request comes to us — except for one thing. We simply can’t respond to everyone individually, and the anger some display when we can’t or don’t makes me wonder whether the ‘lazy askers’ are in fact dealing in superstition, not prayer.

Prayer is about trust. It is about inviting God into various situations and trusting him to act, or not act, as he sees best. Superstition is about trying to control God: to force him to act in accordance with our will. Put like that, one can see what a silly notion it is; but, sadly, I think that is how many people view the prayer of intercession. And superstition, of course, has its own rules. Get someone to pray for you who wields influence with God, but don’t ask a saint because saints can’t be controlled any more than God can. Ask a monk/nun instead: they may not have much more influence with God than I do, but at least they will do my (the asker’s) bidding and be persistent. I exaggerate, of course, but superstition is not something we want to become involved in, and I think we are right to have a few rules of our own about how we deal with such requests.

When people ask us to pray that they win the Lottery or marry a beautiful wife or whatever, we pray for them but we don’t presume to prescribe the details to God. He knows what their real need is, and we can safely leave the outcome of the Lottery or the marriage proposal to him. That is the difference between prayer (trust) and superstition (lack of trust), between recognizing God’s holiness and showing contempt for him. We pray for everyone, as I said, and no matter how the requests come to us or how oddly they read, we will always pray because the person who made them has been brought to our notice for a reason.

So, if you are disappointed that we haven’t responded personally to a request for prayer that you have sent in, please be reassured. You are being asked to trust because you, too, are involved in the prayer we make. It isn’t something we do on your behalf; it is something we draw you into, because the prayer must ultimately be your own. We are your companions in prayer, nothing more, nothing less.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail