A life in prayer may not be as appreciable as living a life as a form of prayer.
There are problems with the current practice of prayer. It is indicative of a flawed philosophy behind it. This exploration of these issues seeks to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters.
The modern practice of prayer is problematic. Those who pray occasionally, once a week, daily, and many times through out the day have compartmentalized prayer into moments of varying duration. Prayer has been slowly ritualized in our society into a script of words, a taking in of breathes, a coming together of hands, a bending of knees, a studied silence or reflection. Prayer has stopped being a moment that asks everything of us to a moment where we offer the choreography of a small repertoire of gestures, symbols, and acts.
It seems that the way that prayers are used in our society, if and when they occur, appear to dilute their importance. The power of prayer may be called forth to resolve a war or to save a life but more often than not it has been summon forth to handle an array of lesser, more mundane acts including exams, job interviews, wagering, getting an engine to turn, and summoning forth the strength for small physical feats. This final matter can include finding the strength for carrying groceries, batting a softball, dealing with difficult people, and exercise.
This may not be true for all religious people but it is true for many and more importantly this kind of prayer crosses all religions and even affects those who have no religion. Even secular people suddenly burst into prayer for example when they want their favorite team or player to win a game.
There is also for many the non-prayer that is the prayer equivalent including much of the meditation exercises popular with people who have long moved past traditional western mainstream religions. Even the connection from mind, body, and soul to the universe for some practitioners often ironically sidetracks everything else (the actual universe) on its way to the universe as a broad concept. Mediation becomes escapism and a stress releaser. This kind of prayer thus subsumes important matters in service of clearing the mind, bringing calm, and alleviating minor aches and pains. Important matters should be at the center of this meditation and for many who have not corrupted the practice it still is in its own way.
While there are problems with the current practice of prayer, it is indicative of flaws within the philosophy that is behind it which often has little to do with the ideals religions have to offer. It should be said that the issue here is more tinged by the limits of omission than the expansiveness of inclusion. There may be nothing wrong in arguing that one prays for everything no matter how significant or insignificant including an exam. The logic is that everything in one way or another leads to one’s spiritual center. In fact, looking at the way the philosophy of many people deals with insignificant creatures sheds light on the issue. That which brought forth the Earth brought forth the ant too.
Many an animal rights activist has this mentality and refuses to harm a fly and when they do so inadvertently or step on an ant there is the tinge of regret. The life of that creature flashes before them. An unspoken prayer for that spirit and for themselves may move through their consciousness and disappear in a manner of seconds. It is in fact very hard to coexist with many of the smaller creatures of the Earth and that coexistence has to be carefully weighed.
Man rules the kingdom of other creatures whether they want to or not. Even the house that is over run and caters to cats for example is a place where other animals are not allowed. For sanitation and health reasons roaches and mice are subject to a kind of sanctioned genocide in our society. The food bought for that cat along with that bought for the owner often means that another animal was destroyed to create it. If every living thing takes on an equal value than replacing the meat of the murdered animal with the leaves, seeds, flowers and products of dead vegetation can be just as problematic.
Then there is the matter of science and how everything has cells or even tinier organisms that could be alive. There are religious orders who are concerned with this and each day as microscopes and scientific knowledge grow more powerful, the more they have to worry about. One could starve or literally eat dirt like many did in the past but the loss or weakening of one’s self helps preclude one’s self from continuing to help others and thus the societal good is affected. The calculus is clear. One must sacrifice something for the public good. It is about doing so with honor and respect.
The problem is that this kind of reflection to this level is not often made. The sacrifice of the ant is at best discussed by environmentalists defending the ecosystem. The butterfly effect is mentioned when one is doing a formally announced act of service or giving. This reflection is done to illustrate the collective community of humankind. One does not use this reflection on everything done each day and more importantly to everything included in prayer. What is the butterfly effect of praying to win the game? What ecosystem is affected by praying to pass the tough exam? The connection with the collective community of humankind is not made when praying for strength to carry the groceries. Even further, none of these connections and reflections is inferred, assumed, or seemingly necessary to the person praying.
If one were to make a list of everything prayed for over time one would see a list that on balance favors athletics events, personal tests, and trivial matters and not larger issues such as world peace. What is the importance of the answered prayer of a hit in a baseball game or a touchdown in a football game years ago? Church leaders even support this behavior by offering public blessings and invocations before the games. Church leaders may support world peace and offers blessings and invocations and prayers for it too but not only are these prayers not answered but the followers who often did pray for the game did not follow their leaders in praying for peace. The consequences of this unanswered prayer are more important than the course of sports history and academic career history.
The omission of the significant is a statement of what is important to us and perhaps the importance we really give prayer. If we thought prayer was good enough for world peace we would have resolved it collectively long ago. Prayer is often what we do when we are helpless or no longer in control of the situation. All pencils are down. I have done what I can in the time allotted. It is up to the scan tron machine to do the right thing. I would bat it down the middle if I were you but there is no time now for me to begin a baseball career to replace you so I offer this prayer for you and the team.
A good score or hit is possible and once it is done it is done. We can pray against war and peace and that our leaders and soldiers will make a good decision but we know it is not as simple as a person bubbling the right circle or hitting a ball with a bat. We know that peace is neither sudden or everlasting if it should occur. Yet the games stop and all else is put aside in a moment (often in the shadow of an upcoming or present tragedy) when we all realize we can come together and do something and we all pray and we do much more than pray. That is the problem with not praying. Praying may not always be the solution but it can be the start of the solution.
This exploration of these issues has sought to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters. If the power of prayer is such than it can change the course of human events than perhaps it is wiser to use it to change something more than the course of a game or any other concern that is relatively small in nature. One should not call forth prayer because the context like that of a church calls it forth artificially. One should not call forth prayer for any enterprise they could do on their own alone. Praying in the limited form critiqued so far does not really empower anyone but only makes worse the weakness of their position.
Living a life as a form of prayer is a way to make one’s self an agent for social justice. A prayer should be a full visualization and imagining of what could be possible in an adverse situation. People should go further than seeing in their mind’s eye the result of a turn of events. For prayer to be truly effective they must endeavor to eventually explore everything no matter how minor that leads to the act they seek. A prayer this strong not only sends a good feeling in the environment. It guides the person who prays through an imaginary ideal world that is not only parallel to reality but often becomes it.
Some of the work of the early civil rights movement is an example of such an extended prayer. There was an ideal promise land to reach and a dream to make a reality while people linked larger acts such as marching and racial equality to smaller acts such as sitting in a counter at a restaurant, playing on a team, and using and expecting basic manners and respect. This was not prayer at a cotton field to gather the strength to carry another bundle or to bite one’s tongue.
The Florida community is replete with places where prayer could go farther than it goes in the current era. The next time one prays that a child does good at an exam one should question the exam itself and the system that supports it and go beyond the simple bubbling in of circles.
The next time one prays for strength to carry groceries or anything else they have bought they should consider protesting the changing nature of local economic development, the hidden price of large chain stores with cheap products, and how they affect everyone economically and culturally. These are large chain stores that have run out of business smaller stores that did offer better service. Each day employees are replaced in the store with self-check out machines that make service something the customer must do themselves. Self service is a concept that may be effective with matters such as pumping one’s own gasoline but it is slowly creeping its way into other facets of our lives where contact with another human being is necessary. The less people work at a local store the less economic activity there is in a local community. Sometimes walking through a store one can also see clear social lines dividing people in the hierarchy of these stores that mirrors the worst aspects of our society. What happens at the larger retail chain store is happening through out all the institutions of our society.
A prayer for justice can be powerful for a victim or their family but more than that has to be done. Placing stuffed animals, flowers, pictures and signs at the scene of the crime is important. A candle light vigil is important too. Do not however let the light of the candle light vigil simply shine on the streets of the local community but also illuminate the justice system where a variety of obstacles are set up to hinder the pursuit of justice. The lack of court interpreters and quality attorneys who are not overworked are just a few.
These examples are just to name a few. The reader can examine those that occur in their own daily lives. One can scaffold their way to a future they seek. If connecting oneself and your context to your prayer and connecting your prayer to the significant events of the Earth is done for more than a few moments and for a life instead, than little by little one can make the ideal real.