Monday, March 02, 2009

let us pray

This past weekend we took in the annual Nuit Blanche which Montreal puts on: festivities and cultural events all the night long and free breakfast at 5 am if you stay up the whole night. We made it till 2 am, taking in the fireworks, winter bar (a tent erected outside with tables, chairs, beer, loud music, lights, and hockey on big tv screens), the ice slide (see picture above), and numerous shows and museums which were all free that night. Other than getting really cold because I was way under-dressed for the walk outdoors, it was a fun time. Who else would stage an all-nighter on the town in the middle of winter than those crazy Montreal folks? I love this city!

I read an interesting article on prayer today while I was at the hairdresser (an interesting setting to be doing Theology homework). The writer presented two different views of prayer and ultimately, of God. The first was that a perfect being with a perfect purpose and perfect power to accomplish that purpose cannot be influenced in any way by our pitiful requests. He has already set all things in motion, and the best we can do is go along with it, because nothing we do or say changes anything and if we think it does, we are deluded. The second viewpoint was of a God who is changing, who is learning and growing and moving toward his purpose together with us. He loves to be surprised by our actions (because he does not know exactly what we will choose to do next), and incorporates our prayers into shaping his good purpose for this world. The writer sided with the second point of view.

It made for some interesting reading, and though I think he paints two extremes which both carry a seed of truth, my main problem with his writing was that he started from a very human point of view. He assumed that change is good and not changing is bad. But if you are perfect and whole, what is the purpose of change? He seemed to be concocting a god that he could understand and appreciate, a better version of himself, and that is not God at all. Last Sunday, my good friend mentioned that too often we are praying to a god of our own making, a god based more on our biases and desires than on His revelation of himself. And this is basically breaking the first directive he gave which was not to make any idols.

We, as humans, have a very hard time imagining something other than ourselves. We describe God like some grand creature that we can see the underbelly of and with that small snapshot, we assume that we have a fairly good comprehension of the whole being. But we forget that we are only seeing a part, and from a decidedly limited vantage point. God is not like us. He does not change; what he does is reveal. He reveals bits of himself and his ways and his truth and his love and his purpose and his character and his work, and if I grasp any of it at all, I will be the one undergoing change.

"Prayer changes things" has always been a bothersome phrase for me. Prayer in and of itself has no power to change anything. It is not some magic ritual whereby I get what I want. To think that I can bend God's will to mine is a dangerous position to put myself in, indeed. But I can make a request, I can ask for those things that I know he loves, and I can submit my will to his. In some mysterious way, something always changes when I make this choice, and most often it starts in me.


Shelley said...

I totally agree with you about the comment 'prayer changes things' !! It does make it sound like something magic. That has bugged me for years. It's true, we need to ask and pray and we don't ask or pray enough. But it's God who changes things! The important thing is who we are praying to, not the praying!

i'm done now. :)

Matte Downey said...

Yes, thanks Shelley. It is very important WHO we pray to and even then, our prayers are not the carriers of power, God is. Approaching the most powerful being in the universe and being able to have a conversation with him is a most amazing privilege.