The rationalist indulges himself so much in the demolition of prayer that he fails to realize a significant product of its practice: compassion. Though prayer may be, as he argues, pointless in relation to the divine, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, it is nevertheless a chance for us to demonstrate our compassion, our care for fellow human beings. When we say that we will pray for our family and friends, for those in need and those in illness, we are in fact saying that “I care for you and wish for your happiness”. And it is this kindly intention that matters far more than the indefinite consequence of the prayers – and rightly so, since the consequences are beyond our foretelling. So even if prayer achieves nothing, gains no favor from the divine, it will always, as long as we remember to pray for each other and not just for ourselves, remind our spirits of compassion.
I’ve been finding it hard to pray these days. This isn’t because I have lost my confidence in God by the force of some great disappointment, as it usually has been the case, but because it seems opposed to another impeccable tenet of our faith – that the material world is inessential. When we pray, we often pray for a favor; we pray that God might for this single instance bend the rules of the universe and procure us a fortune which would otherwise have eluded us. We pray for success, we pray for good grades, we pray for rosy opportunities, etc., etc.. But is this all not an admission that the material world is in fact essential, that our happiness rests on reality taking on the landscape our dreamy wish, perhaps, if only we prayed ardently enough, by the prevailing hand of God? And the more we pray, the more we begin to hinge our happiness on the material world; insofar that we do not bother at all to find happiness in the present and the ordinary, in the ethereal beauty of mere existence.
We often pray to God asking for help; we ask that he may conjure a miracle from the hopelessness of the situation, bend the rivulet ahead so that the present may course into a blissful spring. But when we do ask of him all these favors, we are in fact implying that what he has willed is not the best for us, and that we know better than him what is best for ourselves – that is, we have more faith in our wisdom than in God. Thus lies the contradiction between our actions and the omniscience which we ardently and incessantly ascribe to God.
For what then do we pray?
I can think of only one rightful prayer – a prayer for faith and courage. For it is when we possess faith that we will be able to live in harmony with all that happens, and courage that we will be able to stand against the harsh winds of adversity, and long enough to realize that the difficulty is but a test to strengthen the spirit.
I often find myself repelled by the confined spaces of prayer rooms. The carpets are nicely laid, the candles neatly lined, the music lowered to a gentle hum and the cross firmly set, and all through the twilight glow pervades an air of reverence. Many tell me that it is in this sanctuary of quiet that they feel closest to God and there, are most able to reflect on their spiritual selves.
Unfortunately, I feel nothing like that. In fact, my mind drifts wildly, departing from pious collections to a smorgasbord of floundering thoughts. Sometimes I glance about the room, wondering what swirls in the minds of those meditating, or if they are just like me; appearing to be decorously immersed in prayer when they are but hopping across clouds. I simply am not able to settle myself into a spiritual nest. I may stare at the lucent cross but I will feel absolutely tangibly nothing. I may be given an excerpt of the Bible to read but I will traverse its words devoid of intent and appreciation. I may hear the prayerful voice of others but I will meld it into the inconspicuous silence. And hence, the repulsion; not an actively coercive one but a mild, innocuous one born of boredom.
So whenever given the option, I leave to stroll the church. More often than not, it is night time. Hardly a soul wanders the grounds, and I am thus left alone to revel in the solitude. There is always a peaceful rustling of leaves and a warm whispering of the winds that lend a certain magic to the night. And always does it impel me to marvel at the aesthetic hands of God.
I usually circle the chapel before finding rest (for the legs, in case I risk getting misconstrued) in a nice secluded place. And all the time, so curiously, words just seem to emanate from within – words that bridge the void between the physical and the psychical, the temporal and the eternal, between the natural man and God himself. To quite pretentiously and tritely put it, since I can think of no other more precise way of conveying such an emotion, I experience God. There just comes upon me this ineffable peace, much as if all the worldly troubles and torments had, in the presence of God, dwindled into a pinhead of irrelevance.
I don’t think I will ever change in my dispositions. I am far from discontent at being able to find God only in the open vastness of the world; for I should have no reason to be when the company and comfort I am granted is no more diminished than that granted to others. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps finding God in the prayer rooms, just beyond the crucifix or the Holy Sacrament, is an experience entirely different. Perhaps one day I too shall be able to find Him there. But now, He awaits me in the open spaces.