A friend of my parents recently forgot a very important list, necessary for their day’s work at the temple. To get the list, they needed to race back to their house. On the way back they prayed that they wouldn’t be stopped by the police. Hence the day’s session could run according to schedule. I wonder how fundamentally different this idea of prayer is from the norm? Are prayers a way to call down select blessing and miracles from heaven, or is this just a particularly noticeable aspect of their potential? Where we believe prayer lies on the meditative / petinionary continuum is most likely illustrative of the type of involvement we think God takes in our lives.
The most common way of interpreting the purpose of prayer is found in Jesus’ discourse “knock and it shall be opened unto you”. In this vein, prayer is about getting God to give us something we need. His infinite goodness ensures, that as long as we invite his influence into our lives, he will be able to work miracles. In this way prayer is one of the means through which his power gets actualized in our lives. Daily prayer would therefore be essential because of our continual divergence from him and his path. In this way of thinking, asking for grand things like world peace, safety to all the missionaries, etc are useful. They are representative of a developing sense of charity. They help us to get involved in the work, by opening the door to God’s direction. In this sense, these lofty, but ultimately directionless petitions are necessary. This is a very traditional view of prayer.
Prayer may also be seen as an organizational tool. The communion we have with the divine enables us to see the direction we should be working. It is a tool to help us figure out what we need to do reach certain ends. As we run through problems or ideas, we try and determine how they line up with what God would have us do. In essence, we try and emulate a portion of God’s thought process on the issue. His spirit enables or quickens this emulation. Following ideas through into action is an essential part of emulation. It is also essential to enable us to understand the language or motivations underlying the whole process. It can be thought of as bringing a new level of understanding that enables deeper comprehension. In this light, it is fairly meditative in nature. Asking for grandiose things is useful for getting us started on the path to accomplishing the little things that may lead to their completion.
As we decide the motivations we may have for prayer, it is useful to ask which type of communication is facilitated by either end of the spectrum. Petionary prayer seems to be best suited for those wishing yes-no type answers. It is hard tool to use if one wants to ferret out many greys. However, distinguishing between yes-no answers is easier than figuring out a maybes. The knowledge we gain about God though this type of prayer comes by connecting the dots of right and wrong. I wonder though, if this doesn’t encourage a knowledge of God that is more behavioural in nature than anything else. Our understanding of God is supposed to be about what is right and wrong. It is about the things we should cause to happen, and those things that we shouldn’t. In this sense prayer may be a method of Pavloviann conditioning. Of course we may end up so well trained in asking that we forget about listening, leaving the decisions of our petitions in God’s hands.
Meditative prayer seems poorly suited to discovering black and white directives. Decisions may be less important than the motivations and reasoning behind them. This type of prayer requires an ability to accurately critique and deconstruct. In listening to God’s inspiration, we may be more susceptible to mistake it for our personal or cultural dispositions. God’s greys may be our memes. It may also be easy to reason away our existence, forgetting the importance of material discovery.