Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Real Meaning of Prayer

Do you pray? Yes? Well please take a moment and think about what you are doing. I won't discuss whether prayer works or not; let's say it does. So now...what are you really asking?

Some years ago I was taking a college course in American Literature and Mark Twain was required reading. As I perused the list of his works I came across a short work written during the Civil War.

The War Prayer

At the time I read it my son was 13 years old and participating in the Junior Olympics in Tae Kwon Do. He was to compete in Tulsa the next day. Being an on the fence believer at the time I often found myself praying. It seemed natural to pray for my son's success...until I read this work.

 It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. 
Then as now, patriotism was inextricably connected to god. The churches were filled with the loved ones of the soldiers fighting in the war.

And they prayed. They prayed for the success of their soldiers without a thought of what they were asking...just as I did when I asked for victory for my son.

But, as in Twain's story, two not one prayer is offered.

uttered in fervent appeal,"Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!" 
When a mother asks for her son, victory over the other, she is also asking for the opponent's  defeat. . When the preachers stand before the congregants on Sunday morning and prays for the victory of 'our side' two prayers are said, not one. 

Something about that seems unchristian.


Mchael Krauss said...
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Mchael Krauss said...

I've often thought the same thing about something not as brutal as war but very similar. I won't say all but most football teams pray for victory before the game. Are they not asking for the defeat of the other team. What makes their quest any more holier than the other team?

I find prayer to be mostly a self-soothing tool. It makes the person saying the prayer feel better in the sense that they are doing something. However, if the person saying the prayer is praying for healing of oneself then prayer can be useful. When someone is injured or sick believing i prayer can stimulate the brain and body to heal itself. Of course just think positive thoughts will have the same effect.

Interested said...

I am conflicted about prayer for the very reason you mention. If someone thinks it helps then perhaps it does. What makes me so mad is the self-righteous attitude of most believers who think they are special because they got new clothes at a discount.