Saturday, December 30, 2006

Power of Prayer 2

In his Holiday Thoughts, Robin Wilton questions the point of intercession.

Many people talk about prayer as if it is some species of communication device - transmitting requests of various kinds to the Almighty. Some people apparently prefer to send these requests through an intermediary, such as a saint or other holy figure. The intermediary may perhaps perform various functions within a communication system, including filtering out inappropriate or insincere requests, and reinforcing appropriate and authentic ones. In other words, the intercession has some purpose within the design of some supernatural system of prayer.

Prayers may be said for oneself or others, including figures of authority. It is customary within some religious traditions to send prayers on behalf of temporal and spiritual leaders - including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Princes, and Popes. This seems to be another form of intercession - at least if we imagine that these people have the power to alter our (temporal and/or spiritual) world for the better.

In an earlier post, however, I stated an alternative view of the Power of Prayer. On this view, the purpose of prayer is not to influence the will of the Almighty, but to align ourselves to the will of the Almighty. We need to understand prayer in terms of its effect on the person praying. Prayer is not a technical instrument (Heidegger: Einrichtung), but a focal practice (Borgmann).

How does intercession fit into this view of Prayer? By invoking additional persons, the prayer extends the boundaries of the System - not just an isolated individual in a private relationship with the Almighty, but a human being in a shared and socially grounded relationship with a religious institution (such as a Church). Such prayers create bridges (above all, in the mind of the person praying) between the mundane world of politics and the spiritual world of saints and souls.

No doubt lots of Americans are praying for George Bush, and a rather smaller number of Brits praying for Tony Blair. Both men have made a public show of their own religious faith, and presumably spend some time praying themselves, so it's hard to imagine what effect such additional prayers might be supposed to have on the two men themselves. But if you include Bush and Blair in your prayers, this might help you focus your prayers (and your own energies) on the needs of the real world, rather than some vague Narnia.

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Wikipedia: Device Paradigm

1 comment:

Robin Wilton said...

Many thanks, Richard. You're preaching to the sceptical here, as I'm sure you inferred... but I can see the rationale, even if it's not for me.

There's an interesting parallel between what you describe (in terms of 'aligning the views of the supplicant with those of a broader community') and the Zen concept of the Sangha (community) as one of three pillars of practice (the other two being the Buddha and Dharma).