For the Christian believer, prayer is much more than the convenient or the desperate calling out to some supreme being for help in tragic times, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.
BY Clare Condon SGS*
Over the past couple of months, the Sydney community, as well as the people of Paris and Japan, have faced tragic deaths. People were aghast at the horror and senseless nature of these massacres. During this period I often heard community leaders and others express the sentiment: “my prayers and thoughts are with you” to grieving families, friends and fellow citizens.
Following the tragic death of Phillip Hughes late last year in a simple accident on the cricket field, team mates also offered prayers in their grief and looked to the skies for some form of consolation, expressing a belief that their companion was still with them on the field, but in some new and mysterious way.
I have been pondering: Who have they been praying to? What image of God or eternal being is addressed in these heavens beyond us? What expectations are placed on this God of mystery? Or are these words for many people simply that – words? – like, this is what is expected of me; in a time of grief I do not know how else to respond.
I noted that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others with stated beliefs in a God or eternal life offered supportive prayers. But I also noted that atheists, agnostics, and avowed secularists were doing the same.
It seems that God is sometimes understood as a kind of invisible crutch, an interventionist God who is there waiting to be called into action when life’s difficulties assail us; God is there at my command. In other words, I am in control and God needs to respond.
This is an unsustainable image of any God, because this God is placed under my control and is answerable to each one of us individually. God only exists at my behest. This, in fact, is a projection or a mind game; it is not an acknowledgement of a being greater than myself.
Such an image of God raises all sorts of questions about prayer and the reality of our human condition. It raises the question of whether there is the possibility of a personal relationship between God and each human person.
For the Christian believer, prayer is much more than the convenient or the desperate calling out to some supreme being for help in tragic times. Prayer is a deep relationship with the Risen Person of Jesus Christ. Prayer is there in season and out of season. It involves, above all else, worship and love of a God who, in Jesus, knows the highs and lows of our humanity. It is a spiritual experience, a contemplative experience that requires silence and stillness, a presence to the One who is beyond our limitations.
Following the tragic siege in Sydney, people came in silence with candles and flowers. It seemed this was an awakening to something deep within us, to a spiritual dimension that can often get clouded.
It is a difficult and challenging call for those of us who live in a comfortable Western secular society to comprehend a loving personal God, as described in the Christian Scriptures. Most of the time, we are self-sufficient, our daily needs are met. We are successful in this world of business, sport, politics and general day-to-day life. There is more than enough food on the table, a roof over our head, and material goods aplenty. As each new technological discovery is marketed, we Australians are often the first in the world to purchase. Often there is no place for the unexpected, the tragic, or the mysterious intervention.
But when these events do happen, we are flummoxed, unable to understand or explain; we are left adrift with only our humanity to hold onto. And so we offer our prayers, whatever that might mean.
In this troubled world, at times we are bereft of answers. It is in these dark moments of not knowing that we are drawn into a deeper place of mysterious questioning and searching for new meanings. We turn to a God, an eternal being beyond our limited world horizons and we cry out in prayer. Perhaps this is what we are seeking when we hear the words: “my prayers and thoughts are with you”.
We come to realise our own vulnerability, that we are not self-sufficient, and that our position and our possessions do not define us. We discover our own need for a God of love and mercy; a God who is not under our individual control and limited by our own short-sighted images, but a God who is expansive and who leads us deeply into the mystery of the other and the beyond.
Those of us who profess a Christian faith in the coming days will begin the liturgical time of Lent. This is a time for us to reflect on our faith; a time to pray for those who are suffering from tragedy and discord; a time to commit further to working towards a more just and compassionate society.
* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.
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