Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sweet Hour of Prayer


1 Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
that calls me from a world of care
and bids me at my Father's throne
make all my wants and wishes known!
In seasons of distress and grief,
my soul has often found relief,
and oft escaped the tempter's snare
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.

2 Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
thy wings shall my petition bear
to Him whose truth and faithfulness
engage the waiting soul to bless;
and since He bids me seek His face,
believe His word and trust His grace,
I'll cast on Him my every care,
and wait for Thee, sweet hour of prayer.

3 Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
may I thy consolation share,
till, from Mount Pisgah's lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I'll drop and rise
to seize the everlasting prize;
and shout, while passing through the air,
"Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!"

Not, actually, one of my favorite hymns, though I have fond memories of singing it in my childhood. (There is a lovely version of it here.)  I heard it the other day on Muzak in some store, and it made me realize there are other ways of understanding prayer other than the way Janis Joplin so aptly mocked:

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV ?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town ?
I'm counting on you, Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town ?

Everybody!
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

That's the kind of prayer Ronald Dworkin has in mind when he tries to consider the attributes of God (it's appropriate to name only the Abrahamic God, since Dworkin seems unaware any other concept could exist among human beings):  "That part declares that an all-powerful and all-knowing god created the universe, judges human lives, guarantees an afterlife, and responds to prayer."

God "responds to prayer" because prayer is always about asking God for something; a color TV, a pony, business success.  Except prayer isn't that reductio ad absurdum at all.

Yes, Joel Osteen preaches prayer that way, and a lot of people think prayer is just about asking God for favors, help, support, even redemption.  And I don't want to wander into the weeds of categorizing prayer, as some do, making a proper place for petitionary prayer among other "kinds" of prayer.  If wanted to do that, I'd just reiterate my post on the Prayer of Our Savior.  What's interesting in that prayer is that Jesus doesn't really teach us to ask God for anything.  His instructions are really about aligning ourselves with God and with each other and, rather than asking for ourselves, asking that we be humble enough to serve others.  Petitionary prayer, as it is so often explained in public at least, is all about me.  No surprise Dworkin thinks that's one of the primary attributes of God, that God takes good care of me.

But that's not really a validly "religious" attitude at all.

Notice that "Sweet Hour of Prayer" never mentions God granting a petition.  It's about trusting God, relying on God, and that is a very sound description of having faith in God.  The hour of prayer in the hymn is communion with God, is nearer the experience of the Christian mystics than of the members of Lakewood Church who pray their way to monetary success.  And that's really just the point:  there are many ways of understanding prayer in the Christian tradition that have nothing to do with God answering a plea.  Maybe it's just something to be said for tradition, in the end; but that something is really something, indeed.

5 Comments:

Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

I'm ever more struck by how the atheism of the professional atheists is built on that cargo-cult "God" which is one so convenient to their atheism. I am also struck at how much like the atheist "God" the one of the "gospel of prosperity" and some, if not all of those weird mega-night-club-style churches is.

Well, as you point out, that's a "God" I don't believe in, either. And I don't feel at all in the mood to cooperate with reducing God to that kind of stuff. I remember Sr. Jean-Paul (yeah, a nun before a Pope) warning us about expecting prayer fulfillment. She said that maybe God knew that we'd do something stupid on that bicycle we'd prayed for and get hit by a car. I think I was about seven when she told us that, yet so many adults still figure that's what it all depends on.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

In my younger days I thought of it as God considered as a cosmic slot machine; insert enough coins and pull the lever enough times (i.e., prayer) and God was sure to pay off.

That theology never struck me as valid.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I'm ever more struck by how the atheism of the professional atheists is built on that cargo-cult "God" which is one so convenient to their atheism.

It seems to be prevalent among Anglo-Americans who have to disdain religion (i.e., Christianity) at every chance, never acknowledging any knowledge of it, or, indeed, having any.

Interesting that Derrida, a philosopher of religion, Jewish by heritage and atheist by confession, can quote Paul at length and with understanding, while Dworkin or Dawkins can only cite impressions of what they think Christians believe or what Scripture says (like God=Hairy Thunderer in the OT).

I've pretty much decided that, on matters of religion (and life in general), the Continentalists are wiser and more humane than the Anglo-Americans, who think science and math are all you need to explain everything (and what doesn't fit into those two is not worth bothering with).

2:16 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

In the hard practicality of a group I hang out with outside of church, prayer is for change, your change. Prayer may not change anything else, but it will change you. Pray for your enemies, they may not change but you will change, become more caring toward them, see them as people. Pray for the sick and dieing, they may not be healed but you will learn to accept their condition and help them. It's a hard nosed partial view of prayer.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

A view of prayer I heartily endorse. And pretty much the view I take from "The Lord's Prayer," when I look at each line of it. That prayer is not about what God can do for me; it's about what God should be to me.

It's a prayer meant to change you; or at least teach you about prayer as change. Still a partial idea of prayer, granted; but a better part than prayer as "Do something for me!"

10:43 PM  

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