Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Answered Prayers

I was flipping channels the other night and caught a bit of the movie Evan Almighty.  There was a scene in which God, played by Morgan Freeman, talks about the way prayer works.  He says,
"Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"
I love it when a goofball movie includes a bit of theology I really resonate with.

One of the complaints I often hear people make against prayer -- against God, too, but that could be another post of its own -- is that it just doesn't "work."  We pray and pray and pray for something, the argument goes, and nothing happens or, even worse, we seem to get more of the very thing we're praying to get rid of!

There's a story told by either Anthony de Mello or Anthony Bloom (I honestly can't remember now which) about a monk who had something of a short temper -- he was frequently annoyed by the other brothers in his monastery and was, in turn, rather annoying to them.  Finally he realized that this was a problem, and so he went to the chapel and prayed before the statue of Christ that Christ might remove his temper.  After spending several hours in prayer he did feel calmer and a lightness of spirit that he had never known before.

Immediately upon leaving the chapel he came upon one of the brothers who had actually never bothered him in the past, but today this brother said something really insulting to him.  The monk felt some of his old anger returning.  And then one of the lay sisters who worked in the monastery and who'd always made him smile passed by and was really rather rude, and before he knew it he was rude back to her.  And then, as a passed a visitor, someone he'd never seen before, he said a cranky word.

Realizing that was returning to his old ways, the monk ran back to the chapel and fell back on his knees.  "Lord," he said.  "I thought I'd asked you to remove my anger?"  And the Lord responded, "That's why I've increased your opportunities to practice."

Every day as part of my prayer bead practice, on one of the entering-in beads, I pray, "Open my ears, that I might hear your voice in whatever form it might take . . . especially those I would rather not hear."  This morning I was feeling seriously tempted, as I got off the bus in South Station, to go to the ATM and get some money so that I could stop and get a fast food breakfast.  I didn't need the food -- I'd already had cereal -- and I certainly didn't really want it -- that kind of food makes me crazy.  But it was calling out to me.

On my way to the ATM I heard a voice in my head say, "Erik, you really don't want to do this."  I pushed on.  A very large man, much heavier than I am, walked by me.  I kept walking.  The next thing my eyes landed on was the book rack in the store near the ATM and, specifically, Jillian Michael's new book Master Your Metabolism.  I still kept heading for the ATM.  And then I had a vision of how good it would feel to be walking on the Commons on this beautiful day without the heavy feeling the BK food would give me.  "Okay.  Okay.  I get it," I said, and headed for the escalator.

Maybe one reason that our prayers don't get answered is that we don't recognize the answer.  We want courage, not opportunities to be courageous; or patience, not opportunities to be patient; or warm fuzzy feelings, not the chance to practice actually being loving.  We don't recognize the form the voice takes, and so we miss it.

Keep listening.

In Gassho,

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1 comment:

Absolutely Positive said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. You made some points I had not thought of before and that really rang true for me. God bless you!