Thursday, September 24, 2015

Unanswered Prayers

“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers," runs the famous line from Saint Teresa of Avila. There’s probably some degree of poetic justice in the fact that the novel, Answered PrayersTruman Capote chose to name after the quote was unfinished--particularly since there is something intrinsically unresolvable as regards the effect of all prayers. At it’s most elemental, prayer is an admission of powerlessness. If you felt powerful there would be no need to pray. You’d simply take care of the problem yourself. But there's something in most prayer that mitigates against the notion that there's anyone who can attend to your plight or fulfill you wish. Many religions, for example, reject the notion of praying for things. Which goes back to the St Teresa quote. You may know what you want, but do you know what you need? If you get the job or snag the partner you think you desire, you may be settling for a dead end.  When one door closes another opens is a homily that used to rationalize unanswered prayers. Instead of praying for things, you pray for something over which you fundamentally have more control, i.e. acceptance or the willingness to abide by God’s will, if you believe in a God. There’s also something repetitive and boring about prayer. When you pick up a traditional prayer book you’ll find so many phrases glorifying and praising God that the act of praying actually seems like a form of people pleasing, though such cynical interpretations discountenance the incantatory nature of prayer. Once you get over the boredom, prayer can have the soothing quality of a dirge. You wish and you want and you’re mournful, but you find solace in congregating and finding a commonality in the recitation of shared emotions. So there's a curious topography to this ancient ritual that often produces a joy (and in the case of certain sects an ecstatic out of body experience) but little in the way of clear cut results. Perhaps the most profound thing about prayer and the thing that accounts for its mournful quality is that it anticipates and even exults in its own futility.

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