Thursday, October 20, 2005

Prayer as Watershed

(And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.) T.S. Eliot

Heading west from Downingtown on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one passes a sign that reads,"Now entering Chesapeake Bay watershed." From this point west, until the beginning of the Mississippi watershed, any drop of water -- (or toxic spill) - -that falls to the ground will find its way into the distant Chesapeake Bay, in another state. I find the idea compelling. There is a line, real but invisible, to one side of which all water flows to the Chesapeake, and to the other side of which all flows to the Delaware. The place itself is very nondescript, without any remarkable ridges or elevations apparent. It's just a slight rise in a meadow. It isn't even the highest point between Philadelphia and the Susquehanna. Its nature as a watershed is a function of its elevation relative to its immediate surroundings, and in turn of those surroundings to the terrain surrounding them. The drop of rain falling on that spot doesn't know anything about the extended terrain, yet because of the nature of that terrain will inevitably end up in the Chesapeake, not the Delaware.

As we consider the topic, "Prayer'', in our Kairos study group, I am struck by the extent to which one's approach to prayer reveals the larger topography of his or her conception of reality as a whole. When one begins to talk about prayer, and even more when one sets out to pray indeed, she must confront the shape of her world, as that world is structured and represented in her mind. Is the future fully determined or open? Is the world simply matter-and-energy or is there real personal agency? How does God relate to us? Is He concerned only that we come to desire what He desires, or does He allow our desires to influence His own? What does it mean for God to change His mind? What is the nature of Time, chance and causality? What do we make of the irreducible imprecision of language? Why would God use such a medium?

At the point of prayer one finds practical implications of virtually all theological and philosophical categories and questions. The natures of God, Man and the cosmos. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. What it means to know anything, to hope or desire, to imagine and dream. Time and eternity.

Let us go often into this field, and see how the land lies.

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