Updated: Jun 27
We are facing unprecendented times in our lives. Sometimes I think this generation is experiencing our own World War Two. The enemy is just not that well defined. It is hard to fight an enemy that evolves all the time, that you can't see and can't kill. We have to concentrate on our defenses only because there is nothing to attack.
The other unseen enemy is self. This one is amongst us, so it is even more difficult to mount a campaign. Self in our brothers and sisters amongst us is easy to point out when its entitlement threatens life and belongings but to see the enemy in myself is often very difficult. It is easier to scapegoat the pain on another race or a politician or a system than to seek the root of it in myself.
I think that my anger and disgust at the way the "other" acts, is a good barometer of my own arrogance that says, "I will never do that". Maybe a good thermometer of my own self-centered entitlement to a problem free life. I want life without the pain other people's entitlement to the same problem free life causes me to face.
In the midst of this war, the question of prayer comes up. How do we pray if we are so self-centered? How do I pray for my loved one if millions of other loved ones are dying? What do I base my requests on? Do I base it on my position with the Unseen, or the fact that I prayed a prayer by which I accepted Jesus as my saviour from this brokennes, or my consistent service to a hard taskmaster whom I can't see? Do I ask and feel that I will be heard because of something in me or done by me? What then about those whose prayers are not answered - does that say something about them, or about God?
Or maybe we just have to accept THIS as being all there is, deny the existence of a Being that is outside of THIS and find a way to handle the pain. That seems to be a good solution for it is practiced by millions of Buddhists who find love and peace and other-centered focus in their practice.
One question that keeps bothering me about the acceptance that THIS is all there is, is: “Where do I turn when things are really bad?” I am not talking about the normal brokenness we face every day. I am talking about catastrophic events like the near loss or the loss of a very loved one.
When you have knelt at the bed of your child or your wife who may die, you learn that in times like that you need something bigger than yourself or whatever THIS can produce to turn to. It is in times like that when all the good arguments and reasoning about whether God exists or whether he still heals or intervenes miraculously fade into the darkness of the moment and there is a raw cry for help.
What we do instinctively in times like that is important. When we are there, we tend not to reason but our gut reaction is to ask and to bargain. We see it clearly in the reaction of children. It is built into our genes.
Afterwards we often return to our skepticism and reasoning, especially when the problem is not solved and there is no miraculous intervention. But the first gut reaction is to cry for help. And many of us have found help in those times.
With my own questions I tend to turn to the life and example of the one I regard as my teacher, or as other traditions would call him, my "guru" ... Jesus of Nasareth.
Jesus who understood his mission and committed to it willingly but when he faced the pain and the finality of the cross, he pleaded with the Unseen for another outcome. He turned to Someone he knew. The Invisible that was in that moment accessible as his Father through a relationship that grew for thirty three years into a trust that gave him the boldness to ask more than one time and the grace to accept the answer. And in his struggle we see the struggle of every man and woman who has to face the prospect of pain and loss or loneliness.
We see the miracle of faith.
We see the power of resignation and the creative force that is released from a heart attitude that submits to a course of events that is so alien to the preservation of all that the ego desires that it can only be a testimony to the power and the existence of the One he called Father.
His pleading led him to accept THIS by letting go of his desire for THAT, and the end result was what we should seek - freedom in surrender, and worship in the face of unanswered prayer. We can find trust in a powerful creative and loving Force who incarnated into a more tangible, and for humans understandable, and accessible Brother and Father.
But if Jesus needed to ask, we must feel free to ask as well even knowing that we may not receive the answer we were hoping for. Not asking only because we want THAT but asking because that is what children do. Preparing ourselves beforehand for loss, but still asking.
That might be the most profound expression of faith and the highest form of trust.