Prayer; What Manner of Prayer
As many of you know I work as a hospital chaplain for a very large hospital in Charlotte North Carolina. The nature of the work is to provide spiritual comfort to those in need whether they be patients, family and friends of patients, or even staff. Spiritual comfort can take many forms but frequently it does involve prayer. As chaplains we begin and end our day together in community prayer with each other.
Prayer for me as a Buddhist is an evolving and changing idea. I have gone through stages of thinking that prayer amounts to little more than a wish verbalized either with sound or with spirit. But still noting more than a wish. Not believing in any supreme being or any God or any director of events or as I sometimes jokingly say here in the temple, no giant Pez dispenser in the sky which dispenses candy or benefit if only we pray hard enough.
I recently read a book on Jewish mysticism that presented me with a new way of thinking about the act of praying. The example in the book presented a story of a house on fire alongside the manufacture of widgets.
Say you are coming home one day and you spot a house on fire. You might stop to pray that it isn’t your house that is burning. You may wish, hope, plead and so on, yet no matter what if it is already your house that is burning it would be unreasonable to expect that somehow magically the fire would cease, the house be restored as if noting had happened and the fire begin in some other house all because you made your prayer.
Now consider as the author suggested that you work for a company that manufactures some item, as the author suggested widgets. You are out selling these items and a customer asks for something that isn’t in your catalogue, something that your company doesn’t manufacture. So you go back to your company and ask if there is any way they could manufacture this special request.
After some consideration you receive notice that no that item can not be manufactured but that something similar can be provided, say in a different color. Now this something also is not in the catalogue and it would need to be specially produced. So you go back to your customer and present the fact that the exact special item can not be manufactured but something similar can be would they be open to this other option.
To me this presents a different way to consider prayer one that both recognizes limitations but yet allows for other possibilities that we may not consider.
The house is on fire, it may indeed be your house, and your prayer may not undo the damage already caused, but are you open to other options such as minimal damage, opportunities for reconstruction, and repair, opportunities for connecting with people who may help you whom you have not encountered before and whom you may be able to influence and in turn help through your own life experience?
This is an unconcluded thought, but I thought I would share with you some of my processing around the idea of prayer and invite you to also consider what you engage in when you pray.
Let me know what you think.
By the way the title of the book is “The Seventh Telling: The Kabbalah of Moeshe Katan”