It is our fault that people misunderstand prayer.
It is our fault, as Christians, that people are not aware of the deep Christian spiritual tradition, and turn, for example, to Buddhism if they want to go on the inner journey. It is our fault that people’s image of the Christian God is of Super-Santa Claus, a bearded old man in the sky, who knows if you’ve been bad or good, and listens to the long wish-list of requests, rewarding some and clearly not others.
So, ever-popular-NZ-columnist Joe Bennett’s poetic Christmas message includes:
I suspect that last Christmas the tubby old pope
Prayed for peace on earth. Well, what a hope.
If he’s looking for methods of wasting his time he
Might as well pray for snails not to be slimy.
There were wars in abundance from Congo to Yemen
As it was, is and shall be, eternally, amen.
The clearly-working-to-a-deadline poetry might not be great, but the theology is worse. And that’s our fault. Blogging friend and colleague, Peter Carrell, responds to Joe, and explains
For non-locals, Joe is kind of “resident atheist” lurking in our Fairfax media. He has never let an opportunity go by to have a go at God and the above is his latest example.
Too often we give the impression that prayer is trying to change God rather than us. Too often we give the impression that prayer is seeking that our will be done, rather than God’s will be done. Too often we give the impression that the goal of prayer is to get stuff, more nice stuff, including nice emotional stuff.
Rob Bell says it much better. Take 10 minutes to watch this:
Pope Francis (Joe Bennett’s “tubby old pope”) has himself said it well:
You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.
Prayer is being in the presence of God, source of all goodness, compassion, and love, and allowing that presence to, little by little, transform us so that, through us and with us there may be more goodness, compassion, and love – “peace on earth”. “… your reign of love come, your will be done, on earth… forgive us…”
But atheists can seldom seem to follow their own positions consistently. Atheist Joe concludes his column with the subjunctive atheist prayer: “Happy Christmas to all of you.”
Whether you regard the Christmas Season as concluding on Christmas Day, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, Candlemas, the Sunday following Candlemas, or are Orthodox, or Armenian, and celebrate the Incarnation on another day and see the season differently… in the Southern Hemisphere, and certainly in Aotearoa-New Zealand, this is our go-slow time…