Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Failed Prayers, Action, and Waiting: Opening A Spiritual Door

Dear Coffee Talkers,

A journalist recently asked Pope Francis, "Given what has happened in Gaza, was the Prayer for Peace held in the Vatican on June 8 a failure?" Pope Francis responded by saying it was not a failure, but rather that "the door of prayer was opened." He continued by saying that the encounter of prayer "is a fundamental step of the human attitude" toward God's gift of peace and that while "the smoke of the bombs and the war do not let one see the door ... the door was left open at that moment."

The two ideas that struck me most in this interview were the concepts of failed prayer and of opening the door of prayer. I believe that many of us can relate to the experience of a 'failed' or seemingly unanswered prayer and the accompanying pain that goes with the experience. Sadly, this is why many have abandoned the practice of any faith or prayer at all -- the risk of being hurt again by God is simply too much to bear. This seems to be part of the experience of the prophet Jeremiah who in the midst of intense sufferings and an interior crisis proclaims, "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped...All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me." Thankfully for Jeremiah, that was not the end of the story, but his feeling of being misled and mocked as a result of his efforts at prayer and faithfulness ring in the hearts of the faithful through the centuries.

The untimely death of a loved one; the loss of a job; the end of a romantic relationship or long-time friendship; a breach of trust within a family that can perhaps be forgiven but not forgotten -- where was God in the midst of these situations? Were our prayers a failure? And if so, why bother continuing to pray at all?

The image of a door being opened, and then remaining open, as a result of our prayer is very powerful, especially in considering some of the more tragic moments of our lives. The first way that the image moves me is that the idea of the door being opened reminds me that, while the work of grace is God's, I have a part to play in the divine action by walking toward and through that door. Yes, prayer is important, but in most cases if it is unaccompanied by any action on my part it is unlikely to bear much fruit. While certain situations do not allow for a great deal of human action, most of the time we should be moved by the Spirit of God to do something practical that would move us toward the result of our prayer.

The second way that the image of the door of prayer inspires me is that it causes me to consider how many doors are still open from prayers that I have already initiated but given up on. There are times where the human action accompanying my prayer is flawed or insufficient, or where I simply have to wait upon the Lord and for much longer than I am willing. Maybe I think that prayer failed or was unanswered, and I'm so busy looking at the 'smoke' left behind by a series of unfortunate events that were simply not according to my plans. But God has not given up, and the door remains open, perhaps to be answered in a different way and  time than I was originally prepared for. That is part of the mystery of grace --  freely given, wholly unexpected, and far surpassing our wildest dreams.

Am I ready to look again for that open door, to open myself to the risk of prayer even after being burned before? When I ask this question, I hear the words that the Lord spoke to Jeremiah after the prophet's crisis of faith: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope."

As always, thanks for stopping by. Be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

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