The God Squad: Why do we pray?
I was raised and attended Catholic schools in my early days, we were taught to pray and that God could do anything. I truly believed that then. Today, 70 years later, I am not so sure. I believe God can change the script, but I am not sure God will do that, so why do we pray? – From M
People who are religious pray for the same reason that we breathe. It is a natural and necessary spiritual reaction to our life. Not everyone has such a need and I respect the many ways people without faith try to find hope in a broken world, but for the religious ones among us prayer is a necessary act of spiritual centering. The problem you are having is perhaps connected to a belief about what prayer can and cannot do.
Prayer is not magic. The reason that the Bible rails against the worship of idols is that idolatry is a form of magical thinking. It is the belief that we can impose our will on God’s will with sacrificial offerings. However, God’s will is not our will and so all the forms of prayer that ask God to change something for our benefit are bound to lead to a crisis of faith, such as the one I hear in your question. Even Jesus asks in his final agony, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The lack of a response to a petitionary prayer is not a betrayal. It is an invitation to accept your life in full with all its blessings and challenges and make of it a witness to faith and good works.
The key to moving past the notion of prayer as magic is to come to a place where we ask for nothing. Rather, what we do in our prayer life is to thank God for the blessings that have already been showered upon us without adding a to-do list for God to make our life even smoother.
God can always make our life better, but God cannot make our life smoother. That requires our active partnership with God. There is an old Jewish legend that God did not split the Red Sea for our ancestors in the Exodus from Egypt until a person named Nachshon ben Aminadab from the tribe of Judah walked into the water up to his nose. Only then, to keep Nachshon from drowning, did God split the sea. When prayer is a passive waiting for God to fix our life, it rarely succeeds, but when prayer is an accompaniment to our own efforts to move forward, then God can split any sea for us. That is why and that is how I pray. – MG
Q: My pastor continually makes fun of me for being vegan. I've told him I believe we were at least vegetarian when Adam and Eve were created due to the passages mentioned in an article of yours. He always tells me about 1 Tim 4 where he tells me it's actually a sin to not eat meat. Who is right? – From P
No offense to your Pastor but as usual I am right. Check out 1 Cor 8:13 where Paul says he will not eat meat if it causes offense. I Timothy 4:3-5 does indeed slander vegetarianism as the work of the devil, “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” (See also Mark 7:5-21). However, there are Ebionite teachings that both John the Baptist and Jesus were vegetarians. Also, the Franciscan nuns, Trappists, Trappistines, Carthusians and Cistercians are strictly vegetarian. The way I see it, eating meat is clearly not murder but it is a morally low-level dietary preference. No animal that feels pain needs to die for our lunch. – MG
Happy Cinco de Mayo
Just like Halloween became a holiday of Trick or Treats and just like Valentine’s Day became a holiday of candy and flowers, Cinco de Mayo, an historic Mexican holiday commemorating the Battle of Puebla of May 5, 1862, in which Mexican forces defeated an invading French army, has become a holiday of beer and parties. But that beer and those parties have a spiritual core and that is this: the culture, faith and food of Mexico has enriched our country immensely. Latin American culture is now one of the bright threads woven into the fabric of our immigrant nation. I lift it up for praise and I pray that we can continue to welcome immigrants from Mexico with the generous spirit that has made us, “Out of many, one.”
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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