One of religion’s weakest points is that of prayer. People are urged to pray to their gods and invariably these prayers end up at least partly being requests for things or other forms of divine intervention. Naturally, prayers are not answered (except by sheer coincidence) so it becomes the task of religious leaders to rationalize away this seeming lack of responsiveness on god’s part.
Most of us are familiar with the usual explanations for why prayers are not answered and why even religious people can sometimes feel that they are talking to a void. But I found this explanation by Martin Elfert, a pastor at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington who writes on a website called Father Knows Best, new. He was responding to someone who had written to him, asking:
Before my father’s death every time I prayed or thought of G-d I felt his presence, and during the main mourning period my faith helped a lot. So why is it now when I pray I feel nothing, and am replied with nothing, when it feels like now I need him most?
Prayer has a whole lot in common with hearing. When we are young, we can both easily hear a broad range of sounds and easily discern G-d in a broad range of places. Witness the extraordinary breadth of pitches that our ears pick up as children: the dog-whistles and ringtones that sounds like silence to grown-ups. Similarly, witness the easy wonder with which a small child finds the handiwork of G-d in rocks, in flowers, in animals and in other people.
As we age, injuries, loud music, power tools and the general traffic of life erodes our hearing. And something similar often happens to our ability to discern the numinous.
These days in my own life, I hear G-d most clearly through the voices of family, of friends and of neighbors. My mother-in-law, for instance, has the awesome (and slightly exasperating) ability to ask “what if?” questions which lend clarity to the very struggles that I am holding before G-d. My children, through their embodied response to the divine, do the same. And sometimes a stranger will say or do something so startling in its insight that I begin to wonder how many angels might actually be walking this earth.
I must say that I found this to be one of the most unconvincing explanations for the lack of a response to prayers that I have ever heard. Asking someone to pick something that some random person says that appeals to you and say that that is your god speaking to you through them doesn’t seem very helpful. Elfert had better improve his game
I am also puzzled by people who write ‘G-d’ instead of ‘God’. I know that some Jews do this but Christians rarely do so. I believe it has something to do with the prohibition to not take their god’s name in vain but it seems a little pointless. Do such people also not speak the word ‘God’ and instead say ‘upper case g dash d’?