Why pray?

Prayer is in crisis not because we are busy people or because we do not find time to pray. Prayer is in crisis because our connection with God is in crisis. Many claim to be believers in God but have no time to pray. Which means that they do not believe at all. Others do not pray because they do not know how. In today's Gospel of Luke we read that "Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart".

Ours is a world of action. From the way we at times see things, we are easily prompted to imagine that an opposition exists between, on the one hand, action on behalf of human beings, on behalf of those who are suffering and who need our helping hand, and on the other hand, surrender to God, which often is interpreted as indifference. Is it possible to integrate an authentic engagement in the world with surrender to the divine will?

In this day and age, we want to be radical. We like to go to the roots of things. We can easily articulate the real causes of poverty, injustice, and much of the suffering that people go through in daily life. So it seems futile, knowing all this, to turn to God and pray. What can God actually do when it is man's greed and egoism that creates and sustains this vicious circle? Would it not be more meaningful and fruitful to struggle hard to eliminate those causes of evil and seek to set things right? What use is there in prayer to God, when what we are praying for is only the result of bad management or lack of political will? Being down to earth is the solution, rather than raising our gaze to heaven. Politics, not religion, will ultimately save us.

All these arguments illustrate that many a time we do not even know what prayer is. Prayer in the first place is not asking that our will be done, but that "thy will be done". Prayer is not a stopgap. We cannot pray as if we were innocent bystanders, because if we pray authentically, our prayer should carry with it the awareness of a responsibility shouldered, of being at times accomplices in what causes the evil we would want eliminated.

In today's first reading from the Book of Exodus, while a battle is raging, Moses is depicted with arms raised to heaven to assure victory for his people. At certain moments he is tired, and support is needed. Praying persistently can be tiring and can make us lose heart. This is what Jesus is trying to tell us in today's parable. Jesus says: "Will not God see justice done to His chosen who cry to Him day and night even when He delays to help them?"

Giving the reason of our belief ought to enable us to find God in all things, that is, God as present in this world when battle is raging between good and evil, between faith and unbelief, between the desire for justice and peace, and injustices and growing divisions. There is no dichotomy between engagement in the world and prayer. Christianity is revolutionary, but not in the political sense. It represents in the world not the power of our strategies or politics, but God's power.

This is the paradox of Christianity. In the context of the prevailing culture, it sounds very anachronistic to repeat with C.S. Lewis that man was born not to be free but to worship and obey. Worship for busy people is a waste of time. Obedience for people who speak so much about self-esteem and self-affirmation is nonsense. At a time when 'shipwreck' is a metaphor that explains well our state of mind and heart, and when we are chronically sick from lack of hope, it is not action alone that will ultimately save us.


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