Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Prayer, Time and Uncertainty

Last weekend MrsDarwin and I took some time out to watch Bend It Like Beckam. (Fun movie.) Anyway, there's a point where the main character's test scores for getting into university have just come, and she's excited to open them, but her mother is insisting on holding the sealed envelope while praying to the family protector (Knowing nothing about Punjabi religion, I'm not clear exactly what he is: ancestor, spirit, god? There's a painting of him in the living room, and I believe they refer to him as "Papa G", though I could have misheard or misremembered.) that the scores will be good.

Now, on the face of it, this seems downright silly, since the test has already been taken and scored, and the scores (whatever they are) are already written down on the paper on the envelope. Even assuming that Papa G has the power to influence the test scores, it's now too late.

Maybe thinking about all this much is a mistake right there, as prayer is (for Christians) at attempt to communicate with a being much different from ourselves. Sacred scripture gives us a number of analogies by which to think about prayer, yet all of them cast the interaction between God and man via prayer in more directly human terms -- as in the parable of the old woman and the dishonest judge.

Taking it that God is both all knowing and outside of time, there is in theory no reason why one should not offer prayers of supplication regarding the outcome of an event which has already occurred but the result of which you are not yet aware of. One would assume that God would have been aware of those prayers before the event occurred. Yet is seems doubly odd to offer prayers after the fact about an event in which you yourself were the primary player. Thus, if you took a multiple choice test, but have not yet received the grades, it seems odd to offer prayers asking God to help you do well on the test, since any last minute inspiration you might have had while taking the test has already taken place. The fact that you don't yet know your score doesn't change the fact that you have already recorded answers which are (by the pre-set criteria of the test) either right or wrong.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that our interactions with the infinite are something that we find difficult to understand. As I said, perhaps one does well not to think on the odder elements of all this too deeply.

Perhaps another thing to recall is that traditional Catholic spirituality teaches that prayers of supplication should be thought of as the least of our prayers. More important are prayers of praise and prayers of thanks. We are, after all, not in nearly as good a position to know what is best for us as God is. The old lady in the parable harangues the dishonest judge constantly demanding that he give her justice. But in her case, she has a better knowledge of justice than the judge does. When we beseech God, the situation is the opposite. Not my will, but Thine be done.


Julie D. said...

In the movie, what they are practicing is ancestor worship ...

bearing said...

It's Schrodinger's Test!

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who can over-analyse the Catholic implications of the tiniest elements in the most secular movies! ;)

By the way, have you seen the Bollywood movie Kal Ho Naa Ho? It is partly about an Indian family which emigrated to the States and more or less converted to Christianity. Have fun figuring out which denomination they belong to from the hodgepodge of images in their house and the fusion of different worship elements in their Sunda service! :)

Patrick Braga-Henebry said...

I remember a priest saying that prayers can inspire events retro-actively. That's not saying this particular example isn't silly, but he related this allegedly true story:

A young, attractive woman who taught in a urban school in a bad neighborhood lost track of time one day after school and realized it was dark and she was alone in the building. As she was leaving to go home, a couple no-good-looking loiterers started eyeing her. Afraid, she fumbled for her keys in her purse, but couldn't find them. As they started approaching quickly, she frantically prayed for help, but then found a set of keys to her car in her purse that she had never seen before. She used them and got away safely.
When she got home she called her dad to decompress. He had been visiting the weekend earlier and, on an impulse, had that set of keys made. "Thought you might need them some time," he said.

As God exists outside of time, prayers can influence previous events. Yes, the alternate set of keys was in her purse the whole time, but would it have been there had she not prayed?

btw, great blog, I'm a new reader and lovin' it!