With all the ursine excitement about this writing, and mustard, and Beethoven's 9th, I just had to get something into print today...
What is prayer? (more on the same)
Last time I asked "1. Are there perhaps different kinds of prayer?" If praying only refers to God, then it seems clear that there can be only one prayer. For God is one, and who are we to think we can approach Him as we might approach a fellow human being? Who are we to use anything other than the "proper form of address" - the "Form of Business Letter" or the "Standard Blogg Template" (oops I keep mis-spelling that word) or whatever it is called? Haven't people been struck by lightning for less?
On the other hand, if we take a good working example of someone who prays, and see what he does, we find that there are a variety of kinds, both in its actual format, and its intention - each might be as different as any actual speech or communication between humans - and yet still a communication nevertheless. Now let us consider Jesus, Who certainly prayed - and prayed often. We have recorded transcripts (translated, naturally) of some of the forms of address He used in His prayers. He certainly used different words most of the time, though we know that at least once He repeated the same prayer as well. Thus we learn that there are multiple syntaxes (spellings of prayers), and we also know that repeats are permitted. I am not going to do any real formal analysis here, neither using Semitic verbs (which I do not know) nor using automata theory (which I do know). We also learn that there are multiple semantics (meanings) for prayers. Sometimes indeed Jesus is thanking, sometimes praising, sometimes asking. Also, His prayers seem, uh, familiar - He speaks to God as if He belongs
- and He speaks on both common or little things and unque and big things. (You can look up all the quotes you like; for now I am just jotting this down.)
The dictionary indicates that prayer has a four-dimensional character, enumerated as:
(2) Confession (or Contrition)
(The memory aid, or mnemonic, for this is ACTS.)
So it is clear that there indeed different forms of prayer. But is prayer as wide open as speech? Or as computer scientists put it, as strings of characters? (Of course we should say phonemes if we are talking about spoken prayer. We have not yet gotten to such things as "mental" prayer.)
One view might say "yes" - since we are told to "pray always" - but then are things like "jabberwocky" or "bunchoosa blutterspangle" prayers? Clearly there is something about "intention" which must be added to the simple "character generation" explanation of prayer. Not even devout C programmers can type:
in order to do a decade of the Rosary. ( Though this approach might attract some new interest and discussion about that most interesting prayer.)
Now all that talk, about Jesus,and His praying, and the Rosary - all that seems to say that praying means something between us (a human, or humans) and God. But if prayer is fundamentally a communication between us and God, does that mean we cannot ask, apologize, or thank another human? No, that does not make sense. So there must be another thing happening here. Either that kind of thing is NOT prayer, or else it is a different form of prayer. (There is another question which I will state here, but must defer to a later discussion: Is "prayer" a one-way communication? That's for later.)
So: Is "Please pass the mustard" a prayer, or isn't it? Some say it is not formatted properly (you didn't say Amen at the end!) Others say we must not pray to humans, so it is not allowed, reach over and get the mustard yourself! Some say that broadens the word "prayer" too far, and then means anything at all.
So then, when a mother takes her five year old son for walk and he says "Mommy, look at the bird!" she does not hear his love? No, go deeper: when a father hears his daughter make the "ah" sound for the first time (beginning a long discussion with his wife whether that was the ah in father or the ah in mama, settled by going out for ice cream) has that baby not made an unmistakable communication from herself to her parents - even if she hasn't the slightest idea of the rest of their discussion?
It seems to me that even many of our relatively boring communications between ourselves, providing they reflect somehow on one of those three aspects of prayer we share in with God are somehow in some weak, faint sense, share somehow in the nature of prayer. Perhaps we might "close off the set" and add the fourth (adoration) by understanding it in the only correct way it may apply to a fellow human - that is, the honor and respect due him as a child of God. (No, I never mean to suggest we adore each other - but there is such a thing as honor, such a thing as respect.) But then this simplifies nicely (as it now covers the C, T, S aspects too) and arranges everything into one!
We might simply say that prayer is a form of dignified communication
which puts things into their proper order.
It thus excludes the mechanical communications (like the "ping" of the INTERNET), or the undignified forms (like ridicule or slander or unkind words and the rest).
So far, then, we have gotten this far:
1. Prayer is a form of dignified communication
2. Prayer has a number of forms, both in its syntax (what you say) and its semantics (what you mean)
3. Prayer is a form of communication, fundamentally between an individual and God, but also (in a limited sense) between humans.
Somehow prayer is an expression of a relationship... maybe that is the point I am trying to make. Yet, all these other things enter in as well. (And I seem to be making it more of a mess, not less.)
But we have some new challenges, too, and will proceed to those next time.