Saturday, May 28, 2005

Writing project: on prayer (part 2)

On the way home from Holy Mass (or was it last night before I fell asleep?) I was thinking about what I was going to write here, and how I might begin to get some order into the many curious ideas I could examine under this topic of prayer.

The first thing I realized is that, true to my discipline as a Computer Scientist, I must set up the definitions or axioms upon which I will build the rest of the structure. And the first one is what prayer is.

What is prayer?

As you may know from this Blogg, or from your own, there is a thing called a "template" which is a kind of starting point - a framework - into which one's own special distinctions are introduced. (I am not getting formal on you, so don't worry.) But I am going to use this idea of a template and make an analogy in order to help get things started.

And so I ask: What is a cow?

Or, to put it another way: When I say the word "cow" what comes into your head? For me, I see a black-and white cow, with a bell around its neck, standing by a fence in a grassy meadow. It is facing left, and chewing some of the grass. You, if country-born, may see a completely different view (involving getting up early and certain smells) than one who is city-born (as I am). But there are going to be some common elements, and I will answer them as a child, not as a scientist.

What is a cow? (1) it is a kind of animal. (2) It gives milk. (3) It eats grass. (4) It usually lives on a farm or ranch. Oh yes, scientists know that the child's "cow" is the common word for the female of the domestic ox (Bos taurus); "cow" is a general word for the female of a variety of mammals. But the "female of the domestic ox" is a kind of animal that gives milk, eats grass, and generally lives on a farm or ranch - how to balance these two views and get more information? (The best answer is to go and see a cow, if you dare. But we are not dealing with cows so let us proceed.)

So what is prayer? What do you have in your mind about it? (This book is part of what is in mine.) Do you see a kneeling child with folded hands? The "Our Father" aka "The Lord's Prayer"? A rosary? A book of prayers?

It's harder to explain "prayer" than "cow" because it is not a substantial thing, something we can see or touch, or even draw pictures of, for then we might imagine the grass it stands on, or the bell around its neck.

But in each case there are some common things which even a child knows, and some things which specialists will point out. The first common thing is prayer is a means of communication. The second is that it is a personal act, though it may also be done with other people. The third is that it has to do with God. The fourth is that (all too often) a prayer is a request or entreaty that something be done or accomplished or altered.

Now I also recognize that there are some very bothersome aspects about this term for some people. Some take a narrow view and make "pray" identical to "worship." For them, this whole study may be borderline or blatant blasphemy. Others take a vague view and class it with anything from "daydream" or "contemplate" to "meditate" - though this last word has two totally opposite meanings. [I may explore this in an appendix; I don't know yet.] Still others broaden "prayer" to any act relating to, or suggestive of, religion or religious activity.

"Prayer" comes from the Latin prex, which means a prayer, request or entreaty. "Pray" is currently used in certain legal settings, and simply means "ask." Sometimes, in older novels we might read phrases like "What have you been up to, pray tell?" - just a fancy way of saying "I ask you to tell me." "Pray" also has the meaning of "the offering of adoration, confession (others say contrition), thanksgiving, supplication to God." Clearly, for those who adhere to the First Commandment (however they are numbered, it comes out the same) that "adoration" can only apply to God, though most of us certainly will say words of contrition, thanksgiving, or supplication to our fellow human beings.

Just what to do, then? Hmmm ... then, is it a terrible sin to ask someone to pass the mustard? To apologize for spilling it on her dress? Or to thank her for passing it? Wait a second. What is going on here? OK, this must mean we need to get into this meaning more precisely. And among the most interesting and critical points to be explored are these:

1. Are there perhaps different kinds of prayer?
2. What about asking someone to pray for someone else? Is that a prayer too?
3. What about those who have died? Have they been disconnected from our communications? Or is it perhaps merely that we never hear them reply?

We shall proceed after this pause for more typing, and your comments. Please do not push as you attempt to get to the keyboard, you may spill the mustard.

* * *

I know you are all screaming "Hurry up, Doctor, we all wanted to read the high tech stuff about heaven." Sorry, but it will take some work to get there. Just be patient. If you have a nice Beethoven symphony (like say number 9) get it out and listen to it. You'll need it later.


At 29 May, 2005 18:27, Blogger Marc the polar bear said...

"I know you are all screaming "Hurry up, Doctor, we all wanted to read the high tech stuff about heaven." Sorry, but it will take some work to get there. Just be patient. If you have a nice Beethoven symphony (like say number 9) get it out and listen to it. You'll need it later."

Listening to the ninth of Beethoven is communicative of the essence of theophany. Now seeing and hearing are central to prayer, and to the faith. The music takes care of the aural part. To complete the unity, which creates the theophany, we need the proper physical location wherein to hear the symphony. There is a breathtakingly gorgeous scenic route in the Rocky Mountains called the Icefields parkway, named thus because you can see icefields and glaciers filling up the entire view of your windshield, and all the other windows of your vehicle as you drive by. Listening to the ninth while THAT kind of scenery explodes itself upon your visual senses, esp when you hit the highest pass along the route right about the time of the choral movement, you are overwhelmed with the presence of the Almighty. You are taken up with the long moment, and you cannot help but to give thanks for seeing what you are seeing, and for all of God's bounty.
The computer/technological part of this, in keeping with the good Doctor's theme, is the type and quality of instrument that the music is being reproduced. My old truck does not have a radio anymore, thus I have attached active speakers through which an iPod is connected. The sound quality thankfully suffices enough to obtain that wondrous moment of divine communicado.

Now I, as others, await to read the Doctor's opening considerations on prayer and technology. Of course we know that Satan tends to have the more seriously fragmented drive and most diabolical operating system (where else do you think Windows comes from?) and no matter how hard he tries, he keeps losing all his data. The same is not the case in heaven, because we all know that Jesus saves. :-)

At 29 May, 2005 18:40, Blogger Marc the polar bear said...

Ah yes, I prefer my mustard a simple yellow. French's brand. Dijon Poupon my palate is not appreciative of very much. The question perhaps might be, can you not pass the mustard, but cut it? The same should not be said of cheese. Now mustard and a thin slice of cheddar within a sandwich full of deli meat and lettuce, pray, there is the rub.

We will soon discover what this has to do with herr Doctor's aside on mustard. Mind you, the overall scope of the post on prayer and mustard, in terms of its apparently tangential thought processes, makes me think that the Doctor is like THE Doctor. The presence of a long scarf and jellybabies can only be predicated if our doctor has curly hair. Then everything will make a lot more sense, or perhaps not. But to quote Yo-duh, "Interesting, that will it be." :-)

At 30 May, 2005 10:15, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

I hope I can live up to your expectations. I know that the topic does! God grant that I may write well about this most important and wonderful gift He has given us. (No, I do not mean the gift of mustard, which is not usually counted among the Seven Gifts.... hmm.) The mustard, like everything else, will be shown to connect. Haven't I already quoted GKC on that?

Tangents are a way of life for me. Also secants, and sines. How can any Trinitarian not delight in trigonometry? Hee hee. (Let's all open our CRC handbooks to page A-20 and chant today's table of angles in fractions of pi radians....) Oy, if you think this is some kind of tech joke, just wait until I get into the connection between computing and Holy Mass! No kidding!

Who? Ah, the DOCTOR. (I believe I understand.) I have two scarves. One is shorter than the other. No jellybabies at present. Curly hair? So I have been told - by my mother. Well, my mother always wondered why all her boys had such curly hair and her girls didn't. Alas. Haven't you already seen my picture on Ben's web page?


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