Monday, July 13, 2015

Supplicants need not apply

Temple Bell, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto

I've been thinking about this following a conversation with my wife about something Merton said in The Seven Storey Mountain:

Is it in fact acceptable to pray to God for my needs?

I don't think so.

To pray to God for my needs is, I think, to presume a distrust in God. God already knows all needs, sees all needs, and indeed has all needed things for every part of His creation eternally in front of Him. By eternally is meant, always and everywhere; so there is never a moment within creation where God has not already seen to—and provided for—every need not only in the present moment, but in advance. 

He doesn’t need reminding.

In fact I don’t clearly know what my needs are; so when I pray for them, even if they are needs so seemingly obvious as the need to breathe or the need for food, or love, or health, I am in a state of unknowing, because in each moment the essential and most Godly nature of my need may be quite different than my presumptions, which are always not heavenly but earthly.

In this way I misunderstand, because I don’t see how I perpetually live within a state of entirely and precisely fulfilled need. 

I encounter this practically in the simplest of ways; for example, one night, I itch terribly. To me this is undesirable and ought to be taken away from me; yet—mysteriously—it’s what is necessary. I can see this sometimes if I gain enough perspective on what takes place in life. This is a simple trial, yet I resist it, even with the example of Christ before me, whose trials were far more terrible and far more necessary. 

So my prayers are unnecessary. I don’t need to ask God to do what is necessary for me since He will inevitably give me all such things, anyway; and this is simply because to put me within the fulfillment of my needs is in its essence all-merciful, which is the very nature of the Lord Himself in the first place. He won’t actually ever do otherwise, because of His nature, which is eternally gracious and eternally merciful. 

This leaves me with the question of what purpose prayer is meant to serve in the first place, if not supplication. I believe in myself as a supplicant; perhaps that’s my first error, in that I assume an identity different from the one God originally gives me, which is a receiver of His Grace and Mercy. 
Religions need supplicants; God does not.

Prayer serves above all to honor the Lord; it is a form of thanks and ought to remain so. It’s all right for me to pray in need and desperation, as long as I know that it’s only from within my own misunderstanding and my own lack that I need such prayers; for God certainly doesn’t need them. 


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