I talk a lot about prayer in my life, and you may talk a good deal about
prayer in yours. But let’s be honest: we’re pretty lousy at praying, at
least in the fullest sense of the term. I don’t mean this as an
indictment of some rich spirituality that is in us. Our prayer lives are
just so far from what they could be.
An impoverished doctor in an Alpine valley of hearty people, lures a naive country boy into his examining room, shows him frightening anatomical charts of the mysteries within, and awakens fears about hiccups and hair loss, acne and gas pains. According to this old French fable, the boy leaves clutching a bottle of medicine and carrying alarming stories to pass along.
When Pandora opens the box that contains all the world’s evils, they immediately fly away, destined to plague humankind for eternity. She is able to replace the top just in time to save only hope. But why was hope among the evils in the first place?
In one of the most famous sermons ever delivered, John Donne described the challenge of retaining concentration during prayer. The year was 1626. The occasion was the funeral sermon for Sir William Cockayne.
As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, remembers Vincent Harding coming up to him at a church in Denver and suggesting that they work together. Patel declined, saying he thought the mission of his own organization didn’t mesh with Harding’s. After Harding died, Patel read his obituary and learned Harding was an unsung hero of the civil rights movement and a speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. Later, at an event attended by Patel and Harding’s widow Aljosie, Patel confessed that he had passed up a great opportunity. Aljosie said to Patel: “You should know that Vincent followed your work, and he loved you, and he forgives you” (OnBeing.org, June 9).