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In Theory

June 12, 2010

Has God ever failed to answer your prayers? As a religious and/or spiritual leader in the community you likely have preached about the power of prayer, but can you honestly describe one instance from your personal experience when you did not get what you prayed for? Did that disappointment shake your faith in the concept of an almighty being, and how did you overcome this?

As Patton’s army entered Belgium, inclement weather slowed the advance. Patton ordered the chaplain to write a prayer for good weather. The skies cleared for eight days, affording the opportunity of victory. With gratitude, Patton awarded the chaplain a bronze star.
Contrary to this naivete, prayer is not results-based. God does not grant petitioners their requests just because they ask. We cannot press the right prayerful buttons and expect to receive our answer. God is not the spiritual equivalent of a Pavlovian dog’s responses to stimuli.
The faithful pray regardless of outcomes. The best prayers do not ask God to meet our needs, but rather offer gratitude to the One who bestows our blessings.
The best prayer is not to ask God to do what we want, but to accept God’s challenge to do what He wants. Our goal in prayer should be to channel God’s will, not change it.

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Rabbi Mark S. Miller
Temple Bat Yahm
Newport Beach

Zen meditation is nontheistic, and we do not petition a God or divine being. And yet we do trust in the benevolence of life, which is always present to assist us. It is human nature to hope that things will go the way we think best, and especially to hope that suffering will be relieved and people will be happy.
I find that it is good and healing just to recall in mediation those who need help. We come to identify with the vast universe and all of life’s mysteries, rather than our limited ideas about how things should go.

The Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett
Zen Center of Orange County
Costa Mesa

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