Shaping the Field

How does it work, exactly? A friend sent an email this morning asking me to “say a prayer” for her father who was in surgery for the reemergence of a brain tumor. The procedure is, not surprisingly, complex and dangerous. I immediately offered prayer for the intention of his return to health and the skill of his surgical team.

Perhaps like many who pray, I then entertained the question of whether my prayer (or any prayer) was efficacious, whether it was just an exercise in feeling good about myself, an antidote to feelings of powerlessness, an application of wishful thinking. I suppose each of those may be a by product of my praying, but I must believe they are not its sole consequence.

It’s not a matter of believing. Certainly, belief has power: it has the capacity to transform men into monsters, sinners into saints. Believing in itself is nothing more than entertaining a series of delusions about the universe in which we live and our place in it. I have always been struck by Sir John Betjeman’s powerful confession in his poem Before the Anaesthetic, where he confronts the real possibility of his own demise and acknowledges the fantasy of his believing:

St. Giles’s bells are asking now

And hast thou known the Lord, hast thou?”

St. Giles’s bells, they richly ring

And was that Lord our Christ the King?”

St. Giles’s bells they hear me call

I never knew the Lord at all.

Oh not in me your Saviour dwells

You ancient, rich St. Giles’s bells.

Illuminated missals-spires-

Wide screens and decorated quires-

All these I loved, and on my knees

I thanked myself for knowing these

And watched the morning sunlight pass

Through richly stained Victorian glass

And in the colour-shafted air

I, kneeling, thought the Lord was there.

Now, lying in the gathering mist

I know that Lord did not exist;

Now, lest this “I” should cease to be,

Come, real Lord, come quick to me.

No, our believing is a pitiful thing, tragically limited by the narrow boundaries of our perceptions and intellects, as different from that of our fellows as are our facial features and body types. Admittedly, our believing provides us with a way to stand in the world and interact, but does little to shape the fabric of reality about us.

But our praying may be a different matter.

I have never embraced the “vending machine” approach to prayer – insert a prayer, pull the lever and get a product which may or may not bear some resemblance to your desired outcome. Nor can I accept (intellectually or spiritually) the idea that an anthropomorphic parental deity weighs the merits of individual requests and acts (although I loved Bruce Jay Friedman’s play Steambath where God was a Puerto Rican steam bath attendant named Morte who dictated commands to a celestial machine that responded to his caprice).

I am convinced, however, that prayer is energy, intended and directed. That we humans are generators of energy is a given (that was, after all, one of the assertions of The Matrix), and we apply the energy we produce both for actions great and small, interactions selfish and benevolently interactive. Further, the saints of contemporary physics assure us that we live and move and have our being in and through fields of energy which connect and infuse all things animate and inanimate. Waves of energy influence the fields in which we dwell, and I pray with intention in hope that what humble energy I emit may have some effect on the field even far distant.

And where is God in my assessment of the value of praying? As delusional as my own believing may be, I act in confidence that God defines and sustains the field of energy which allows little folk like me to shape emerging reality.

It may be little more than a pleasant delusion, but I, like many others, have often had the experience of thinking of someone then having the phone ring only to find them on the other end. I have seen in my garden the consequence of planting things that do not get along in close proximity to each other, only to have both die. Certainly, their roots do not touch, but they do alter the nature of the field in which they are both planted. I have an admittedly humble model for global influence (one unavailable to me even 25 years ago) every time I surf the web and send a thought or a wish to those worlds away from me.

So, too, I hope to influence the character of the cosmic field in which I am planted: by acts of kindness, acceptance, respect, courtesy, and by prayer: prayer which allows me to invest self in the field for the well being of those who share that field with me. And does it work? I’ve bet my life that it does. As deluded as I may be, others have made bets far less benign.