"Seascape with a storm coming on" -- J.M.W. Turner, 1840
Is prayer more important than theology? Yes, I think so.
Dogmatic theology is secondary to prayer, since prayer is fellowship, or communion. It is the deep speech of persons, not just the learning and saying of true sentences, even when those sentences are arranged poetically, in beauty.
But theology is necessary for prayer. How else would we know that God is Father, and Love? It is easy to assume that he is a demiurge, a deistic craftsman, or a tyrannical potentate who is divine because he is most powerful and sublime (and thus liable to honest questions like, "If he is omnipresent and omnipotent, and every event is his will, then how could he be good?")
Left to my own devices, I fall perenially into deism, or voluntarism, or even agnosticism. That is what I infer lazily, despondently from a simplistic regard of events. I think these lapses are concomitant with the constant, modern drift of abandoning the soul for the siren song of the ego.
But I am not happy with the status quo. There is this holy earth, this world, and my neighborhood that intrudes upon my egocentricism. And, truth be told, even in the precincts of self it is no good forsaking the rest of creation. There is no rock, no island, no possibility of invictus: the problem is not that retreating into self shields the ego from the tempest. The problem is that the greatest tempest, the greatest wrong, is confronted inescapably within that ego itself: the more intense the egoism, the greater the despair.
So, I am glad of neighbors, and brother sun and sister moon and all that. I hurt not only because I hurt, but they hurt. Their pain, sun and moon, beasts and children, neighbor, brother and sister -- their pain and mine comprise a problem.
I know, beyond any doubt, that things should not be this way. This is a disruption, a breaking, of a primordial beauty and peace. It is not true that "it is what it is." La vie is not c'est la vie, or c'est la guerre. Being is not chaos. Being is not an interruption of non-being. Life is not a meaningless succession of dominations, unrealistically and temporarily beautiful but realistically and always bleak, empty, wrong.
We know this, despite nightmares of a terrible sublimity, which I think are the tragic perceptions of fallen angels, inflicted upon the vulnerable. Perhaps the powers and principalities, the demonic, demonstrates what happens when there is all ego and infinitesimal soul, no perception of the prismatic analogies of creation. One wonders whether the myth of Dionysus really originated with Nietzsche, or was merely insinuated to him, whispered in the dark.
We know, humanly, that Eternity should come one day, and even now it shines into time, and experience is moving in and toward redemption. The kingdom comes, and the good will is being done more and more: despite the fact that some events are certainly not of this good will, there will come a time when all reality will shine with unbroken light and peace.
All phenomena then, on that Day, will show obvious analogy to the true form of Christ.
But in the mean time, things are not that way.
* * * * * * *
I say all this because I think Origen was wrong. He was wrong to suggest that the prayer of supplication, of asking God for reality to change, is inferior to the prayer of praise.
I cannot help but beg God for reality to change. This begging goes on along with my thanks and my praise: they are, practically, inseparable.
I cannot help it. I hunger and thirst for things to be made right.
I get tired though. Many situations do not change for a long time. Some bad realities look like they will never get better.
The past cannot be changed, even though history (at least human history) might be amenable to change. After an interval of time and inspiration, under the guidance of Tradition, the lines of a graceful story will emerge. The visual acuity of hindsight is perfect, in the vision of Logos.
But still, I cannot wait until a pretty resolution, when things look better from a distance like a Monet twenty feet away. The hard sharp rocks of pain and the stone mountains of multi-generational agonies, disappointments do not simply resolve into softer, pleasanter shapes under the rubric of "time is the great healer."
No. Sometimes time is the great amplifier, exagerrator even. Witness a lot of historiography, especially the historicist sort.
Time requires work. Time obviates any possibility of passivity -- especially a passivity conditioned by an apostasy into determinism. Time calls for active work for all those who are predestined, the elect -- that is, all those with a mind and a heart, all those fashioned in the image of God, the entire human race, every soul.
And what is that work? "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6.29). Yes, certainly.
But more precisely, or immediately: the work required by time is to believe in Him now.
Immediate belief is supplication. You cannot pray if you don't believe, and you cannot pray well if you don't believe well.
The efficacy of prayer is not my main concern here. I think that much about efficacy is pretty clear: if God is thought to be an arbitrary tyrant, then he will be addressed accordingly. Perhaps the real God will listen in to a mis-directed appeal: I think that if He hears sinners like me, He will certainly hear deistic determinists. But that is not a problem nearly so much as the superimposition of the ego that militates against prayer. Everyone has probably figured out, because it is one of those endoxa that Aristotle spoke highly of, or maybe part of the anamnesis that Plato referred to -- in any case, every human from birth knows that the soul is the only place from which God may be addressed.
The passions propel the consciousness into the ego. And I do not think the ego -- especially the Cartesian ego and all the other egos after it -- can ever pray.
My main concern is something else, though.
What should be my main concern?
To glorify God? To be deified? To become more like Christ?
These infinitives are no so much actions as they are ways of being. I can give my assent, proclaim my desire, participate in grace in my necessary, but very insufficient, way. It is work, I suppose, inasmuch as "faith without works is dead." Or, inasmuch as I should "work out my salvation with fear and trembling."
But it hardly counts as hard choice or effort.
What is my main concern? To believe that God exists?
Really now ... and let us be honest, and reason together. How can I not believe in the Trinity, and in the divine and human Christ in Whom I live in the fellowship of the Trinity? Belief is easy, as in "My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Once seen outside the cave, Plato, I could not deny the daylight.
What is my main concern? My main work in this day and age?
In a word?
* * * * * * *
I pray like a fool.
Every age cherishes its own set of possibilities and impossibilities. They are like "epistemological indictions" -- bondaries that demarcate what can be thought, what should be believed.
This age is all about determinism, notwithstanding its prima facie libertinism. In a universe that is only material, what will be will be. Chance is hardly freedom, and what consciousness I think I experience is only epiphenomenal, only a product of the interplay of various neuronal systems -- maybe even occurring at a quantum level.
But never mind this physics stuff.
I accuse this culture of being addicted to damnation.
That is: defining -- or rather, confining -- a person to sociological boundaries or to historicist roles. Disregarding the surface appearances of beauty, as analogous to the infinite and absolute. Forgetting about the old traditions of gift exchange and peace. Rationalizing the agonies of the innocent and not-so-innocent, and sublimating such suffering under the rubrics of some esoteric economy (almost like extrapolating aristocracy onto the divine). Entertaining meaninglessness and hopelessness at the very foundation of thought. Accepting the cold dictates of chaos, consumption, entropy. Abandoning the soul for the ego, lost in a mirrored hall, in which the footsteps echo, fading.
And watching cartoons all the while.
It is the culture of damnation from which I must disentangle my mind. That a mountain seems immovable, or a situation calicified in demonic dysfunction, or a tragedy appearing only to be ironic and meaningless only means that I've been habituated to the lower habits.
I shake my head, and hear rumors of grace and see angels of revolution.
It is the cords of determinism that I must sever, so that I and my neighborhood of sun and moon, beasts and children, sisters and brothers, can rise.
Forgive the rhapsody.
But all is rhetoric: I have left off dialectic long ago.
* * * * * * *
The main concern of the Church is supplication.
Qoheleth must bind up the testimony and say that supplication is the hardest work, and is the truest maker of change. I would do anything to pray better -- for the sake of the sick children I know about, the dying children I hear about, the suffering war-weary I mourn for, the families riven by secret pain I sense, the penitents who suffer from old repeated failures, the weary refugees beaten by the re-emergence of ancient aristocracies.
I would do anything. Even if it meant ego-slaying like fasting, which is chic. Charity, which can be performed. Forgiveness, which is no good for anything in the marketplace. Supplication needs the abnegation of the ego, and the ego loves the marketplace.
Anything, even the obscurity of church.
We go to church to pray, not for institutional survival. Eschatological revolution, not for cardboard salvations of material success, and Barney the Dinosaur spurts of cheerfulness. Beauty, not cuteness. Peace, not the segregations of homogeneous clusters who will erect the same signs in the lawn, watch the same shows, speak in furtive ludicrous code. Being as beauty, not chaos, not domination. Difference in peace, irreducible.
We go to the uncomfortable, inconvenient church, in peace and beauty, to work hard in supplication. Even if there are only two or three and the world does not give a damn (which it is good at giving).
So I will pray like a fool who rejects the tutelage of perdition. I will pray, thus, for salvation. The persistence of my neighborhood, expansive. Peace. Justice. Transformation, not destruction. Complete rescue, no one, nothing left behind. A beauty that gathers in. Where in that heaven all is gained, nothing is lost.
Prayer is eschatological, but prayer does not abandon the surfaces of this world. The Other is recognized by her eyes, or the shape of his words. Prayer, too, casts a net into history, and re-narrates it in a wider, longer setting.
The presence of supplication is the fruit looked-for on the fig tree, in season and out: the absence of supplication calls for the cleansing of the precincts, where moneychangers are always the ones displacing the one thing needful.
Prayer calls for the de-chaining of Peter, and the care of the discarded.
Prayer, supplication, calls upon the Father to send down rain upon the just and the unjust, but for justice to reign. In the peace of the never-setting Son. the presently realizable coming of the Kingdom by the Spirit.
Righteousness that is hungered for and thirsted, is the content of supplication.
The cost of this is the turning away from ego, turning to the Cross in the precincts of the soul.
It is time to pray. For this.