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Does God change what was going to happen because of our prayer? how?

A friend involved in writing prayers of the faithful with another has posed the question, Does God/how does God change what was going to happen because of our prayer? Asking too, what books informed this opinion. 

Most of us can find the answer to this question without books. I happen to need them desperately. I'd like to try a few ways of talking: one of them will be anecdotal, one philosophical, another sociological and socio-psychological. Perhaps a narrative theology in conclusion. What a wild ride this answer could be!

Does God act? Yes, this is the core belief. While revelation may be sourced not only in scripture or tradition but also in experience, here is one anecdote: I fell through a roof when I was in El Salvador, aged 19. The head-first fall onto concrete from 15 feet or so might have ended otherwise. I'm grateful to God and enter a seminary a few years later. At my home parish, of which I had been on delegation to our sister parish, the community offered prayer intention --was my lack of injury their answer? The priest who cared for me in those days in the boonies of the Salvadoran/Honduran border took me by ambulance along a dirt road, bumpy, in order to verify by x-ray at the nearest clinic that no bone were broken. A joke I always visualize in El Salvador, a bridge crossing the Río Sumpul where in the 80s women and children were shot in the back fleeing from government soldiers. The bridge of faith hazards this dangerous memory and asks as those who tested the believer in Psalm 42, "Where is your God?" Testing, scornfully the prayer petitioner, as if their own violence were further proof for the non-existence of God. But the joke, as I averred, goes like this. A bus of people were traveling, when the brakes go and as the driver screams! As the bus is heading faster and faster down hill toward this narrow bridge, will it make it or tip over. A prayerful woman makes her plea to God for safety while a more practical saint seeks to grab the emergency brake! Sure, God acts, and in God's own way and insofar as we believe, we act responsive to the exigency and in the means of our capacity. The dark humor to slant the piety of the pray-er is to emphasize the superlative caricature of sects, I think, misconstruing some who pray as surely having faith but totally lacking the wherewithall to have any effectiveness necessary to realize change. 

What was going to happen--this phrase is a red herring. The logic it entails, the theatrics of hypothetical scenes, it imbues a kind of situational ethics into the question. Would that the baby of which mother not have been born, hence, Herod sought to purge the first-born sons. Those asking would it be ethical to murder Hitler as a baby put it again. The two-tracks problem has it that you might have intention to prevent death, but in one run-away train situation you could prevent the killing of an innocent child, but only by sending the switch, yet unfortunately, sending the track down upon four hapless victims instead. (, the philosophy of time took many forks with the advent of Einstein's theory of relativity. The Biblical readings of God interacting in affairs of humans held in tension the worldviews of many cultures, and following Rudolf Bultmann's notion of demythologization one of the difficult tasks of reading the Bible is therefore to attempt an interpretation that reconciles the meaning so that inbreaking of God's revelation is made new in our hearts. A book at hand I can lend to anyone--David Tracy's Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 [1975]. It has several relevant sections particularly "The religious dimension of common human experience and language" but involves the reader in a gradual assent into richer discussion such as "The meaning, meaningfulness, and truth of God-language".

From a sociological point of view, prayers of the faithful are announcements, messages of communication, they communicate to the listener. Yes, we pray, we assent, and we consume the information of the petition, perhaps to be galvanized by it, taught something, and given as it were that kindness to be enlisted in the opportunity to be on the side of the fervent believer in accord with what an authority figure has put forward as a necessary compelling message. (

For an experimental psychological view, I think of the experiment made in letting a confederate, someone known participating in the experiment, stand on a sidewalk and pointing up. The simple act draws the onlooker to follow the intent gaze upwards as to confirm the worth, to verify the interest. (

At the outset, with good old St. Francis who eschewed books and danced, the question of prayer could come back to community, storytelling, embodiment. Perhaps I could re-tell a story much on my mind today written by Askold Melnyczuk. St John the Baptist's head, he begins, may be the most well-traveled skull in Christendom. The young Oliver Street catches up with it in a mosque after his divorce. He stands observing the shrine behind which allegedly the head of the saint lies, when a group of passing tourists whispering distracts him. He clasps a photograph of two young girls and closes his eyes. The words of the prayers of the faithful are Arabic, French, English, they "braid together into a new language, evading the gravity of culture and time." As a story, the adventure is only about to begin: tricked to bend by a boy showing a cricket, Oliver loses his head in chase. Lost in a narrow street, he stops and looks over a crowd of men watching the dance of a whirling dervish. (from "Termites" in The Man Who Would Not Bow & Other Stories forthcoming from Grand Iota Press, 2021). 

Already, I come back to the activity of my body, already given a thrownness into the world from which to grasp meaning. I am searching what has happened to me, to us, perhaps deeply troubled, Does God act? It's a foreshortened question, a move to the foundation of faith and the real existential uncertainty, the subjectivity of the leap of faith that Kierkegard describes most famously in his account of Abraham. Yes, conforming to the will of God, even to the height of Mount Moriah and binding his son, his beloved son, Isaac. The angel points to a shrub, at last, and there appears the surrogate, the lamb. For us and for our salvation, we pray to our Savior Jesus Christ. The turn or return to God, metanoia, the change of heart--describes the activity of the believer, while naming this salvation history describes the aboutface of God who draws all sinners to repentance and in mercy grants us peace.

The action of God, we believe, primordial, pre-time. We can give chase to lost valuables, feel even that our prayer is unheard, or wasteful, or we can talk about the activity as if nineteenth century philosophes led the query. Miracles--the extraordinary intervention of God in the ordinary world, what had become of such proofs of God's existence? 

Do we say God acts? Yes, but not to emphasize the spectacle. The drawing to look over the shoulders--this is the way faithing works, God, irresistably marvelous, drawing us into mystery. This is the belief we tradition in faith communities, preserving the deposit of faith, specific revelations made known to us in time. Since the source and summit of revelation is made manifest in the liturgy, in the believing community we profess our faith in Jesus the son of God, this core belief. With a triune God, invoking the Spirit to accept the prayers of the faithful, the gifts of the faithful and make present the body and blood of Jesus, the incarnate God, whose justice and fulfillment we await at the end of days. 


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