So, now that the Impeached-in-Chief has magically allowed more magic in schools (students are now free to pray? What a shock!), I remembered this little piece I wrote a while back.
Another reminder of this was listening to a talk on Secular Ethics by the Dalai Lama last night where he says our ethical action needs to have more study and less prayer, that living an ethical life is not about one religion or even Religion at all, but about humanity.
“Has Google Changed the Nature of Prayer?”
Like me, you may have a lot of experience with praying. I’ve been thinking about the essential elements of prayer:
Direction: guidance for life; a GPS for living.
Intercession: interconnecting web of relationships; voices speaking up for other voices perhaps not heard.
Supplication: seeking to be supplied with needs or wants
Adoration: awe; reverence
Meditation: contemplation; awareness; feeling connected to something greater
Have you ever noticed that virtually all of these aspects of prayer/meditation can be found through Google—the internet? Could the world wide web be the “providence” many of us are truly seeking? Follow me on this.
First, I’m not suggesting billions of people give up praying and do more “googling.” I’m also not claiming that the web is a replacement for religion, faith or God. What I am considering is whether the activity and intention of prayer/meditation is at least closely related to the “search” we all do on the internet.
I sometimes amuse myself and others by asking: Is Google, God? We say “google-it” almost like folks for thousands of years have said “pray for it” or “pray about it.” When it comes to reverence, there is much to see on the screen that can fill with awe—though I recommend the great screen of Nature.
Even as a believer I never really understood this verse, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11). This doesn’t seem true for God or Google. Yet, asking somebody for something seems to be our human propensity. We “want” to believe and though we rarely receive what we need or want by asking, we “want” to be heard and “want” to think we get what we ask for—if not what we think we deserve. We don’t like to be beggars knocking on doors.
Jesus goes on to say, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father may forgive you.” I’m not sure how that works in practice, but I do remember telling people “I forgive you, but you’re going to hell if you don’t believe.”
I suspect that of all the facets of prayer, the most important is overlooked: Assurance. We need to know we are not alone, that we can make it, that it will all be OK somehow. When we ask Google and hear Siri’s voice, it can be pretty funny, but oddly comforting. Someone is listening—even if that’s not a person we can see, not a person at all. And some theologians (and mystics) tell us God is not a “person” either.
Were Jesus’ prayers always answered? That may sound like a disrespectful question but think about it. His most famous prayer, the “Lord’s Prayer,” was teaching His disciples to ask their “Father” to do whatever He chooses (His will), to ask for food, to forgive debts, and hope the Heavenly Parent wont “lead us into temptation” (isn’t that the Other Guy?) to “deliver us from evil” (are all believers then protected?) because God gets all the glory forever. Has this prayer ever truly been answered? Is there an “answer”? Does there need to be?
Or was the purpose to feel assured? Your Parent is out there, watching and caring—say something, even if the answer is long, deep, uncomfortable silence.
Let’s take Jesus’ shortest prayers, “Take this cup [of suffering] away from me” and “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Well, he suffered and no one says we’re off the hook for his death.
Then read Jesus’ longest prayer in John 17 where he pleads, “[I ask] so that they may be one as we are one … I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” Remarkable. I’ve never figured out how, or why, someone wrote down this whole prayer, but we eavesdrop as he asks that human beings be as united and cooperative as he and his parent are. When will that prayer have a response?
The good thing about Google is that we have access to vast libraries of knowledge. We can connect with people through websites and blogs, organizations, schools and businesses. Literally billions are searching along with us. Hopefully, we don’t believe everything we find in our searches. We certainly can’t “believe it and you’ll receive it.” But for anyone who wants to communicate, cooperate and collaborate with others across the globe, Google is great—a great tool.
Of course the important step, to truly assure us there is really someone out there, is to meet them, gather, have face to face relationships.
Is this the beginning of the new, secular congregation?
I don’t know. Let’s look it up.
Chris Highland, 2017
And, in a “miraculous” answer to prayer, there is a Church of Google!
“Glory be to Google,
As it was in 1998,
And ever shall be,
Searching without end,