Monday, 23 February 2009

900 - In Which I Go All Mulder (3)

Some odd events to do with prayer and intention.

Starting with a qualified apology about the religious language, in case it sounds freaky, or presumptious, or out of place. In what I'm about to write, I'm not out to persuade, and the language I used at the time I'm repeating here because I used it at the time. I talk about prayer, and especially the verbal kind (evangelical Christians call it 'intercession'), but aspects of it'll sound familiar, perhaps, to people from other spiritual traditions, like Wicca and Buddhism, where maybe it is referred to as something else.

And there may be a Black Swan explanation of it all which does not require anything other than coincidence and the laws of nature. But I'm not here trying to unpick subjective elements from objective ones. This is partly because the very reason I've experienced some of the things I have is because I motivated myself to go about engaging with them the way I did, a phenomenon that cannot help but be both subjective and objective. More subtle analysis can (and will!) follow in later posts.

Here's what happened, anyway.

After the shower experience that had pitched me into questioning reality, and, perhaps because it was to hand, after I had immersed myself into the evangelical Christianity that offered to mediate it for me, I realised pretty soon that this was a hook, line and sinker gig.

I began to seek out books and experiences which would demonstrate to me, to others, to the God that I had committed myself to, that I was in it for the long haul. I found myself exploring prayer, which I have come to understand as engagement at its deepest level with the reality we can reach out and touch, in such a way, perhaps, that that reality is affected by our actions.

Four uncanny events, on each occasion I ventured to the edge of my inhibitions, encouraged me to believe this.

First, at Uni, emboldened (though not beyond the point of uncertainty) by stories of men and women asking God to intervene in the world, on my own one night I prayed the first thing that came into my head. A kind of bargain - give me something to pray and I will say it (give me something important to pray, God, and you'll get what you want). What I would get was the validation that my prayer was worthwhile. The risk, of course, was that I would say something stupid. Tentatively, with as much conviction as I could muster, I opened my mouth, and without preparing the words, found myself saying 'I pray for the victims of the train crash'. Single sentence. I rolled over and went to sleep. I woke up to catch late night radio news of a train crash in Europe. Only two dead, though many injured.

Then, as a passenger on a car journey past the Chichester Sainsbury's in 1993, I sensed some kind of weight, a gathering of - what? intention? in the atmosphere around the place. Although I understood I could articulate a prayer, nervously I didn't. I'd been shocked by my experience of the train-crash prayer. Within a day or two, though without injury to anyone, the supermarket had burned down.

Third, in Bognor, summer 1994, I bought tickets to travel for a fortnight's break from L'Arche. By this stage, much of my interior life was caught up in a process of negotiation and imaginative acts of life rehearsal, in the light of theology and the God that that theology argued for. On the way to Bognor station I felt the same sense of weight. Whatever it was, it led me to break my revery and, choosing words a bit more carefully than before, to pray (and forgive the stiltedness!) "Lord, if the IRA are to bomb this town, at least let it be for a good purpose." Whilst I was away, this happened. It was the last IRA bomb found in mainland Britain. The shock of an IRA blast in a small seaside town, in which, amazingly, no-one was hurt, and the resilient response of the town, led directly to the IRA abandoning these tactics.

How to make sense of this? How to make sense of this when you are, of your own volition, within a church community that encourages the belief in effective prayer? When these events, though rare, maintain an internal consistency? When you are aware that any attempt to explore these things in public debate risks notoriety and misconstrual? Was the prayer effective? Who knows, objectively? What sense do you make of the not knowing?

When I left Church, in those magical weeks of grief, midsummer 1995, I was in great panic that the devil had some grip on me. A door-slam at midnight and I'd be sure I was being watched. It was as if I was operating at an acute spiritual pitch, and conspiracies that others had told me of in my church years rang horribly true. Though on the edge of madness, I was steered from it by the visit of an local crisis team, who interviewed me, and assured me that, though I wasn't insane, carry on as I was doing and I might end up so. I'd scared myself towards the release of disassociation, but the crisis team scared me back, so that I was like a rabbit zig-zagging.

On the last occasion I want to speak of, I was sat in one half of the kitchen, my mother preparing lunch at the other end. I was half aware of the door of the washing machine, open and empty. If I was damned, there'd be nothing to stop the world unravelling around me. I could be pulled every which way. I started to sense a build-up of intention, which focussed itself, as I focussed in, on the washing machine door. The windows were closed. The air was stuffy, absolutely still, and my senses were alert. If I was a puppet, the devil, anything, could have me nudge that door by thinking of it, and it would move. And you've guessed it: as I engaged, gave myself up to, the world around me and the door, the door moved. No more than a millimetre. Scalded again, I leapt away.

I list these experiences, and these, and these, to make the point that there is a state of being where positivism - an understandable trust in the material world - becomes uncertain. I don't want to go further than that, not here, and probably - given the choices I've made, and the fulfilment I find precisely in the openness of uncertainty - not ever. Unlike Fox Mulder, I'm no longer in pursuit of a truth that is out there. Nor do I believe the truth is purely subjective, within. I won't cart my own load of dogma onto your patch, and just dump it there.

Though I do want to tease at these events in future posts, and one or two others like them, and especially to begin to ask whether they can be shared in any meaningful way, as a church or coven might, or a covey of storytellers. The possibility is there. That's all, right now, I believe I'm confident to say.


lunarossa said...

I'm not afraid or ashamed to say that I pray too. I may not pray with the traditional prayers but I do pray. For others generally, not for me. My nephew, a lovely 15 years young boy, was taken ill following food poisoning during a school trip. He was in a coma for a week. You can't even imagine how much I prayed for him, all the prayers I know, with my own words, lighting candles etc. But he died at the end of that week. One of my best friends spent 20 months in terrible pains due to oral cancer. She changed so much that at the end I couldn't recognize her anymore. I prayed for her too, hoping again that God would listen. Towards the end of her life I just prayed for her to be relieved from her terrible suffering. These are just a couple of examples, the most painful ones. Now I keep on praying but I sometimes I fear that there is nobody to listen ...
All the best. Antonella

Steve Lancaster said...

Thank you for this post, Antonella. I've no answers, but a hand extended, and a willingness to share the moment.

I cannot any longer say whether this, that or the other is true - whether there is anyone listening, for example.

But it seems to me that love is worth building on. Maybe love is all anyone ever built on. And I do not believe that love would ever hold it against us to pray for intervention on behalf of someone we loved, even if no-one was there to answer the prayer.

Thanks again.