As a curious anthropologist, a photographer, and a discreet and respectful observer, I love visiting mosques, temples, synagogues, and churches, and often use the quietness and sacred space to pray. (And, as a schoolgirl, have not been above accepting the delicious sweets offered by the priests in Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras.)
I observed during a holiday in Turkey, the utter devotion with which Muslims bow, pray, prostrate themselves. I have watched Jews bow before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, slipping prayer requests into the cracks of the wall. I have seen those same wide, longing, hopeful eyes of faith in Buddhist temples, Sikh gurudwaras, Roman Catholic churches in Italy, and Protestant churches in England.
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What happens when I pray? Well, often–coincidences accelerate; I change; other people change; circumstances change. Sometimes, miracles happen. Magic, an element of surprise and unpredictability, is introduced into dreary, impermeable, hopeless reality. Once I’ve started praying, with faith, hope, love, diligence, persistence (and a list!), I feel that anything can happen—and it often does!!
If I prayed, and nothing happened, ever, would I continue praying? Perhaps not; the cognitive dissonance would be too hard to bear.
And would Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews continue praying if their prayers were never answered? Perhaps not!
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God, God, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness was God’s self-description to Moses (Ex 34:6). And would he only answer the prayers of those whose parents had taught them to call him Jesus, or Jehovah, but not the prayers of those taught to call him Allah, or Krishna or Rama?
I do not believe that. I believe God graciously inclines his heart to all who call upon him whatever name and language they use.
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God has a yearning heart of compassion for all peoples. He feels pride and affection for all creation. “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls each by name.” Isaiah 40:26.
“Alpha Centauri. You’re beautiful. I made you. Twinkle, twinkle, little Sirius. You’re lovely. I made you. And you, Andromeda burning bright in the darkness of the night. I made you,” I can imagine God saying.
And will he not also delight in the humans he has made and fashioned in darkness of their mother’s womb, the area almost out of the control of our hope and ambition? Will he not answer their prayers, whether they think of him as Jesus, Yahweh, Allah or Rama? I believe he will.
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Jonah cannot understand God showing mercy on Nineveh (the capital of Assyria), Israel’s great enemy, whose wickedness and violence has come up before God.
But God replies, “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10).
And will he not be concerned about those who pray to a God they call Yahweh, Allah, Rama, Vishnu, Jesus in synagogues, mosques, temples, gurudwaras, and churches? Does he not often grant their requests?
Is that why prayer has been a feature of every known human civilization, from primitive distant civilizations who build ziggurats, sun temples, Wats and Parthenons to the Unknown God they knew as numinous and beyond our ken to hyper-connected us, who with a million ideas available at our finger-tips, still reach through the heavens to someone beyond ourselves, who knows everything–and everything about us–and still loves us. Whom I call Jesus.