What do we want? No, what do we really want?

What do we want? No, what do we really want?

Dear Parishioner,

What do we want? No, what do we really want? The two questions are not at all the same, but we confuse them, which is perhaps why we get mixed up about intercessory prayer, and then complain that our prayers go unheard.

The American poet Christian Wiman (whom I thoroughly recommend) tells the story of his young daughter complaining that she cannot sleep because of worrying thoughts. Her father responds by suggesting that she pray that God will give her happy thoughts, like memories of their recent holiday (Wiman pauses here with a little poetic reverie of the dusk in the Tennessee countryside). But the girl says she won’t. Startled her asks why not?

‘“Because in Tennessee I asked God to turn me into a unicorn, and” she stretched out her arms wide in a disconcertingly adult and ironic shrug, “Look how that’s turned out.”’

The little girl had perhaps not thought through what being a unicorn might involve (stables, for a start) and feels let down that her wish is ungranted, a mistake grown-ups make all the time when we fail to consider what the answer to our wishes might actually be, or care very much about what might need to change to make this possible. Not to do so is to want to be a unicorn, which outcome is surprisingly rare. We can pray, as we ought, for peace in the Holy Land or half a hundred other places, but we rarely think through what that must mean, what must then be different, and not just there, but here as well, in others and in ourselves. And that’s another problem in our praying for things; we want just one thing to change and everything else to be exactly the same, and having just uninvented cause and effect, we are strangely disappointed at the smallness of the result.

Yet Grace has its surprises. The little girl wanted to become a beautiful, magical, mysterious creature; which is exactly what she was. Her wish was already granted, but she did not know it. What has our praying made us to be, that we have not yet discovered? Perhaps the answer will surprise and challenge us, perhaps it will leave us with all sorts of gifts and responsibilities we hadn’t imagined. Sometimes, I admit, it’s easier just to be a unicorn. Probably.

Dear Santa, for Christmas I would like a manger for a unicorn….

Happy Advent

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