When He…well, there was the first stumbling block. Humans understood He. They understood She. They understood a neutral gender. They did not understand the thing that G-d was which went beyond He or She or It. Their language did not allow for the true expression of what G-d was and is.
When He spoke to the angels, they listened. They understood the requests of God. Not all complied, but at least the communications between angels and G-d were clear. Humans always behaved as if God commanded. He did not. He suggested. He cajoled. He recommended. He requested. He had given humans free will. He was often unhappy with the choices they made, but He had decided long ago to let them make their own mistakes.
It was Sunday on Earth. God had gotten through the barrage of prayers starting with Kiribati and now starting on the Eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. Parts of South America and the Carribean had already begun their liturgical supplications. The next hours would add the remaining bits of South, Central and North America. The islands in the Bering Strait would be the last to revert back to Monday. The cacophony of prayer that God had to put up with on Sundays is what made Him sigh.
The word “prayer” first showed up in the 13th century. It came from the old French word “preier” (c.900) or from the Latin. “precari.” These root words meant “ask earnestly” or “to beg,” The word “prayer” for most adherents meant the same thing. Sunday was the day for the Christians to come together as a community and “offer prayers.” According to the World Christian Encyclopedia 32% of the people in the world claim to be Christian. According to the Pew Foundation, 78.4% of Americans claim to be adherents to some Christian faith. Many of the denominations of Christians out there claim to be “the only true church.” Depending on who one was talking to, either less than 1% of the Earth’s population is Christian or nearly a third is. They were all His children, and He listened.
Jesus had gotten it right when he told his disciples, “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” He had also told them, “when ye pray , use not vain repetitions , as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”
Jesus had given them the secret to prayer which was to pray in secret and to pray in their own words from the heart. They all came together in churches and watched and listened as each prayed. When they sang songs, they judged the musicality of the choir rather than the message. They repeated the same liturgy the same way they always had.
Sometimes they got it for awhile. Back in the 1970s and 1980s there were those who tossed aside the liturgies they grew up on. They brought rock bands and new music and sang and made a joyful noise. They became unconscious of the others around them as they waved their arms or clapped. Now, with children of their own, those same people pray to music composed by Keith Green, Twyla Paris and Randy Stonehill. Thirty and more years of repetition have reduced the meaning of what was being said. Besides, those were the words of Keith Green, Twyla Paris and Randy Stonehill. If they only ever spoke someone else’s words, they weren’t really making an effort to talk to G-d.
There were the Catholics who came to church having been told that eternal damnation awaited them if they didn’t. They came out of fear of retribution. Besides, they had been told that the only place where Transubstantiation could take place was in the four walls built by human hands, presided over by a professional Catholic reciting ancient formulations. Most certainly there were those who came out of pure love of God. Fear and inertia were the driving force for most.
Jesus had spoken the Pater Nostre, the Our Father, as an example of how to pray. It had followed on his command to avoid endless repetitions. Repetition of that prayer became penance – a punishment – for sins.
They just didn’t get Him.
Many came together just to recite the Our Father on Sundays and then would live their lives as if they were orphans the rest of the week. God, of course, cared for them consistently. He loved them all in every moment, even when they were engaged in foolish things; sometimes especially when they were engaged in foolish things.
He listened to those who prayed, who reverently sought His help, in picking lottery numbers, in losing weight, in convincing their parents to buy them a car, in making some girl like them, in getting away with cheating. The angels flew about as G-d listened to the prayers. What sounded like a cacophony to them was distinguishable and clear to Him. Occasionally, one of the angels could make out a particular phrase out of the midst of the prayers swirling about. It was one of those random phrases that stopped a young angel in his tracks. “Did someone really just pray that the women’s league would have peanut butter cookies after the prayer service?” God nodded. It was hardly the oddest or most petty request of the day.
Yesterday, God had listened to Jews who gathered together. There were not so many of them on Earth as some of the other faiths. The meaning of the Hebrew liturgy was lost on most of them. Well over half could make out the letters and sound out the words if vowels were included in the prayer book. Less than ten percent of them could step up to the Torah with its lack of vowels and make out the words. That same percentage spoke Hebrew. For all the attendance at Hebrew school, very few Jews actually developed any real mastery of the language.
The Muslims who prayed five times a day represented about 22% of the world population. Their numbers were rising. God appreciated the religion’s devotion to prayer; five times a day was a commitment. He wished more believers would get past the rote forms of the prayers and really reach out with their hearts.
God sighed again.
He listened to the hymns of praise from the Baptist church, and He knew that many of those who sang about his virtues didn’t understand the words omniscient or benevolent. They mouthed words and never asked for an explanation. By the time the words had entered their vocabulary, they no longer listened to the words of the long ago memorized hymns.
He listened to the prayers of confession read in unison at the non-denominational church (Non Denominational having become its own denomination of late.) He heard the recitations by people who prayed for forgiveness of words they did not understand. How can one ask forgiveness for licentiousness when one does not know what one is asking forgiveness for?
He laughed at the children walking to church and trying to decide what to confess to the priest. What did a seven year old really have to confess. For most, the greatest sin was making up sins to tell the priest when they confessed.
He knew there were some who really loved Him even though they did not understand Him. He knew there were some who doubted His existence. That was okay. He even knew there were some who denied His existence altogether. He still loved them.
He wished they would stop using prayer as a gambling device. Ask God for a car. Throw a prayer into the giant cosmic slot machine….no car. …. try again… put another prayer chip in the God-slot….still no car….repeat. Eventually God will answer your prayer. Of course, if it was someone else praying then a person might suggest that “sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” That same person, though, keeps praying for a car.
God will supply all your needs someone had once said. God did supply enough for all, but it was up to His children to distribute everything. Also, what people perceived as a personal need was often not necessary. No one needed a television, potato chips or a basketball. Things made life different, not necessarily better.
In paradise, God supplied all the needs of Adam and Eve. They had no clothes, no computers, and no paved roads. They had enough to eat and to drink. They had each other for company and for love. They spoke to God and sometimes He answered. It was all their needs.
People wanted more now. They wanted pantyhose that wouldn’t run, and trips to foreign lands, and chocolate chip cookies. They worried about having a good life rather than doing good with their life. They cocooned themselves in their homes and watched television and played computer games and cut themselves off from real connections. His children, God’s children, had lost sight of all that was essential and concerned themselves with peripheral things.
And they prayed.
And God sighed.
And God listened.