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Prayer is just magical thinking. Right?

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Asking for your own private cascade of miracles11252013-2-la-table-de-pique-nique-architecture-by-benedetto-buffalino-designboom-03

Magical thinking is the hope that something out of nowhere will happen and change everything. When I was a kid writing stories and got stuck, it was magical thinking that rescued: suddenly the space ship landed and my main character got on and was whisked away. These were not cohesive stories. As a kid I engaged in magical thinking when I had a speech to give the next day: “Maybe the Russians will bomb us tonight and I won’t have to give that speech.”

That seemed like a fair trade-off at the time.

Some of my friends will say religionists routinely engage in magical thinking. It is this notion that someone (God) will rescue me from the pit I’ve landed in or the cul-de-sac I’ve driven into. I cannot disagree: I often have more than passing interest in rescue to come from above. Whether a work issue or a personal issue, health or wealth or life or death. Any and all of this succumbs to magical thinking. And that is what prayer is, right? A request for rescue, the more magical the better.

Magic defies logic by definition. Buying lottery tickets is magical thinking. Wearing lucky underwear on game day is magical thinking. Avoiding the professor’s eye contact is magical thinking.

But is prayer magical thinking? Sometimes, certainly: I hope I did not pray for Russian bombs to avoid my fourth grade speech on the cold war. If I did I was engaging in magical thinking.

Is prayer always magical thinking? No.

Can you bear a bit of nuance?

Say there is a God (this is not a given for some readers) and this God hears pleas for mercy. It could be that God engineers circumstance in mighty, global ways that I can neither see nor understand. As a person of faith I believe this is possible and even likely. But magical thinking asks that it happen for me and mine. Magical thinking is always about my zip code, my location, my self-interest. This is precisely where magical thinking and prayer part ways. If there is a God (and I believe there is), then prayer for magical interventions in my life will fall short. That’s because God is not just for me. God is for others too. Many others. If God is bent on reunion with people, then prayer is not answered according to magical thinking, but instead according to some other logic. The person maturing in faith starts to parse out the differences between magical thinking and honest prayer by allowing for silence. The person maturing in faith looks for this other logic.



Image credit: benedetto bufalino via designboom/thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

November 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Ancient Text, Prayer, soviet

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4 Responses

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  1. You’re still my favorite Sunday school teacher.


    November 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

    • You make me blush.


      November 25, 2013 at 10:21 am

  2. […] questions reasserted in the regular world most of us live in (versus a churchy, holy world where magical thinking sometimes takes […]

  3. […] further reflection, and perhaps with a bit of divine intervention, I realized the message of ListenTalk is much more about this hope I’m starting to entertain: […]

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