May 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café
Monday, May 21, 2018
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)
When we offer a person in distress our thoughts and prayers, where do we think they go? To heaven for perusal by God or specially assigned angels? To the afflicted person to provide solace and assurance that someone cares? To the empty air helping no one at all? Does the phrase remain meaningful in modern times, as a real recognition of tragedy and a communal blessing that makes a difference? Or in the Facebook era has it now become just a cynical “thumbs up” meme for offering best wishes as a substitute for real assistance?
When confronted by suffering, is there still an instinctive need to say “we care”? Is caring a waste of breath if not followed by deeds? Is Compassion the greatest expression of the divine (or its secular equivalent) within us? Or is Compassion only hypocrisy unless it’s expressed physically, not verbally? Do our thoughts and prayers reveal the kind of compassion described by John Donne, “No man is an island, Entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main…Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind”? When we offer merely “thoughts” or “prayers,” are we really saying, “I said I’m sorry for you; what more do you want?” Do such thoughts and prayers go not straight to Heaven, but to Hell? In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the family and friends of financially troubled George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) pray for divine aid for him. As a result, angel trainee Clarence appears, to prevent George’s suicide and show him his life did matter — to the whole town of Bedford Falls and to many throughout the world. But didn’t the many townspeople rushing to his home with their thanks for his past charity, and with their money to cancel his debt, help George more? Is this just Frank Capra’s fairy tale? If so, why do people keep watching the movie? Do we see many angels these days and would we recognize them? Are true guardian angels celestial beings, or are they more down-to-earth?
Do thoughts and prayers have spiritual weight and power? Does our long-distance concern nevertheless still strengthen our afflicted friends? Prayer circles are sponsored by the religious, with prayers on behalf of assigned strangers. If the stranger gets better, is it coincidence or something more? Does the knowledge that you’re in the thoughts and prayers of thousands bring more strength than the knowledge that you’re in the thoughts and prayers of one?
Do we really want all of our prayers answered? In the words of poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Since in His silence and refusal lies their self-development, so God abides unheeding many prayers.” Country singer Garth Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers,” as he beholds the woman he long-ago prayed to have who is no longer the angel he imagined, and sees anew his life with the family he later found. Should we like Janis Joplin pray that God gives us a Mercedes Benz? Wouldn’t a drug-free existence have done her more good?
Do we even want prayer answered at all, or should prayers go into a celestial “circular file”? Isn’t it better if God (or Nature) just lets us work things out when they happen? Isn’t life our own responsibility, not the charity case of a far off or even close up deity? Aren’t petitionary prayers mistaking God for Santa Claus? Perhaps God and Santa aren’t “out there” — as much as they are “in here”?
But in the end, isn’t there real comfort in thoughts and prayers? Don’t believers only want God to be with them, no matter the outcome? Don’t both believers and non-believers benefit from knowing that others, even strangers, wish them well? When we ask for help for others, don’t we become better somehow? Should we let human hypocrisy spoil angelic sentiments? Aren’t all charitable acts, whether done by the religious or the atheist, a hope and prayer for a better world?
On Monday, May 21 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will attempt to put a tracking device on thoughts and prayers to ascertain their final destination. Our inter-belief reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be our thought and prayer. But whatever you’re thinking and whether or not you’ve been praying, there will be treats!