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July 17, 2008

Secular prayer?

Reading this review of Noelle Oxenhandler's new book, The Wishing Year -- which sounds rather like a follow-up to The Secret -- I was struck by just how much Oxenhandler's account of her wishing technique parallels accounts of the prayer lives of Christians.

There are the tales of just-in-time interventions: "She gets a house when her landlords -- out of the blue -- offer to sell her the one she's been renting from them, after which her mother -- out of the blue -- comes up with a secret stash of money that covers more than half the down payment."

There's an echo of Jesus' promise that we receive what we ask for in faith: "all three of her wishes were granted."

There are the answers we didn't really want, but that turn out to be good in their own way: "when she tells of a dying child who wishes so hard to live but nonetheless dies, becoming in death an inspiration to thousands, she offers the glib consolation that this little girl's personal wish had somehow been transformed into something better."

And there are the debates over whether it's okay to wish for trivial-seeming things: "Oxenhandler admits to being a 'wish snob,' that is, a believer in a hierarchy of wishes that makes wishing for spiritual healing (or peace on Earth or a happy death) quite acceptable and wishing to own a house (or have a flat stomach or plenty of money) shameful and crass. But she eventually grows more comfortable with the 'fundamentally blessed equality of all things,' striving with equal zealousness to find spiritual ease and a down payment." 

(Reviewer Judith Viorst adds later, "When I think of the millions of ungranted wishes being made by desperate people all over this world, I cannot believe in her book as much as she wishes I would.")

Assuming Oxenhandler's account is a truthful description of her year, what exactly does that mean for Christian believers? How do we convince a society full of Secret-followers and compulsive wishers that with prayer, we have something far better and more meaningful than mere wishing or calling upon the universe?

And, again assuming Oxenhandler's truthfulness, how do we account for the fact that she had these secular prayers, if you will, answered without really praying? If God answers these prayers-that-aren't-prayers, what might His reason be? To glorify His name, or draw the wisher closer to Himself? But will that happen if the wisher believes that he or she made all those wishes come true without God?

That's a lot of questions, but I find this an interesting subject, and I'd like to know what you think about it.

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Steve (SBK)

I think it is, if you like, a symbol of the vast majority of life's little blessings.

I was reminded of Matthew 5:44,45 :
"44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Part of the problem is our idea of prayer being selfish. But who wants to pray for those who persecute us? Can it *really* be that we are to emulate God, who does not only reward the meritorious? Sure - if you can trust the Bible *wink*.

At the same time, I think that most non-believers would scorn any kind of thinking that is exemplified by: I prayed, and my dog came home. Their thoughts: "Riiiiiiight."


i echo with Steve. There are people who buy into this wishful thinking started by "The Secret", but then there will always be people who are like "Riiiight".

On the other hand...
Maybe there is something of that secular wishfulness, something that can be translated into "the groans of the Spirit". I guess, what i'm saying is that that wishfulness might be more 'prayer-like' than we think.

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