Talking to God through prayer comes naturally to the characters in
our film The King as it does to a great many Americans. The
simplicity of the act of prayer disguises its mind-boggling implications.
Praying presumes the existence of a higher power that you can talk to
anytime you want without any kind of technology or intermediary or expense.
It also presumes a world where the laws of nature and empirical experience
are open to regular and yet unseen manipulation, where believing is
more important than knowing. It is a world that many of us believe we
live in and probably all of us wish we did.
A sandy, desolate beach in Cornwall, England on a chilly spring afternoon.
I am eight years old and I have just been given a new toy car by my
grandmother. No more than three inches long, it fits snugly in my pocket.
I run gleefully across the beach to reach the wet sticky sand exposed
by the receding tide. But when I arrive at a suitable spot for building
little tunnels and roads for my new toy car, I feel for it in my pocket
and it’s gone.
I retrace my visible steps methodically maybe ten times over. On the
verge of tears, I close my eyes, put my hands together and pray for
the return of my little car. As an afterthought, I challenge God to
reveal himself to me by answering my prayer. As I re-trace my steps
yet again, there is my little car poking out of a footprint in the sand.
There’s an official-looking website called the Presidential Prayer
Team which suggests specific topics of daily prayer to help guide the
President and his team. One particular area of concern to the Presidential
Prayer Team is the delicate health of the Vice President. The veep’s
body seems to be a constant battleground between the forces of light
and darkness—each niggling ailment is vanquished by prayer but
there is always another popping up to take its place.
This site obviously has some weight in the higher circles of power (at
least on earth) as its organisers are sometimes included on the regular
conference calls that the President conducts with his influential Born
Again supporters. One of the main objectives of the website Presidential
Prayer Team is to recruit 1% of the American population to join in daily
prayer for the President, the assumption being that numbers count in
matters of prayer and divine intervention as much as they do in electoral
politics. And for all I know they do. I would guess that millions of
Americans prayed for the re-election of President Bush and that indeed
came to pass.
I can recall several other lost and found miracles that confirmed my
belief in God as a child, whereas I can’t remember any specific
instances when my prayers were mocked or ignored. In fact the last time
I prayed sincerely I was 19 years old and convinced I was dying of a
drugs overdose in a London underground station. I was looking to cut
a deal in extremis. Even that prayer seemed to go down pretty well,
based on the evidence of my survival.
The recovery of my little toy car and the facing down of the grim reaper
in the London underground doesn’t prove the objective value of
prayer but it doesn’t disprove it either. The same would have
to be said for the re-election of the President. And despite all the
efforts of the Presidential Prayer Team, it is quite difficult to discern
the work of the Lord in the Bush presidency—at least based on
my reading of the New Testament.
That said, making decisions based on faith and what you wish for is
not necessarily an act of self-deception. Far from it. Even a sceptic
knows that desirable objectives have to be willed as well as pursued.
So, in that spirit, might I suggest a moment of prayer for Vice President
Cheney’s recent foot ailment? You don’t necessarily have
to pray for healing and the assuaging of his pain. There is not yet
a terrestrial intelligence agency that has the ability to eavesdrop
on your prayers. No one else on earth will know what you pray for. If
enough of us pray, who knows?