Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire). Giotto di Bondone. 1310-18. The National Gallery. London.
It is required you do awake your faith.
Act V scene iii, The Winter's Tale (1610-11), William Shakespeare
On a Friday in March I read two things in the news.
The first report was on a study on the power of intercessory prayer to heal. The study, soon to be released by the American Heart Journal, was done with cardiac patients who were undergoing bypass surgery. Christian volunteers from three different groups were recruited to pray on behalf of some of the participants. It was the largest study of its kind to date and according to the review, it was also the most meticulous to date, attempting to address the flaws in previous studies.
The bottom line? Prayer made no statistical difference. In fact, cardiac patients who knew others were praying for them experienced more complications post-operatively.
The second was an article in Time on the state of the environment. The cover of the magazine read: Be worried. Be VERY worried. The article was on climate change and global warming. It addressed the tipping point for environmental collapse and noted that once set in motion the change is not necessarily gradual, as we expected. That we actually seem to be seeing a feedback loop rather than a gradual decline, destruction that is fueling further destruction, an accelerating reordering of the environmental system.
The bottom line? Left unchecked we could begin seeing widespread disease, species extinction, environmental collapse. To some extent, the process has already been set in motion and the ground that we have lost may not be regained. Well, not for millennia.
Personally I have wondered more and more about the power of prayer in recent years. The idea that prayer might not affect a change in the world seemed possible. But to live in a world of unheard prayer is a very scary notion. Consequently, early Saturday morning found me rebuking my god for not taking better care of things.
Are You even listening to us? Is this what You want? Tell me what to do. Just tell me -- what kind of world do You want?
I don't think I expected a response. But then a voice asked,
What kind of world do you want?
What kind of world do you want? It sounds more like a challenge than a question. A kind of un-answer to prayer for it returns to me the responsibility for change. It presents the possibility that faith, or a relationship with the divine, is not meant to be passive and fixed but evolving and active. In other words, faith is not a noun; faith is a verb.
Environmental damage, war, violence, human suffering. Can one person really make a difference in a world facing such enormous challenges? Quite simply, yes. I believe so. However, it requires that we not only dream about change, talk about change, pray about change. It requires that we become agents of the change we seek. It requires that we awake our faith.