Or for that matter, why doesn’t God speak any modern language? Why do you suppose that is? I suspect, no one knows, if they ever even wondered about it. God, however, is given credit for knowing all languages and is quoted in the Bible as speaking audibly in ancient Hebrew and Greek. In fact, even today many around the world claim that they speak to God regularly in prayer and God answers.
I concluded that God did not speak English several years ago while praying in a men’s Bible class in Baptist Sunday School. I suddenly realized that I was doing all the talking in my prayer. I was aware of no audible, or inaudible, “voice” in any language in my head, other than my own; I detected no indications of a presence other than me. Of course, my thoughts were not audible, but they were in English. Basically, I concluded that prayer was a one-sided conversation, and all effort to communicate came from my end. In my view this situation appertains to most every person who prays. Some, no doubt, do hear voices. Those who hear audible ethereal voices have serious problems and need professional counseling. Of course, it might be objected that God does “speak spiritually” to others in their prayers but that God for whatever reason has chosen not to speak to me. My contention, however, is that my situation is no different from the average person.
If people do receive answers to their prayer, as a great many people claim, could such “answers” arise from the subconscious?1 Our subconscious is aware of what goes on in the conscious mind, while the conscious mind is generally oblivious to what goes on in the subconscious. While the conscious mind prays, the subconscious mulls over the issues raised during prayer, and these subconscious ruminations return to the conscious mind as flashes of insight, which the one who prays interprets as answers to prayer. Such answers may constitute the “still small voice” (1 Kgs 19:12), which Elijah claimed to hear in a cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19:1-18).
If this speculation has any merit, answers to prayer do not come from outside us but arise from within us. We are not conversing with God but with our subconscious selves. Subconscious thoughts that suddenly break into our consciousness are not God speaking. It is the subconscious summoning us to what we have neglected and/or providing us with answers to problems we have worked out subconsciously. At least such an analysis might explain the awesome silence of our one-sided prayers.
The apostle Paul describes what may be a similar attitude toward the experience of prayer. He did not seem to think much of a believer’s effectiveness in prayer; he regarded the human spirit2 as simply inadequate at the business of praying:
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27, RSV).
What Paul describes seems to be a subliminal experience. I have never been aware of the Spirit in my head when I pray. Our stumbling attempts to engage God in prayer are simply inadequate. According to Paul, it is the deep sighs of the Spirit that bring our concerns, requests, and pain before God. God knows the mind of the Spirit; hence, the communication (if any) is not between God and the one who prays, but between God and the Spirit. The one who prays may initiate the process, but the Spirit intercedes.
I am not sure what to do with Paul’s early directive: “Pray continually!” (1 Thess 5:17).3 If true, we must have the subconscious capacity for prayer while we consciously tend to other matters. The Spirit intercedes, and the subconscious responds with flashes of insight, while our conscious minds meanwhile are occupied with other things.
Missouri State University
2For Paul’s references to the human spirit see Rom 1:9, 8:16-17, 1 Thess 5:23.
3This is the translation of the Revised English Bible, and the NIV. The verse is translated as “Pray without ceasing” by the Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible, and Bart Ehrman. Two rather interpretative translations that remove the idea of continually being in an attitude of prayer (which is implied in the present imperative) are Dewey, et al. (“live with reverence”) and Goodspeed (never give up praying”).
I have had similar thoughts, and reactions to Paul on prayer. I think prayer is our deepest selves speaking to our deepest selves or to the deepest selves of others. "Deep calls to deep" Psalm 42:7.ReplyDelete
I would define prayer as a reaction to circumstances over which one has no control. It could be thankfulness for a condition like sunshine or birth into a loving family, or receiving an unexpected gift; it could be hope for release from a threatening condition such as suicidal depression or end-stage cancer, or war; it could be longings for greater skills in music, art, gardening, cooking, handy-man projects, etc. The list of definitions could go on for quite a while.
The only answer to prayer is perseverance at life, which (to take a nod from Dennis M.) is defined at Psalm 42:3 as "My soul thirsts for the living God." Sometimes matters will change for the better, but there is no evidence that a positive result in the eye of the beholder is the result of prayer.
Charlie you talk as if you know where and how your thoughts originate. Scientists don't even know where thoughts originate, much less what a thought is. It's mistaken to believe the conscious mind is "in charge" or controls every thought- or in this instance, prayer. ElizabethReplyDelete
Though I don’t know that it is germane to the topic, quite a bit is known about thought. A field of science, cognitive science, is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of thought (systems and processes which manipulate information). For instance, one can actually use measures of electrical activity to determine relationship between parts of the brain and mental tasks. For example, Alpha waves (8-15 hz) show activity with tasks relating to attention, beta waves (16-24 hz) for more cognitive and emotional tasks. One can even measure patterns of brain electrical activity in order to look at “preparatory sets” to predict accuracy of responses of subject before they happen. One can measure changes in electrical activity (EMG) in the arms when one thinks about hitting a hammer, for instance, and in the mouth when one thinks about saying something to someone. In other words, thought processes are no longer as inaccessible as previously thought. That, however, is just one component of cognitive science. There is also the role of neurotransmitters, which has opened new worlds in the treatment of mental illness. (I remember studying the uptake of these at the synapse, how they could be manipulated, depleted, etc. to cause changes in one’s behavior.) There is also cognitive-literary analysis that shows the way humans create and understand story, myth, ritual, etc. Some other fields involved are computer science, AI, anthropology, neuropsychology, etc. There is much more known about cognitive processes than many might think, though as in all science, it evolves. I had to identify slices of the brain & major functions of 100 components to make it out of my physiological psychology class fifty years ago. Science has come a long way since then!ReplyDelete
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Does our brain activity control us or do we control the brain activity? If thought is the result of neurotransmitters firing back and forth, then we are no different than robots. When there are changes in electrical activity- do they happen on their own automatically? If so, we have no choice in what we think or how we respond. Who or what is doing the choosing? ElizabethReplyDelete
PS: Charlie I no longer care whether or not my questions are germane to these topics, I'll ask what I choose whether its approved or not... No permission needed, none sought. Getting a little stale going over the same material without seeing any beneficial insights- other than the proper reference materials, duly notated and sourced.
There never has been a limitation on questions a reader can raise and/or address. I write about what interests me. If you raise something in response and I have something to say about it I will reply (or other readers will reply). There is a provision at the top of the blog page to send me a question to address. If it interests me and I have something to say, I may address it in a future blog.
I'll ask the question a different way. You go to church without believing in God. You pray without acknowledging the existence of a God. You claim there is no evidence that humans have a soul or spirit... Now you are wondering why God doesn't speak English??? There's no train of logic here. Of what benefit would it be to someone to pray who has no connection to a higher power? Seems like an exercise in futility to go through the motions without an underlying connection to something spiritual that is outside of yourself. ElizabethReplyDelete
Good Morning Elizabeth,Delete
I do believe in God as I have said in print, but it is not a traditional belief. My going to church has nothing to do with my belief in God, and I have explained my reasons for church attendance in at least one blog.
I do not "pray" in a traditional sense. It is closer to musing/pondering/meditating.
I see no evidence of a "soul," as conventionally thought today. Nevertheless, I do see plenty of evidence of human spirit, though it is not something mystical but an attitude that arises from within the human being.
I know nothing of a spiritual power, but only what others tell me. Tell me how you make contact with a "spiritual power."
Well, since you only see the world through your intellect it may not resonate with you, but I'll try.Delete
Spiritual connection is a realization of what you already know but had forgotten... It's an awakening of something inside, and it causes one to realize their connection to the totality of the universe, oneness with all life and the source of all life. But there has to be an openness to it which is difficult for people identified with their intellect and who judge the world in black and white terms. It happens when you accept things as they are and stop resisting people and events and situations so much.
There's no way one can remember what you have written in other blogs- I come here for the current one only, I can't possibly keep track of your religious "record" with precision. I try to get the basic points but to expect people to remember certain details is unrealistic. We think and react in the moment- recalling passages in other blogs is not possible for me to do with the busy life I lead. Elizabeth
PS: Another thought just occurred to me explaining why you do not wish to make contact with a "spiritual power" ... My impression (and I don't know you personally so of course I could be completely mistaken) is that you don't believe you need any spiritual connection with a higher source for this simple reason: From your own life experience, you already contain the correct judgements and conclusions about yourself and humanity and don't need any help from a "spiritual power" in that regard.Delete
I've had an intense interest in religious experience since I was a young boy in an evangelical church. Would you be willing to share under what conditions and circumstances you experienced the following insight and awareness: "Spiritual connection, a realization of what you already know but had forgotten... an awakening of something inside, realizing one's connection to the totality of the universe, being one with all life and the source of all life, an experience most likely to happen by accepting things as they are, ceasing to resist people, events, and situations so much?"
I can't point to anything specific... Very gradually over the course of living life with its ups and down, highs and lows, ebbs and flows... I suddenly realized that all my problems were coming from my own judgments and condemnation of other people and the world in general. Instead of feeling tense and contracted inside, I started feeling open and expanded and noticed things changing around me and my family.Delete
Charlie has no interest in spirituality and seems to be repulsed by it... There's no curriculum vitae or course syllabus to analyze. So for me, it's like trying to describe the color and beauty of a sunset to a blind person. You can't talk about spirituality with someone who has no use for it. Elizabeth
I'm puzzled by how continuing to judge Charlie in the above posts fits in with "realizing that all my problems were coming from my own judgments and condemnation of other people and the world in general."
I'm puzzled as to why my opinions unsettle you for some reason? I made that very clear when I stated that I don't know Charlie personally "SO OF COURSE I COULD BE MISTAKEN." My opinions and viewpoints are not judgments. What is judgment? Condemning someone and making them feel wrong. I don't think Charlie or anyone is wrong- I just see spirituality differently than they do.Delete
Is that ok with you? Elizabeth
PS: I have no idea what compels you state the obvious fact that I am far from a perfect human being. Having a spiritual practice does not mean somehow I am a perfect enlightened being... Far from it. If that that is what you think spirituality is all about, then you are in for a huge disillusionment.Delete
Charley and Elizabeth,Delete
Thanks to you both for sharing something of your personal spiritual journeys. I've found such a journey to be full of apparent contradictions. For example, I don't think of myself as a Christian but as a Jesus follower. I don't think that Jesus was anything but human. I also think that a power was released at his death that we call resurrection, and this power for good is the hope gifted to us by Life, and we are called to be participants.
You have seriously misjudged me.
I certainly know how it feels to be misjudged. That is why I am always open to correction and re-evaluation. My opinions are not set in stone. You seem averse to spirituality but perhaps that is a misjudgment. When I've mentioned the spiritual teachers to whom I listen, the response was "there was no curriculum vitae." Hence my reluctance to engage in describing my "sunset" to someone I perceive to be "blind" to spiritual awakening, when I was asked about it. I should have listened to my gut and refused to answer the question- there's obviously a barrier. ElizabethDelete
Your title related to an interesting book I’ve been reading, “The Adventure of English,” by M. Bragg. When I make a “time line” from it, at least leading to the Elizabethan and Jacobean world, the general basis was Germanic (Frisian & Saxon),with a trickling of words from the pre-Christian Romans. Church Latin and some Greek entered the language in the 7th c., with Old Norse and Danish entering the mix following that. Then came the Normans and a huge French influence. (My surname is French, for instance, entering probably during the Norman period. I have a 13th c. translation of “La Vie de seint Clement,” essentially “Recognitions,” which was Anglo-Norman, written so the general population could read it.) With the Enlightenment, pretentiousness as much as anything entered a new group of secular Greek and Latin words, as well as Wycliffe adding about 1000 Latin words in his translation of the Bible in the 14th c. Then came Tyndale’s influence (which is also large in the KJV), then the huge influence of Shakespeare. (That’s as far as I am in the book at this point.) I’m sure I’ve missed something, but the general picture of English is a language rooted in intrusion of others into the land, which earlier than all the above spoke Celtic (which morphed into Welsh and also found homes in a few other places). It is enough to confuse even Zeus.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good Morning Dennis,Delete
Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds interesting. I will check it out.
The word “pray,” as you know, comes from a Latin word which means entreat or plead (beg). I was thinking about that when I came upon what seems to me a curiosity. In Tanakh, its god had speaking parts, spoke through prophets and interacted with certain humans encountered. There isn’t that much chit chat between the god of the New Testament and the characters of the narratives of the gospels. This god doesn’t worm its way into the narrative except in the opening, unless one assumes that Jesus was its mouthpiece. This one just hangs out in the heavens, twiddling celestial thumbs, unless one goes with the “Jesus as God” scenario. Or so it seems. I wonder why.
Dennis Dean Carpenter