PRAYER-ph-130317

You will be amazed at the rituals and incantations we make during the basketball season. I myself tried several permutations of shirts and colors in the vain hope that what I wore would somehow affect the outcome of the games. Of course it was fun even if I never really found the right winning combination of clothes. More fun too in finding out the supposed winning concoction of others.

It is after all only human to be at times irrational, to want to spot patterns and the correlation between things and to mistake that correlation for causality. We like to connect things and to conclude (if we could) that B must have been caused by A because, hello, B comes after A. Our enlightened age has done well to unmask some of these facile connections. Despite this however, we persist and we so delight in defying the illumined wisdom because, really, you never know; and as one confused Filipinized phrase has it, “you can never can tell.”

Look at the battle in today’s first reading. Never mind the combat strategy that Moses and company cobbled up before going to war. Forget the battle-forged skills of “certain men” who were handpicked by Joshua to engage the enemy Amalek and the Amorites. What seems to have decided the outcome in the end were the hands of Moses, who was watching this bloody encounter from where he was seated by the bleachers.

“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” Correlation or causality? Before they could even answer (if they even cared to), Aaron and Hur saw Moses growing tired. “So they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”

Perhaps the enlightened among us would say it wasn’t really the arms that won the day. Perhaps it was the inspiring sight of the old man gazing at them with frail arms outstretched and defiant that gave them heart and fiery resolve. Perhaps God could not refuse the reach of the man he once promised would lead his people out of Egypt. Really, you never can tell.

Anyhow, games and warfare, like life, are fraught with so many unpredictable variables and unknown (even shadowy) forces that there will always be room for supposing all sorts of mystical teleconnections which are beyond comprehension, never mind plausibility.

The world in which we live, a world in which the banig can just be taken out from under our back, makes it only natural for us to want predictability, constancy, and consistency. Progress and science and sanity are predicated on these. That is all well and good. By all means, strive we must (consult the feng shui even) to reduce the “spread of uncertainty” or risk. But let us do so mindful of where this impulse for establishing clarity, certainty, and causality is coming from.

This impulse comes from a longing to make sense of things, especially of things that are most dissonant in our lives. It is coming from a hope for things to fall into place (“kahulugan“) despite the scatter we see surrounding us. It is embedded in who we most truly are, creatures in a universe not of our choosing. And if we are not careful, this impulse degrades into idolatry and delusion when we become fixated on controlling everything about us. Nothing is perhaps more pathetic than maintaining this fiction of control over things that are in truth larger than us.

This desire to discover and shape meaning out of chaos comes to the fore especially during times of tragedy. We soon find out however that our efforts to piece the fragments together can only go so far. We may know the social and physical causes of the recent calamities in Mindanao (war), Visayas (earthquake), and Luzon (typhoon), and even succeed in uncovering the calculated thievery of our leaders. Still, for all the clarities and causal connections we have made, questions of purpose and intention remain, leaving us dissatisfied and disconnected. We ask, why us? Why now? Why here? How did we deserve this?

Planted somewhere in the silence and debris are the seeds of true prayer. Pray we must, Christ in the Gospel tells us, “always without becoming weary.” Pray without giving up. Pray over our dreams, broken and still standing. Pray over gifts that have been taken and those that are still being given. Pray for hearts to be brave, even if grief-stricken. Pray with words that have been silenced and with those that could still be uttered. Pray over the questions that remain unanswered and the promises that have been made.

Pray for faith in the goodness and nearness of God. Pray for hope to bend our longing to the things that truly matter. Pray for love to catch the pieces that fall and scatter.

Pray to be strong enough to raise your hands until sunset. Pray for companions to hold your arms when you falter. Pray to win the battle and to be free at last in the very act of self-surrender.

[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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