Friday, January 9, 2009

God's Adult Children

My brother-in-law and I were discussing the nature of prayer last night, especially as a vehicle for God’s interaction with us. I found out that we both downplay the role of petitionary prayer, as usually conceived, because it runs the risk of reducing God to a cosmic short-order cook. I stated that I often experience what I call, for lack of a more precise term, “promptings” that I identify as God trying to get my attention. They aren’t audible, but they do seem to be language based. Something that is to intentional thought what peripheral vision is to gazing. An echo in the moment just before it fades to imperceptibility. Just enough realness not to be imaginary; just enough otherness to imply external agency.

From there we moved on to consider why some people report receiving regular, detailed, totally unambiguous communiqués from God, directing virtually every aspect of their lives. Are they über spiritual? Are they deluded? While I certainly can’t just flatly deny the validity of their experience, I cannot be satisfied with this view of the divine/human interaction. Whereas uncritical emphasis on petitionary prayer reduces God to something less than fully divine, the notion of God’s specific directing of every detail of our lives reduces us to something less than fully human. I, for one, believe that God created us to be more than life-like animated game pieces, moved around the board by a hand other than our own, toward an endgame that has already been determined.

At this point in the conversation I was searching for an image or analogy to convey my admittedly somewhat unorthodox views. Here’s where I landed:

My father died a little over a year ago. He was 87, and I was 54 at the time, so for many years our relationship had been that of a parent and an adult child. I have been on my own and directing my own life for considerably longer now than I was a dependent living under his roof and his rules, but that didn’t keep him from having his own opinions about whatever I might be doing. He usually realized, though, that his own role had changed from authority to advisor, and I think he had made his peace with that and maybe even experienced pride and joy when watching who his son had become. To be honest, I was often the one who initiated those conversations in which his advice was solicited. But knowing that I could use him as a sounding board without being bound by his feedback was a liberating experience that made me feel like a real grownup.

We start out as totally helpless infants, utterly dependent on others for everything we need in life. Loved and nurtured by parents and extended family, we grow into children, discovering the “self” inside of us and exulting in what we can do for and by ourselves. Adolescence follows, moving from awkwardness to displacement to rebellion against the very ones who brought us to that point in life. But it concludes with the discovery and reintegration that signal the onset of adulthood. As parents, we love our children unconditionally at every stage of their lives. But when they finally reach adulthood, who of us would want to see them return to infancy, or childhood, or adolescence? Isn’t the greatest joy to be found in seeing the mature, independent men and women they become?

Maybe that’s how God wants to be with us. Maybe God wants us to still be connected through prayer, wants us still to be attentive to promptings and guidance, but at the same time be our own people--not mindless Stepford creatures. Maybe if we're lucky, and we live long enough, we get to grow up and be God's Adult Children.

I think Jesus would give a rat's ass about something like that.


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