Praying from Privilege

I’ve always loved this scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I often repeat the line, “Did you see what God just did to us?” after something relatively minor happens that didn’t quite go my way, even if (*especially if) whatever happened was my own fault. Just the other day I channeled my inner Benicio Del Torro and tweeted that God hated me because my Macbook power supply stopped working. It’s my subtle attempt to mock the way we approach God, assuming she is out there, worrying about the problems resulting from a life a privilege and decadence. For instance, we have lost the keys and we’re late for an important meeting……”God, where are my keys. Help me find them, PLEASE….GOD!!!” Not stopping for a minute to think that having a car at all is massive privilege that the vast majority of human beings on planet earth could only dream about. Or let’s say you’re on your way to Vegas in a convertible and the bag of cocaine on your lap somehow opens as your stash blows away in the wind. Just think of all the cocaine you have left in your stash and be grateful, right?

Richard Beck, one of my favorite bloggers and theologians, points to a great article that deals with this very dilemma. The article, written by Stephen Weathers, can be found at the Examiner.com – “The Predicaments of Praying from Privilege,”

“In the grand scheme of history, I have never confronted the magnitude of difficulty that befell the vast majority our human ancestors. Pestilence, famine, tribal warfare, drought, sytematic persecution, discrimination, religious violence and hunger are alien concepts to me. I confront them only as newspaper headlines. If I even look around the globe today, the global nexus of journalism opens my western mind to distant moral epidemics that I cannot even contemplate. Oppression of women, the poor and racial minorities around the world is simply staggering.
I set up this rather general backdrop because therein lies my spiritual conundrum. How do I pray before God, taking into account the rather miniscule weight of my problems?”

For me, this hits the nail on the head. I often find myself just ending prayers abruptly in mid-sentence as I hear myself saying things and can only imagine God rolling her eyes at my petty petitions. God doesn’t give a shit about my career or my Macbook power supply. If that’s the case I might as well pray to God that she sees to it that Sam Adams brews their Octoberfest beer all year long.

When I’ve confessed this with those close to me, I often get the push back that I’m limiting God and that may very well be true. But if God gave me this brain and this is the brain where things have to make sense, then I can’t really take seriously the thought that God is concerned with the vast majority of whatever personal problems I might experience from day to day.

This is why contemplative prayer appeals to me. It leaves petitions at the door and creates the space to open ourselves to what God petitions for us. Our circumference problems, our ego, our bags of cocaine dissipate into the wind. Only then can we sit silently, allowing the noise of our desires to slowly fade while we wait for God’s voice to fill the void.

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4 thoughts on “Praying from Privilege

  1. Great little post Zack. Yup, I too am finding contemplative prayer the only way. What can we say to God which is not already known? Yet we continue to babel on like fools.

    Anyway, I’ll always remember an account I read when Mother Teresa is asked about what she says to God in her prayers, she says: ‘nothing, I just listen.’ When prodded to tell about what God says to her, she says: ‘nothing, he just listens.’

  2. I find myself down those same paths, Zach.

    What’s worse is that I get angry at hearing other’s prayers for the same reasons you mentioned. Which of course isn’t fair.

    Lately I’ve found myself forced into more contemplative prayer by default – but it’s more like staring out the window and wishing (s)he’d come by, if even for just a moment.

  3. Great post. I’m not what I consider privileged by the American standard but often I do think of my situation compared to the rest of the starving world.

    Have you heard of the Jesus Prayer? “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That little prayer pretty much hits all the bases.

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