Prayer: “Something understood”

Part 28 in a series; see other parts here. This concludes the series.

Being seen as we are is a basic human need that all too often goes unmet. We understand each other only imperfectly, try though we may. Although such limitations do allow for people to surprise us, they also mean that we inadvertently hurt each other. We live our lives caught in this web of understanding and misunderstanding, and the more we wrestle with it, the more entangled we can become.

Prayer can involve a fair bit of that wrestling, and even there we often see in a glass, darkly. Sometimes the darkness becomes long and deep, and in agony we feel that not even God understands us. The world closes in, leaving us small and lonely.

Even in times of desolation, prayer—especially prayer that strains to speak the desolation back to God—deposits layers of sediment that, as they accumulate, give the sense that nothing about us is unknown to God. We may not like the God who sees us, but God sees us.

For God, too, defies our understanding. We build up idols that God gleefully smashes, and the words we speak about God always seem a little slippery. Still, in prayer we experience moments that go beyond our theology, and we feel that we know: not the way we know a proposition or a concept, but the way we sometimes, if rarely, know the people closest to us. We long to know them, just as we long to be known, and every now and then grace blows the dust away from our hearts just long enough for understanding to break through.

The understanding born of prayer isn’t our sudden possession of an atomistic truth, but a new cord of relationship that binds us either to God or to another person. In this understanding, everything that makes life worth living begins to emerge: the wry inside jokes, the way that a look alone can covey so much meaning, the knowledge of a mutual support and fidelity that seems stronger than death. In a world where misunderstanding almost seems more common than air, prayer offers—a hope against hope—the possibility of something understood.

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