Monday, December 27, 2010

More Polkinghorne on Prayer and Physics
Because I believe that there is an interconnectivity in things (holism again), I believe that alignment can have consequences for third parties also. In more conventional language, we offer our wills to be aligned with the divine will. A metaphor I often use is that of laser light. What gives laser light its unusual effectiveness is that it is what the physicists call "coherent". That means that the waves making up the light are all in step. All the crests come together and add up, and all the troughs come together and add down, to the maximum effect. Light that is incoherent has waves out of step; crests and troughs can coincide and cancel each other out. I believe that divine and human coherence in prayer is genuinely instrumental; it can make things possible that would not be so if we and God were at cross-purposes. Two consequences follow from this. One is that prayer is not a substitute for action, but a spur to it. If my elderly neighbor is tiresomely repetitious in the telling of the stories of his youth, I do not absolve myself from the responsibility of patiently listening yet again simply by praying for him. The second consequence of this picture of petitionary prayer is that it makes sense of an intuition we have that corporate prayer is a good idea - that it is appropriate to encourage many people to pray for the same thing. This is not because there are more fists beating on the heavenly door, but because there are more wills to be aligned with the divine will.
Serious Talk J. C. Polkinghorne p.88

Jews are obligated in communal prayer, ritual, etc., within designated times (using time as it were), ensuring that such corporate prayer and acts are engaged in simultaneously by many (in most given time zones). A basic assumption is that tefillot are offered in replacement for the thanksgiving offerings (korbanot), made in the Beit HaMikdash. Like the korbanot, Shemonei Esrei is circumscribed - we don't compose them ourselves, but the intention is our composition, as with an orchestra and a piece of music. But unlike the korbanot, Shemonei Esrei is largely petitionary. Given all this, what could be meant Jewishly to say "prayer is not a substitute for action"?...huh.


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