April 14, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Efficacy of Prayer…The Efficacy of Intent

I interrupt my regularly scheduled Bruce Bethke Writing Advice to bring you this at-first seemingly disconnected set of ideas. Hang with me and either you’ll discover something unexpected as I did – or find something irritating...

The January 1959 issue of The Atlantic carried an essay by C.S. Lewis called “The Efficacy of Prayer” where he asked, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” He meanders through prosaic observations of his own life and then comes to the crux of the matter when he points out that “…He who served [God] best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’…that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God at His greatest need...little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted…had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage.”

Lewis also wrote in MERE CHRISTIANITY, “No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring a twopence how often it has been told before), you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (Chapter 11, Book 4)

He wanted to know if there was any way to prove, without a doubt, that prayer did as advertised (“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16) and he wanted to point out that when being creative, honesty will produce originality.

I have been wrestling with prayer in my own creative life the past months – maybe years – and still have no clear answer as to whether or not I should be praying to become a better writer, to sell a novel, to be able to make a substantial portion of my income by doing something I dearly love. As I may have seen progress in the first, the latter two are still in the works, perhaps. Or “never gonna happen”.

However, I had some evidence recently that supports Lewis second assertion.

My daughter is a marvelous artist, and while I can’t say I UNDERSTAND all of her work, I strive to appreciate it. A year ago, a piece of work she created on a whim won Best of Show at the Augsburg Juried Art Show. Titled “Brainstorm”, it was a watercolor of an umbrella with the sun shining on it. Underneath a thunderstorm is brewing. I loved it.

This year, she didn’t win Best of Show; nor any of the “second-best” or “runners-up”. She won one of two first annual Clair and Gladys Strommen Center for Meaningful Work (“promotes the exploration of vocation, purposeful living and meaningful work by connecting liberal and professional knowledge and skills with talent, faith and core values”) art award. Presented by Robert Strommen of Strommen & Associates (St. Paul) and his sons, the award also stipulates that the piece be displayed for the next year at the Center. He shared that the piece represented the intent of the Center and the direction they were aiming for.

In other words, the piece was original and resonated with him, his sons and the mission of the company.

I confess that the stories of mine that have been published had usually been pieces in which I wasn’t trying to do anything but express a deeply held idea in a way that entertained me. It was “accidental” that others liked the stories – not accidental in that I sent them out in the hope that they would be published, but that they appealed to others.

My daughter’s work was an expression of ideas she held and expressed and while she entered the art in a show, “winning” was incidental. (This was illustrated both times by gasps of delight from my wife and I – as well as her “god-parents” (last year) and her roommate and another college friend (this year). Not from Mary, either time.)

The link back to CS Lewis and “The Efficacy of Prayer” is that as Christians, we are called to serve God. We are called to pray to Him and lift others up in prayer – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6). HOWEVER, there is NO PROMISE ANYWHERE that we will “get what we want”, whether it’s healing from illness or a contract for a novel. What is important is to serve God. What is important is to serve our ideas.

Accolades are incidental – always appreciated, giving warm fuzzies, and drawing us on to greater things – but never the goal. Never the intent. The intent is to obey God and pray. The intent is to create art that expresses who we are and what we think.

What is important is to SERVE.

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