Friday, May 14, 2010

First day: the Great Novena to the Holy Spirit

Our theme for this novena is: the High Technology of Prayer.

Why should we as Chestertonians consider prayer to be "high technology"? Here is GKC's answer:
The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even natural to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful. He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller when he bowed. Henceforth anything that took away the gesture of worship would stunt and even maim him forever. Henceforth being merely secular would be a servitude and an inhibition. If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel he is in irons.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:244]
If I have time during these nine days I may attempt to set forth some of the various clues I have noted on how the Sciences, just as the Arts, contribute to the fullness of the greatest of all possible human acts.

But since this is the beginning, let us begin, as we ought to, with the fundamentals - that is, the dogmas, of prayer. Even as I write this, I find I must go into something even more fundamental - the axiomatic truth, or perhaps the preliminary requirements of dogma, about which GKC has a most wonderful passage: is quite true that when one is talking to simple people such as children or the very poor, one does not repeat theoretic dogmas in their very theoretic form. One does not use frigid and philosophical language. One does not, in short, define the dogma. But let no one suppose that one is any the less dogmatic. For the simple truth is that, instead of defining the dogma, we simply assume the dogma. A mother does not say to her child, "There is a personal God, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe". She says, "God will be pleased if you are good". She is quite as dogmatic as a college of theologians. Nay, she is more dogmatic, for it is more dogmatic to assume that a dogma is true than to declare that a dogma is true. But she is certainly simpler and better adapted to looking after babies than a college of theologians would be. And from this fact flows a singular consequence. It does often happen that the more good or innocent a man is, the more he imagines that he is undogmatic. The truth is that, so far from being undogmatic, he believes his dogmas so implicitly that he thinks that they are truisms.
[GKC Daily News Feb 13 1906 quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox]
What dogmas - be they implicit or explicit - are we talking about when it comes to prayer? Amazingly enough, GKC has them collected in one place:
The other day one of the most prominent and successful of journalists said in the Daily Express that prayer had no sort of relation with any creed or dogma; he added that any agnostic could pray: one felt he was just about to add that any atheist could pray. What all this is supposed to mean, I have no idea. To any atheist, to any rational rationalist, it would be at once obvious that prayer does depend on two or three quite definite dogmas. First, it implies that there is an invisible being, who can hear our prayer without ordinary material communication; which is a dogma. Second, it implies that the being is benevolent and not hostile; which is also a dogma. Third, it implies that he is not limited by the logic of causation, but can act with reference to our action; which is a great thundering dogma.
[GKC ILN Jan 19 1929 CW35:27-8]
Now, I find I must here give a brief aside.

As we touch on this dogmatic structure of prayer, we immediately collide with the huge difficulty of the word "prayer" in itself, since the same word is used in several modes, or what the philosophers call "equivocal". It is the rather sad cause of complications when a Catholic speaks of "praying to the saints". But then, as a Presbyterian friend of mine pointed out, he must himself use the term in certain contexts during his work in Court (he is a lawyer). Here is the entry in Black's Law Dictionary:
Prayer. The request contained in a bill in equity that the court will grant the process, aid, or relief which the complaintant desires. Also, by extension, the term is applied to that part of the bill which contains this request.
[BLD 1339]
Clearly, from this definition, lawyers (like my friend) understand that "prayer" does indeed have the fundamental sense of "asking" - it is after all from the Latin prex = "request, entreaty" - and is not always used in the more restricted sense of "worship" or "adoration". Clearly GKC is using "prayer" in the latter manner.

Yet, there is something unifying in all this preliminary study - and though GKC does not use the term "pray" in the context, it is clearly implied, since we understand that "pray" is also a synonym for "beg", and when we consider ourselves in relation to God, it is likewise clear that we are necessarily beggars:
What is a beggar? A beggar is a man who asks help from another man solely in the name of something extraneous but common - as kinship or charity, the Fatherhood of God, or the brotherhood of man. He does not ask for the bread because he can at once give you the money, as in commerce. He does not ask for the bread because he will soon be able to pass you the mustard, as in Society. He asks you for the bread because you are supposed to be under an ancient law of pity, by which (as it is written) if a man ask you for bread you will not give him a stone. [Lk 11:11] That is what a beggar is. He is a man who begs - that is, he is a man who asks without any clear power of return, except the opportunity he offers you to fulfil your own ideals.
Thus, a man drowning in mid-ocean is a beggar; a man hailing wildly from a desert island is a beggar; a total stranger cast up on an alien coast (as any of us who like yachting might be any day) is a beggar. That is to say, any help extended to them must rest solely on the fact that they have the human form or the appearance of agony. It cannot possibly rest on any assumption that they will pay it back in service to the State. The man drowning in the sea might be Jack the Ripper. The man hailing from the desert island might be Peter the Painter. As for the man wrecked from the yacht - well, really, if you think of some of the people who go about in yachts, you will feel that Jack the Ripper and Peter the Painter are pillars of the commonwealth in comparison. Briefly, any person, in any position, is a beggar who has nothing but thanks to give for a service.
[GKC ILN Feb 25 1911 CW29:44]

Therefore, let us beg for the assistance we all need so desperately, let us (as wise legal counsel would surely explain) humbly request the Eternal Court to grant us aid and relief.

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