Prayers of request strike me as woefully close to letters to Santa—“I’ve been good, now give me what I want.”
Prayers of praise always make me wonder if God doesn’t think of them as kissing up in an attempt to be made “favorite child.”
Prayers of gratitude make sense—most of us receive far more than we deserve.
But, if I were God, I would want to hear heartfelt communication from my children—favorite or otherwise. I would want to hear something like this lovely prayer by Catholic monk, Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Merton isn’t asking or praising. Knowing his own inadequacies, he hopes and trusts that his searching, his desire to do right, somehow makes his life meaningful and fulfills his part in God’s plan.
We mortals spend much of our lives hoping for a better future. We’ll be happy when we have more money, more time, more energy, more anything. From a religious point of view, hope is generally in the distant future. Hope for life after death. Hope for the Second Coming.
For 2,000 years, Christians have anticipated the literal return of Jesus to rule upon the earth in peace. Religionists have tried to forecast the exact time, making imaginative calculations based on Daniel’s apocalyptic vision. Joseph Smith asked the Lord to pinpoint the time of the Second Coming, but received an ambiguous answer. Generations of Mormons since Joseph have maintained the time is very near—possibly within their own lifetimes. Evangelical Christians harbor the same expectation.
Bible scholar Marcus Borg offers a different approach to anticipating Jesus’s return. In his book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Borg suggests that Jesus can return at any time to believers. He specifically mentions during the Eucharist (LDS Sacrament), in celebrating Christmas, and at other times when we experience the Spirit of Christ. Borg’s metaphorical expansion of the Second Coming of Christ to include individual moments in the present applies Christian hope to our own time and place.
From Borg’s perspective, Jesus returns at those moment we seek out and sit by a lonely person at a church meeting or social, the moments we speak up for those of different color or customs, the moments we replace envy with happiness for a person who gets a better job than ours, the moments we push aside pride to listen to views opposing our own. At these moments, Jesus returns.