This morning I listened to a podcast of an interview with John Polkinghorne, an English physicist and theologian. He described how his understanding of sub-atomic quarks helped him to understand prayer. http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/quarks-creation/ In the past science explained the world in mechanistic terms as fixed and determined, like a carefully made watch that is ticking away. But now physicists realize that things are not quite so pre-determined. Quarks are the tiniest participles of matter, smaller than atoms, that scientist cannot exactly locate nor predict. Quarks are sort of “cloudy,” fluid, chaotic.
For Polkinghorne this changed his understanding of prayer. In a mechanical, pre-determined world, prayer did not make much sense. Everything was locked into a set pattern of laws that God had established at creation. But in the world of quarks, where it is much more fluid and unknown, prayer becomes an interaction with God and creation.
In old science, God was simply a watchmaker who created the world, wound it up and then step back to observe the watch from a distance. And yes, there are some strong physical laws that guide our days. The sun will rise in the east, not the west. If you jump off a roof, you will not fly, but fall to earth. Yet, in the field of quarks, God is also like a conductor, constantly interacting with the musicians who are making music together. With quarks Polkinghorne found beauty, wonder and awe, like a good jazz improvisation.
This makes sense to me. For example I do not pray that the January cold-snap in Minnesota will suddenly become a July heat-wave. The seasons are fixed. Yet the chaotic, fluid nature of weather could be influence by the prayers of God’s people. The prophet Elijah’s prayers for a drought in I Kings 17-18 is indicative of this. The same is true for prayers of healing; there is an interplay between our body, mind and spirit that truly affects the body’s healing. Prayer is an invitation for God to participate in our body’s healing, in a deep elemental way. When we pray for someone to be healed of cancer, we are asking God to allow the healthy cells in the body to replace/remove the cancer cells at the most basic biological level.
My favorite prayer of Jesus reflects such an attitude. We pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” As we pray this prayer we are opening ourselves to God’s activity in the world, seeking to be in the flow of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is not pre-determined, but more fluid and sometimes chaotic, like a dance. The will of God has fixed aspects, like the ten commandments. Yet in our daily life, we seek to see the conductor’s baton and stay with God’s rhythm and beat.
How has your understanding of prayer changed overtime?