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        Jesus presented many paradoxes. From the Zen koans to modern therapists, paradox is used creatively to flip us out of rational stuck states and intellectual inertia. Spiritual knowledge and experience is beyond logic! For instance, Jesus instructed His disciples with assertions such as these: "To gain your life you must lose it" (Mt 10 :39); "He who is first shall he last" (Mt. 9:35); "He who is the least among you shall be the greatest" (Lk, 9:48). Of course the paradox within the paradox is that if someone says, "OK, I'll lose my life to keep it," or "I want to be among the best so I will humble myself as one of the least," it won't work! Humbling oneself in order to achieve a different outcome isn't humility but rather a manipulation. So we must then just humble ourselves, period, looking for nothing except the learning inherent in humility. If God changes our lot, fine. If He doesn't, fine too... His will.

        Jesus presented many metaphors for the power of prayer. He talked about the woman who kept bothering the judge until he gave her what she needed. He told about how a man went to his neighbor at a late hour asking for some bread to feed unexpected guests and got it through persistence. He also added the observation that if we humans know how to give gifts to one another, ("If a son asks his father for bread, will he give him a stone?" (Mt. 7:9), how much more will God then provide us what we ask.

        So has God made up His "mind" so to speak, or will, about our personal situations and outcomes? If He did, then why pray? If He didn't then is God indecisive or is He waiting? Neither questions make sense to me because I cannot conceive of God being "indecisive" and He is timeless so there is no experience of "waiting". These are problematic thoughts due to our limited language and human perspective. On the spiritual level, where logic and reason does not count for much (although we sure try enough to "figure out" the mysteries!), I believe we "influence" the will of God, in a sense. Our prayers themselves are part of His will. Our faith is also. God hears the prayers of our future since He is "there" already, words we haven't even thought yet. Christ pointed out, "He knows what you are going to ask before you ask it." (Mt. 6:8)

        Thus this paradox of will versus prayer, His will versus ours, melts away in the spiritual realm. God did not will the genocides and traumas under Hitler, Stalin and Mao in the human sense of "will", but He allowed it in the realm of our freedom, "free will...". We are indeed free, free to hurt and violate (and therefore the prayer, "Lead us not into (or lead us away from) temptation..." (Lk. 11:4), free to forgive ("Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us...") and free to alter the course of events through prayer and deed ("Whatever you ask in My Name shall be given..." (Jn. 14:14) and "These spirits will not leave without prayer and fasting..." (Mt. 17:21.)

        Our technology has been applied to the study of the efficacy of prayer during the last couple of decades. Interesting work has been done since 1979 by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR) whose scientists have gathered enormous amounts of data using electronic Random Event Generators (REGs). In one of their papers, "REG Experiments: Equipment and Design", it's explained that "...REGs have been used in a large number of laboratory experiments designed to test the hypothesis that human consciousness might interact directly with sensitive physical systems. The results provide clear statistical evidence that the behavior of these devices deviates from chance expectation in correlation with the pre-defined intentions of participants in the experiments." Other papers describe how REGS placed in different countries simultaneously measured a statistically significant shift in global energy during high profile events such as the singing and recital of prayers at the funerals of Princess Diana and Mother Theresa.

        Prayer, spoken, felt, sung, chanted and acted, is a powerful, healing and growth-promoting gift in my life. It is also one of the greatest gifts I can provide others. I learned, however, through personal challenges, that God is not a wish fairy at my call. Prayer is not just supplication, but acknowledgement, praise, a voice of celebration and gratitude, a way of being connected and coincident with the Creator and all of creation. Prayer isn't essentially about asking, but rather incorporates the consuming elements of love, forgiveness, humility, faith, trust, responsibility, caretakership, gratitude. It is a process, not an end. It is a way of living and being. It is the dance of God's will and my heart in Him.

        I have written this essay as an expression of gratitude and reverence for the gift of prayer, and dedicate it to all those who hold me in their loving prayers. You are all in mine.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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