In my many years of being around Christians (not to mention having been reared as a Christian) I have heard my share of "miraculous" stories of answered prayer. In fact, I have a few of those to tell myself.
As one might imagine, these tales can tend to be confirmatory of the truth of one's religious belief system. A "Look, it worked for me" type of thing. Not a hard thing to imagine.
As I became older and more questioning about religious faith in general I happened to notice that people of other religious traditions had their share of stories of astounding answers to prayers.
So much for the confirmation of truth (at least of a single truth).
Unless, of course, there might be some underlying principle at work that encompasses all the thousands of flavors of spiritual outlooks, some mystical cosmic principle that is applicable to these many different outlooks.
Some folks have no patience for that type of thing. I understand.
But just for fun, humor me. Pretend there is some principle that works in a spiritual dimension beyond the mere ordinary and which is described by our best efforts only in a metaphorical way.
The older I get the more convinced I become that religious language has to be metaphorical. Different cultures have different metaphors, sometimes totally unique ways of viewing things. The rejection of this idea leads us to the confusing, contradictory, and sometimes downright unreasonable world of anthropomorphic religious thinking.
Perhaps that principle, while divisive when understood with a stone literalness, can be uniting when understood and expressed metaphorically. Perhaps not, you might say. But think of how much religions and different forms of spirituality have in common as opposed to their differences.
Perhaps you're thinking: "You're grasping Doug, trying to hold on to childish wishes long after you should have outgrown the need of such."
But it seems that most people don't outgrow this need. Some of those who claim they have will still in their more candid moments admit it would be comforting if they could still believe.
Perhaps the spiritual picture would be better painted with loose form and broad strokes. (Yes, I am aware of how many perhapses there are in this post.)
Those of us who follow a metaphorical spirituality don't fly planes into buildings or blow ourselves up, destroying precious human life, in order to make our point. We don't engage in crusades or inquisitions. We don't build walls and burn down bridges. We seek reconciliation with our fellow travelers, those who have been led astray by misguided efforts to express the ineffable.
But I started out talking about prayer. If I could riff a little from an old Disney song, a prayer is a wish that the heart makes (A Dream Is A Wish That The Heart Makes, from Cinderella), I would say that true prayer is the human heart's desire to be fully engaged with the Cosmos and one's fellow travelers therein.
Perhaps (there it is yet again!) hoping and wishing are the major activities that mark us as a higher animal life form. And we are the only truly religious animal.
I'm still seeking confirmation of my quaint little notions. No hurry; I don't plan on going anywhere any time soon.