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GP 31 August 2005: The Uses of Prayer

Hadley J. Castille and the Sharecroppers.  As Hadley J. Castille appears before  audiences all about this land, he talks to them in English but he sings to them in French.  His is a French Cajun band out of the bayous which has attained a wonderful popularity, born of the fact that his fast, witty songs don’t sound like they come from these United States.  In fact, they don’t.  They’re from another planet, spicefully diverse Louisiana, which is a culture apart serving up an eclectic set of flavors in food, people, humor, and music that are out of chime with the rest of the nation.  From "Cyprien and Marie" to “Faire Whiskey,” his decidedly different music can be heard on albums such as Refrait, 200 Lines: I Must Not Speak French, Cajun Swamp Fiddler, Along the Bayou Teche, 3rd Generation: La Musique de les Castilles, and Quarante Acres et Deux Mules. See www.hadleyjcastille.com and www.timesofacadiana.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050629/NEWS0102/506290319/1051m

The French he sings won’t bother you even if you don’t understand it.  In fact, it makes you like the music better.  We get much or all of the essence of song—and of prayer—from the spirit and gestalt of the moment, not from the words, whatever they are.  Sometimes the words are so elusive, so repetitive, so lost in the melody that they alone lack any meaning for us.  The power of the music stretches beyond words, and the words are obligated not to be pedestrian but, rather, to coalesce in a memorable chant. 

Taking the Meaning out of Prayer.  Church authorities, in a quest for relevance, often fine-tune their liturgy, and prayers, and ceremonies to better connect with people in the age we live.  Paradoxically their efforts to add meaning subtract it, their new plain language coming off flat as a pancake.  Some would say that the Catholic Church began to lose relevance throughout the West at the very moment it converted from a Latin Mass to the vernacular (1960s).  When the words came forth in the everyday language of the parishioners, they simply became humdrum.  The Mass has lost its supernatural, rhythmic, votive, traditional feeling.  Episcopalians suffered the same fate when their ecclesiastical authorities felt impelled to modernize the Book of Common Prayer.  Similar efforts to get with the times in other churches have had equally dubious, trivial outcomes, leading, we suspect, to the decline of prayer in Western life. 

Prayer, we will submit, is vital to the life of individuals.  But in the last quarter of the 20th century, we began to hear much less about the power of prayer.  Instead, churches  became platforms for sermonizing and flourished as tightly knit social organizations that afforded a collective experience in which the individual subsumed himself.  As centers of hubbub, they no longer offered spiritual solace.  One minister of our acquaintance even claims, half seriously, that churches have turned into entertainment multiplexes.  Ritual diluted has become mere words, and the magic is gone. 

The Relief of Prayer.  Our colleague Dr. Steven A. Martin, who has more than a passing interest in church history, has a canny understanding of the importance of prayer to the overworked, digitally stressed, increasingly depressed citizen barely holding his own in our society.  “Just get the habit of prayer,” he says, without trying to reconcile this ancient practice with the sophisticated attitudes of the 21st century.  He finds you will stop thinking about yourself as prayer draws you closer to some idea of transcendence that lurks in human nature.  In no other way, he suggests, can you better leave behind the terror of daily life.   

It doesn’t much matter how you pray but where you are trying to take yourself.  The Quakers, for instance, bear silent witness, simply trying to quietly focus themselves on their deity.  Others get out of themselves through non-secular but thoroughly spiritual meditation.  There are now ample studies that reveal that contemplative activities not only provide temporary relief from stress but also provide permanent neurological modifications in brain wiring that afford a more relaxed connection to the world.  See “Meditation for Body and Soul” and “Well-Wired Monk.”  Companies putting together wellness programs would seem well advised to add non-secular prayer and meditation to their health mix to keep their labor force in high gear.  We note in “Ex-pounded Governor” that Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas now gives state employees a half hour off for exercise: he just has to add in a measure of contemplation to make them feel really well.   

Prayers for Peace.  Probably any prayer that gives you comfort and that takes you away from the human condition is worthy of consideration.  Why not pray for peace?  You do not have to be an ideologue to want peace on earth.  We have previously recommended Prayers for Peace, a wonderful little volume that looks like a missal, published by B. Martin Pedersen’s Graphis Press (see “Best Gift for All Seasons”).  Today we were struck by the “Shinto Prayer for Peace”: 

Although the people living across the ocean
Surrounding us, I believe, are all our brothers and sisters,
Why are there constant troubles in the world?
Why do winds and waves rise in the oceans surrounding us?
I only earnestly wish that the wind will
Soon puff away all the clouds which are
Hanging over the tops of the mountains. 

Collaboration.  Prayer has something to do with saving oneself.  But, as well, we think it is part and parcel of reconstructing society in the 21st century.  We have previously posed to you that vast amounts of the infrastructure here and abroad have to be rethought and entirely rebuilt.  We have challenges ahead that can not get done with a go-it-alone attitude.  No nation, certainly not the United States, has enough brain power or resources to establish a pax romana on earth or put things to rights on a host of global questions.  We need willing allies for all that is important.  

We must attempt an age of collaboration.  In fact, management theorist Peter Drucker has said that alliances—not mergers and other forms of restructuring—have become the dominant and most important organizational formulation now.  See www.conference-board.org/pdf_free/annualessay1999.pdf.  We are coming into an era where we must decide to work together because we know it’s good for us, not because we control or own one another.   

But when our consulting firm advises joint ventures, strategic alliances, and the like, we find that managers have a hard time making their partnering associations with other companies flourish.  As we read documents that set how they will work together, we find that the psychology of collaboration is forgotten about.  The mental preparations are not adequate to the task. You cannot just jump right in and blunder ahead.  Working together, instead of striving competitively, is new to us.  It requires a new mindset.  A prayerful attitude, based on prayer.  Making alliance ventures work is mostly about attitude, and only slightly about new business practices. 

Prayer can reconfigure the mind for collaboration.  In addition, the prayerful estate enables a man to climb mountains and do monumental things.  Early in life John A. Roebling was mentored by the great German philosopher Hegel.  The metaphysical habit stuck with him through life, and he was given over to mystic studies until his death.  Here he got the largeness of mind to conceive a Brooklyn Bridge and the sum of other great projects of which he was author.  We have a lot of bridges to build in the 21st century which will require such great orchestrators who can bring disparate men into harmonious purpose.  

The ever practical Dr. Martin remembers the old saw about a proud, self-made man who had put together a fortune in the building supply business in the New South.  Asked by his minister what he would do different if he had life to do over again, he shot back, “Get some help.”  That’s where collaboration begins.

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