NBC’s advertising of the “Today” show’s Monday morning segment on prayer caught my attention. While the promotions were run continually and ad nauseum, at least they signaled a possible shift by the usually highly secular show toward an acknowledgement, if not appreciation, of things spiritual.
The segment had Jenna Bush Hager describe some of the research behind prayer. Most of the research projects cited were old, but they were described accurately. I was grateful, at least for a few minutes.
And then began the post-segment discussion by the “Today” show hosts. It was at that point that it became clear the shift or appreciation I hoped might be taking place was clearly not happening.
What had started as a segment on the effectiveness of prayer in a Christian framework soon devolved into a meaningless banter of pseudo-spiritual New Age terminology focused on meditation and a new understanding of “prayer.” It was disturbing, but I couldn’t put my finger on precisely why. During the discussion, I felt as if I was eating a great big “nothing-burger.”
And then, came the comment that brought it all home to me. Carson Daly, the former MTV host, who is of course the person we all go to for spiritual advice, said that prayer could even be prayer to the universe or the earth. “Ah, OK, now I know why this is so disturbing.”
Therein lies the issue. When Christians pray, we pray because we are in a relationship with a living God. We pray to a divine being — a being who has characteristics, “person-hood,” if you will, who we have seen chiefly in Jesus. How exactly can that compare to prayer to “the universe”? And how exactly does one pray to the universe or the earth? Can someone tell me how that works?
Perhaps the inability to reconcile these obvious issues is why the discussion moved to “meditation.” But again, meditation is deep thought often in some pattern; it is not directed to a divine being.
What I was left with after this segment was a more pronounced awareness of how far removed the American culture is from what Christianity is and does. Some of our terms, holidays and phrases have been co-opted by the culture, but their understanding is often far from reality.
I wonder why anyone who thinks they know what the Christian belief is by what the culture tells them it is would ever step foot in a church.
I can only imagine it is an answer to someone’s prayer, by God. Yeah, by God.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.