By Ann Fontaine
Every so often someone will ask for prayers and a common response is “prayers ascending.” My questioning mind thinks – hmmm, ascending? Going up? Where? How? Since the photos of earth came back from the astronauts in space, I have had the question that the Russian cosmonauts were asking, “Where is your God? We’ve never seen Him out there in space. We circled the globe again and again, and He wasn’t out there!” If God is not out there and there really is no “up” in realms of outer space where do I locate God when I pray? Where and how do I think about God when I pray? I suppose that there is no need for location when it comes to God and prayer but it helps my praying to think of a direction.
Much of our religious language speaks of an “up there” – words that have now become an anachronism. Can the metaphor hold our religious imagination? Without location is there a place where God dwells and where we can direct our prayers?
We believe that God is not an object found in creation but the creator of all – as Genesis declares in the creed-like statements of the first chapter, it is all good but it is not God. Our faith uses objects and nature as pointers to God, but God is not in the objects themselves. Icons and other symbolic objects can be paths for prayer but like the natural world are just pointers to that greater reality of the Holy and not stopping places.
In addition to all the passages of scripture that speak of God as high above us in the heavens and our popular conception in poems like Robert Browning’s:
The year’s at the spring;
The day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in his heaven…
All’s right with the world!
Or Bette Midler singing: From a distance, I find more reassurance about the location of God and the place for my prayers in places like Psalm 139.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast. (BCP p. 794)
or in Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I pray for someone I believe my prayers are received by the Love that is God and directed to those who need them. For me God is located in the midst of us. My prayer is often that the person will feel surrounded in and borne up by prayer. I don’t think that my prayers have taken off for outer space or gone to an unknown location. My hope is that the prayers are wrapping any one who needs them in a comforter of prayer. I hope the recipients will feel that prayer is carrying them through their days and they feel that peace that passes understanding as they receive healing or strength in their lives.
Jesus says in Luke 17: “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
And that is where I put my heart and my prayer. Where do you think your prayers go? Or does it matter to you?
The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.