Is Prayer an Escape from the Real World?
Some think that prayer is an escape from the real world. To these, I say that there are prisons from which it is good to escape. Lots of people banally exist imprisoned in what we call “the real world.” Locked up in the fantasy land of adults and the culturally and politically powerful, they are not free to live life to the full.
All the same, I cannot agree that prayer is an escape from reality. It is rather the opposite. Those who do not pray are sometimes trying to escape basic truths about our existence – after all, life is short and eternity long, the way to salvation is as narrow as the path to perdition is wide, and divine justice will hold us accountable if we will not hold ourselves responsible before divine mercy. Prayer is about facing this reality, this truth about our lives and about the world.
Those who ignore the impulse deep in our nature to cry out to God, those close their ears to all the ways God cries out to us every moment of every day, those who shut their eyes to the glory that is breaking in around us — what they call “the real world” is an enchanting escape and hiding place from reality. The problem is there are lots of dehumanizing traps in “the real world.” Anxious occupation over whether we are as comfortable, safe, successful and influential in our careers as we want is not a motivator toward excellence or the fullness of life — it is to live imprisoned by fear.
There are self-appointed jailers who would rather that we never had this freedom. They encourage us to grasp for and cleave to material bliss — even as they know that this does not answer the pain in our hearts. They know this because they suffer from it too, even if they are very good at pretending they do not. These are the culturally and politically powerful whose only joy is outweighed by the fear that it will be lost in an instant. In their despair, they are inclined to keep our hopes locked up in some bright future that never comes or else shackled down with nostalgia for a past that was never as good as they suggest.
Christian prayer offers an escape from such oppression for the humble. This prayer lifts up the heart and places it in the hands of the One who conquered death. An ongoing conversation with Christ, this prayer teaches us to submit every thought to Him so that He can lead us into freedom – not in the future, but right now, in this present moment. There is no earthly or celestial or under-worldly power that can come between us and the love of God.
Breaking with all manner of imprisonment prayer stands, prayer battles, prayer rises and this prayer professes the creed by which weak humanity is endowed with divine freedom. Prayer stands on reality itself, the deepest truth of all that is, the Reality from which all other reality comes and to which it goes. Prayer battles for all that is noble, good, holy, true and most vulnerable about humanity — because our Savior would have us do no less. Indeed, we are only following His example. Prayer rises up like incense bringing to the suffering of earth into the glory of heaven – hoping with every reason to hope that it will be on earth as it is in heaven.
Our jailers are afraid to allow us to stand on our own in real prayer – prayer that expresses itself in all kinds of real works of mercy – because they do not understand the ground under our feet. They hate what our creed demands – so they mock while we must stand fast by the truth. They cannot bear the bold stands we take in the public square – so they deride while we must appeal to their humanity. They do not want to deal with the truth – so they interrupt while we must try to make our case. They fear our freedom to love the most vulnerable, so they concoct laws to take it away and then deny with aggrieved indignation that they have harmed us in any way.
But despite their efforts, the freedom that we know by prayer cannot be denied. In the last century, ideologues tried to destroy the Christian faith – those cultural and political powers are no more. But Christian prayer remains a reality in the real world, a sign of hope for those who most need one. If anyone should want to break out of banal existence to live life to the full, including the jailers themselves, the Deliverer is just a prayer away.
Editor’s Note: Click here to find out more about why you should pray and how to make your whole life a conversation with God through contemplative prayer by reading Anthony’s new book: Fire from Above – Christian Contemplation and Mystical Wisdom.
Art for this post which asks if prayer is an escape from the real world: The Thankful Poor, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894, PD-US published in the US prior to January 1, 1923; Das Gebet vor dem Stierkampf (The Prayer Before the Bullfight), Robert Kemm, by 1895, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; Angel with Incense Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds, Sebastiano Conca, 1720, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Baby boy one month old, Nils Fretwurst, 2004, CC-SA; all Wikimedia Commons.