Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time out for the publically pius

Have you noticed the latest “in” thing to ask for when saying a public prayer?

People who know me know that I am fundamentally opposed to public prayer. I think most of it is contrived, and although not necessarily insincere, I think people tend to say what they feel they are expected to say in a public prayer, therefore, rendering it less like a prayer and more like a public performance. Can you say Pharisee? Like it or not, time set aside for pontifical petitioning is a part of our social structure in the Bible Belt. This has led to a phenomenon in recent years in which people offering public prayers continue to ask God for “traveling mercies” and a “hedge of protection.”

While I’m sure people are modestly sincere in their requests, I often wonder if they can truly define what they are asking for with the phrases “traveling mercies” and “hedges of protection?” When you ask for “traveling mercies,” what does that mean? Is God supposed to feel sorry for those who are traveling? Is He supposed to set up discount gas stations along the way because the price of fuel is too financially demanding? If we knowingly and willingly run over Bambi and eight pedestrians while making our cross country trek is God supposed to turn a blind eye and say it doesn’t matter because we were “making good time?” Or perhaps “traveling mercies” refer to the suspension of bladder function among toddlers and the elderly because it is too time consuming to have to stop every couple of hours in order to relieve urinary pressure.

Then there is the ever popular “hedge of protection.” I’m not sure who was the first to turn this phrase, but I bet they are mighty proud. I also bet they have no clue as to what they were asking for or praying about when they stumbled upon this literary masterpiece and coined a religious phrase that has embedded itself in the culture of the publicly pious all across the land.

My question, however, is, why a “hedge?” If this is supposed to be the immensely defiant bulwark capable of staving off the onslaught of hell’s immortals, then why don’t you ask for a structure that cannot be penetrated with something as simple as a bad attitude and pinking sheers. I want a by God “6-foot-thick-stone-wall-surrounded-by-moat-in-a-hermetically-sealed-dome” of protection. A hedge … puh-leeze!

Needless to say, I have a hard time bowing my head and closing my eyes during public prayers. Have you ever tried to roll your eyes when they are closed? It’s not that easy. I try not to make a big scene, but if you watch closely, you will probably notice a quaint look of exasperation drift across my countenance. Admittedly, it's not the best Christian witness to be openly and sarcastically anti-social during such times of quiet introspection … but then again, maybe God will see fit to raise a “hedge of concealment” around my poor behavior. Then, perhaps I will feel free to open myself to God and truly speak with and listen to Him without the need for an audible “Amen” before the coin toss.

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