Prayer and the Chilean Miners

Like everyone else I have been rather overwhelmed by the story of the Chilean miners. Being mildly claustrophobic I have tried to avoid thinking about what it must be like for them since the ordeal began back in August. But who could not be caught up and moved by the drama of their rescue. Indeed it was a wonderful lesson in managing expectation – Under Promise and Over Achieve!

But what has intrigued me has been the response of many Christians in relation to the ‘prayers’ offered for their safe extraction from the mine. Of course I have prayed, asking God to be present to them as the trauma unfolded. But what causes me to despair is the interpretation many are putting on the supposed outcome of such prayer.

Let’s be blunt, until relatively recently they would have languished in their hellish predicament until death came dropping slow. And no amount of prayer would have saved them – the technology just did not exist and this end has been the all too frequent outcome over centuries of mining for precious resources. God has not yet spirited anyone through tons of rock to the surface despite the ernest prayers of many families and communities over the years.

So what are we giving thanks for? In what way have prayers been answered? And why is it important for us to answer this well and correctly?

We thank God that today we have the knowledge and technology to make this rescue possible – that communities, countries and even mine owners have the compassion to care to rescue a group of miners like this – that people gave of their skills, knowledge and expertise to make it a succesful outcome. Incredible professionalism and commitment was demonstrated. Such goodness and ingenuity is God’s gift to us and the human family.

But without human agency they would still be in the mine. God required us to be creative, constantly exploring the limits of technology and human endurance. People needed to have warm and compassionate hearts to be prompted by their care for each life. For all this we can give thanks to God. But please can we skip the simplistic notion that God rescued them in direct intervention and answer to our prayers.

And this is important for how we understand God at work in our world and in our own lives. It is human beings who often need to be the answer to our own prayers – too many are simply waiting for God to do something when we are the something God wants to do!

God was present in the agony and the triumph – in the skill of the drill designer, the counsel of the psychiatrist, the bravery of the paramedics and the endurance and hope of the miners. Thanks be to God and well done to everyone involved.

No pope here!

Too much time has passed since I last blogged and my new year commitment to regularly do so has long since vanished into the mist. However sufficient time has now passed since the pope’s UK visit to reflect more calmly on it and surprise blog land by making a few comments on this as my first outpouring of the new season.

I had been an enthusiast for the visit – indeed I had lobbied for the pope to make a stop off at Coventry Cathedral – in the 70th anniversary year of its bombing by the Luftwaffe I thought it would be good for a German pope to come and ring the peace bell and lead the litany of reconciliation. A constructive PR engagement if nothing else.

On reflection I am glad that the lobby did not reap dividends on this occasion. The visit produced some unexpected reactions which I have found interesting to reflect on. The first is personal, in that all the ritual and ceremony reminded me of how Protestant I really am. Rather than being awed and moved, I found it cold and remote. I wasn’t present in person at any of the events, but I usually enjoy big occasions from the comfort of my sofa – and as political theatre it was grand. But spiritually it left me cold, despite my new-found enthusiasm for high church drama in a sterile secular world.

Secondly, I got very grumpy. Some of what the pope said does need to be heard – by us as a country and by the church. And if said as part of a PASTORAL visit, then fine. But this was a STATE visit and no other head of state would be able to make such a critique of the host country without causing a major diplomatic incident. It should not have been tolerated – if visiting in papal political mode, then criticising the country should be off the agenda. The Vatican cannot have it both ways. And this made me unexpectedly cross.

Third, I became increasingly dismayed. It actually was the service at Westminster Abbey that did it. Apart from the exception of a female Abbey Canon, Rev Canon Jane Hedges, the cameras revealed an overwhelming facade of male bishops and clergy. And this is where we have to say that the church – both Anglican and Catholic – doesn’t get it. Before anything is said, whether prayers, sermons or words of worship, the picture has said everything. And that everything not only puts the church in a place of cultural irrelevance, as it fails to honour and promote women in leadership of the body of Christ, it more significantly presents a distorted witness of God’s self and the nature of the human community for which Christ died.

Maybe it should be more pope here, for it reminds some of us what we truly stand for!