Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Invocation of an Atheist: What is Prayer?

The following definitions are derived from the website.

“Prayer” is defined as:


a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.

b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.

2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving:

3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.

“Invocation” is defined as:

  1. The act or an instance of invoking, especially an appeal to a higher power for assistance.
  2. A prayer or other formula used in invoking, as at the opening of a religious service.
    1. The act of conjuring up a spirit by incantation.
    2. An incantation used in conjuring.

Why make the distinction? Well, in his comments to my previous blog on July 16th, Michael Harvey, who will give the invocation before the Tampa City Council on July 29th, wrote, “I shall be speaking TO humans, FOR humans, OF humans; no belief in the supernatural required, needed, or desired.” Mr. Harvey continued by stating that his invocation will be much more than a prayer.

Of course, the Orthodox definition of “prayer” would take the dictionary reference cited above as, at best, a starting point. The answer to the question, “what is prayer?” (suggested in the comments by jamesofthenorthwest), as asked and answered in Anthony M. Coniaris’ book, Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life, requires over three pages of quotes (pp. 191-195) – and it is not, by an stretch of the imagination, an exhaustive treatment of the question; rather, it is a portal. But, having said that, we can return to the dictionary definitions and work from these; assuming that we can all agree to these definitions…

Prayer, then, is a conversation with God. Granted, it often tends to be one-sided, with us doing the talking, and God doing the listening; but we can each work on that in our own lives. An invocation is, put another way, a summoning of some source of power, to be brought to bear in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If not God, then some other god, or elemental power, or…?

If Mr. Harvey stays connected to this thread in my blog (and he’s welcome here), I hope he (as well as any else who reads this) does not take offense; I don’t intend to offend anyone. However, I must say that I don’t get it. When we, as Orthodox Christians, pray (and, having once been a Christian other than Orthodox, this applies for the vast majority as well), we know to Whom we speak; and we trust that the requests we make (invoke) will be heard and acted upon by the power of God. I can grasp that when a practitioner of Wicca invokes, in prayer, some power, they likewise trust that the power will be delivered. But how does one invoke humanity? (Is this even the right question?)

Well, campers, stay tuned. Perhaps, once Mr. Harvey has offered his invocation, and the text becomes available, we might learn more about this interesting question.