“Prayer is the means by which we obtain God’s power. Lord teach us to pray!”
Most believers, preachers, rabbis, imams and faith healers have already answered that question. Yes, of course all things are possible through prayer. Charles L Allen’s short book, All Things are Possible Through Prayer has sat on my desk for a few weeks now. Beneath it are a further four overdue library books which I shall endeavor to talk about in the next couple of weeks. Even though I must have read this modest looking book at least a few times over, I refused to let go of it.
I’d like to invite you down a dangerous dark alley where prayer becomes the only avenue out of the darkness. But before I do that, let me once more apologize to my regular and devoted readers for not being with you as often as I had promised the last time I posted anything here. Nevertheless, I am quite grateful that my blog is still attracting a steady flow of visitors in spite of my long absence.
Such is the path that I am on now that I am required to be more organized and efficient than at any time in my life. Otherwise I will not be able to pay the rent and take care of myself, let alone others and other material matters. The thing about prayer is this; it can be dangerous and you need to center your mind towards one or two areas of your life that need fixing. But sometimes God has already dictated that your life was fine to begin with, you just did not know it at the time. To pray correctly takes some practice, perhaps even a degree to master.
Most pastors and spiritualists know how to pray, whether having been taught to do so by rote through their respective divinity schools or through faith. It appears that the Roman Catholic Pope Francis does. So too, the Dalai Lama who has just turned eighty. Happy Birthday your Holiness, hope you’ve had a few extra laughs! But, dear sir, I remain sorry that you are not allowed to visit our beautiful country. In case you need reminding, I am a South African, born and bred on the tip of the continent, known as the Cape of Good Hope, or the Cape of Storms, depending which way the strong winds blow, or how things are for many impoverished Capetonians.
To put it bluntly, things are pretty grim for nearly half the peninsula’s diverse population. It is winter here and when it rains, it pours. Half the population is unemployed, many of them are deserving youths who did not ask to be born into a life of poverty and unrest. Many inhabitants are either living on what is unfairly branded as informal settlements, shack lands to those in the West (although, this too is a rare site for you). Others are known as backyard dwellers.
Now, most of these folks, out of sight and not thought much of, are indigenous to the wider Cape which is also within the domain of the Western Cape Province governed by the Democratic Alliance. Through racial discrimination and racist job reservation policies similar to South Africa’s bitter apartheid past, most colored folks are not able to find meaningful work. Mired in a world of poverty, many male youths have chosen gangsterism as a way out of their morass. Thousands of men and women have become slaves to a dangerous drug made famous by an award-winning American serial.
Funny thing though, that most of the South Africans doing the complaining today, literally have the world at their feet. On the one hand, middle class whites complain bitterly about the epidemic of corruption, fraud and theft, sometimes even murder, committed by the new hegemony. In simpler terms, this is the legacy of one Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress, a once majestic liberation movement with a rich history behind it.
On the other hand, many privileged black youths, ok, make that a few dozen black youths either brave or stupid enough to do this, are protesting wildly at the administration of one of Africa’s leading universities to “transform” its self. It is a dubious term if ever there was one, because it has distinct racial, or racist motivations behind it. The excuse here is that colonialism must be uprooted and replaced with a pan-African line of enquiry. Truth of the matter is this, and perhaps the Palestinian academic, Edward Said has mentioned this in the past, colonialism still needs to be taught in order to respond to it coherently and rationally. Pan-African academic work is already part of the discourse.
A small band of excrement flingers, well dressed in designer garb that no-one else can afford anyhow, has not noticed (or chooses not to) that the country has transformed for the betterment of all its citizens, including, and perhaps especially for them, fellow Africans north of the Limpopo River. These migrants are the epitome of how all of us should live our lives. In spite of their harsh circumstances, they are able to work extremely hard and even start their own small businesses, making enough money to send back home to the families they left behind.
The world took note when a despicable Zulu king called upon his obtuse followers to root out foreigners, blaming them for South Africa’s scourge of high crime and unemployment rates. The world also took note when the Sudanese dictator was allowed to cross the country’s borders, unharmed and seemingly untouchable, wine and dine at tax payers’ expense and return safely to his desert fiefdom. Reasonable South Africans were also reminded that a spiritual peacemaker of world renown is still not allowed to visit.
The problems of racism and cultural intolerance are, or course, not unique to South Africa. Just recently, a president intoned the Christian Hymn of Amazing Grace in commemoration of innocent church goer’s slayed by a deranged racist in the USA. This country remains plagued by racism in spite of Constitutional and Federal legislation which guarantees the rights of all its citizens and protects those deemed to be minority groups. Less still is said and done for America’s indigenous people.
I am standing at the end of the dark tunnel now. Time to turn once more to the light. Perhaps one must wait a few days for the light to return because it is the middle of winter and bitterly cold during the dark nights. I chose a bleak tone for this post deliberately. Do not worry, it all ends (or begins) well. I am forced to compare my life with others. At times, I may feel that I am so troubled and unfortunate that I do not even know how to pray. My mind sobers when I look around me and see how so many are suffering, so much worse off than I am. One prayer that I offered recently was to be able to get back in the saddle so that not only can I help myself, I can also go out and help those who need help now.
The bleak tone is indicative of my reflections on Charles L Allen’s closing pages of All Things are Possible Through Prayer. He concluded his prayer directions with an unusual metaphor. But this metaphor is now part of South African life. Let me rather quote the last paragraph in full.
“I don’t understand prayer any more than I understand electricity. But I do know that man builds a generator that catches out of the air that marvelous power, and we use that power to do so many things for us. God made electricity and I believe that God who made a power to light our homes did not forget to make a power to light up our lives. The God who made a power to pull our buses did not forget to make a power to help His children along the way of life. Prayer is the means by which we obtain God’s power. Lord teach us to pray!”
What a powerful and yet humble statement! This comes from a man of faith who in spite of teaching his readers all he knows and believes about prayer, does not claim to have all the answers. What he does say throughout his short, textual sermon is that prayer is complex and often misunderstood. There is no long or short answer on how to pray with results. Forget about folks rising up from their death beds and the lame being able to walk again. Forget about children infected with the HIV Aids virus, or folks who suffer from schizophrenic mental disorders. There are no cures.
Jesus understood this dilemma well while He was talking to his disciples and poor followers. For that time, He offered His followers a simple yet powerful prayer which has stood the test of time for over two thousand years. It begins with;
“Our Father who is in Heaven.”
You know the rest of the prayer. Well, for those who don’t, google the phrase and there you go. It’s short and sweet. It encompasses everything that we cry out at night to God for. One thing that prayer is not is any easy way out of our daily problems. Do not expect to be instantaneously lifted out of your gloom and your troubled life by the time you wake up the next morning. Sometimes a prayer is only answered, if at all, years later. Take my life .
Strictly speaking and for official purposes in my town, I am unemployed. I am also hearing disabled and am slightly deformed. A few years ago it was discovered that I am also clinically depressed. Now, all these disadvantages can seriously affect one’s personal judgment and ability to do everyday tasks that normal folks often take for granted. But, even when you have not prayed for this, miracles happen.
At some stage of my childhood, teachers at my special needs school asked my folks to take a giant leap of faith and place me in a normal educational institution. Boy, did I struggle. But I never gave up. I persisted with my studies and ultimately I matriculated. While at high school I had another passion apart from reading and writing. I loved the solitude of long distance running and for a while I seem to be satisfied with finishing second from the back in house races.
It would not be long before I actually started winning the races that St Paul gushes about. I qualified for provincial try-outs. Then I was conscripted to an infantry regiment at the height of apartheid in South Africa. Through my mother’s perpetual resilience I was freed from this incarceration. The thoughts and feelings I had about inequality and injustice as a child took root as a young adult.
After a short struggle, I joined the ranks of the working class. Drifting from nine to five and from day-to-day for the next twenty or so years until I quite literally became sick of it. As luck, or prayer, would have it, I was given the pink slip. I spent the next year or two completing my degree in Languages, Literature and Creative Writing. Now that I have graduated, I believe my journey in life may have only just begun.
In order to make ends meet, I now freelance my way through life. I still get to enjoy a modest luxury or two as a reward for my honest work. Finally, know this, prayer is a dangerous preoccupation, because you may wake up one morning and find that you may just receive what you have asked God for all along. Prayer is hard work too. You have to actively engage yourself in your own ambitions and desires and needs and make it happen.
So, ja, I suppose that All Things are Possible through Prayer.