Seriously, Self Reliance?!: Squabble 1.5

Discussion Quote #1.5 “Prayer is the contemplation of facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul…But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft…As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action.” pg. 33 – Self – Reliance and Other Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Dover Thrift Editions

Jorge Translation: God isn’t a vending machine in the sky to which we say magic words and from which “candy” is then dispensed.  Prayer is about a life lived in connection with God and finding unity and our self right there.

I almost hate that Ralph was able to articulate so beautifully the fuller power and beauty of prayer.

I kind of love that you hate that Emerson nailed this one thing! It’s so irritating when we can’t just completely dismiss everything a person (who we don’t like) says because he/she may have gotten something right…so annoying! 

I have been trying for years and who knew, it was right here snuggled deep into this self-aggrandizing essay.

I agree that Emerson’s essay does appear self-aggrandizing to the 21st century reader but I am not convinced that was his intent in writing it. We hear his voice as condescending and patronizing but I do not believe his intended audience would have heard his message in the same way. Just as we cannot read/interpret Emerson in any other way than as a 21st century reader with a 21st century historical context nor can we expect Emerson to write from outside of his mid-19th century context. We have to attempt to ‘meet him where he is’ so we can understand the power of his message and then interpret it for our own 21st century world. 

But for just a moment, he gets it right.  When Thessalonians talks about “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) it’s the same as what Ralph’s talking about. It’s about letting your whole life be a prayer; not just your words but your actions, thoughts, self and very being, BEING IN dialogue with God your creator.

I don’t know a lot about how prayer works, but I do know that God isn’t a genie granting wishes or a vending machine dispensing answers to prayers.  It’s relational and like all relationship communication matters and that communication includes but is not limited to words.   It usually starts there as we say table grace or bedtime prayer as kids, but it goes beyond language and ritual  (hopefully), to living a life in dialogue with God.

Now of course Ralph’s essay continues, so seriously in the very next paragraph as he says we shouldn’t weep with those who are weeping because we should be “imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason” I want to punch ’em.

AGREED! Emerson leaves quite a bit to be desired as to the proper treatment of widows, orphans, and the destitute! Did he even read the Gospel?! YIKES!

But hey! For one paragraph I was like, “yeah Ralph, yeah!”

Yep, and now begin the “we take issue with what Emerson is saying here,” chapters of our dialogue blog. 

Yep this was the stuff we agreed with!!! Squabble 2 coming at you tomorrow 😉