Saturday, July 26, 2003


A while ago, in a comment at another blog, I mentioned that I apply Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to prayer as well as subatomic particles. In terms of prayer, this means that if I don't yet know the outcome of something, I can still pray for it and have some expectation that my prayers will be as effective as they ever are, even if that something has already occurred. So (for instance) if I know someone was having surgery from 10-noon, and at 3 I realize I did not offer the prayers I had planned to offer during the surgery, I can still offer them at 3, and hope they will have effect, so long as I don't yet know the outcome of the surgery. Tom, snark that he is, nicknamed this "Heisenprayer."

Well, though tom and others have dismissed this as superstition, I disagree. I think it is perfectly legitimate to pray into the past, so to speak. In fact, in certain ways, I think it better. (At the same time, it is worth noting that I think it better that I remember during the surgery to pray, rather than waiting until later; for one thing, I have a higher level of certainty that prayer can affect events still in progress than already completed.)

Imagine that Tom Hanks in Castaway, instead of becoming an idol worshipper (with his painted soccer ball), was a devout Christian. He would have been free, for all his years on the island, to pray for anything at all (save his own rescue) without any possibility of knowing the outcome of his prayers. He could pray for world peace, the life of a dear relative, an end to global warming--anything at all--and be free from the distraction of assessing how much or how little his prayers were granted, since he has absolutely no way of knowing the outcome. The act of praying, after some adjustment period, becomes sufficient unto itself, and that is surely a desirable thing.

Surprisingly, Heisenprayer shares some of that freedom. For, when I engage in my belated prayer at 3 pm, the surgery has been over for 3 hours. Instead of staring at the clock wondering whether or not my prayers will be granted during the surgery, I am focused solely on the spiritual aspect of praying, and on God's limitless power. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (which dictates that you cannot know a particle's vector and location simultaneously) also implies that observation interferes with a system, which is a fancy way of saying that, in one sense a tree falling in a forest without an observer does not make a noise, or at least does not make the same noise as it would with an observer present.

Praying without obtaining the data that already exists (say, by not checking voicemail or email until after finishing the prayer) takes the focus off of the lottery-effect ("He lived! God loves me!") and puts it back where it belongs, on Thy will, not mine. At the same time, I am not praying for God to undo something (since I am praying for one outcome, but do not affirmatively know that outcome to be in opposition to reality), but am seeking to add my own effort in just that mysterious way we are commanded to do, without fully knowing how it can make a difference.

On balance, we know God listens to our prayers. We also know that the future can be affected by our prayers, even if that effect isn't always what we desire or expect. It is surely best that I pray for my friend's surgery from 10-12, not at 3 without checking email. But I can see no harm** in praying at 3 without checking email (since I have at least some inkling that God's time-unboundedness can come into effect there), and see positive good coming out of it, at least insofar as my attitude towards my prayer at 3 is perhaps more appropriate than it is at 10.

(**I said "no harm," but that's not quite true. The potential harms are in allowing Heisenprayers to intrude on time that should be spent on the more conventional sort, and in believing that the more abandoned to Divine Providence mindset of Heisenprayer is superior to conventional prayers dutifully done. I only said "in certain ways, I think it better." It is only better viewed in certain light, but it is not better over all.)

[Golly, my blog writing and my Catholic thinking have gotten sloppy in my 6 weeks off. Sorry about that.]


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home