USA Today reports on the efforts of “prayer warriors” who have taken to the sky for the spiritual benefit of the people of Ohio.
CINCINNATI — Ten small single-engine airplanes circling over Ohio on Friday afternoon will be on a special mission. They’ll be taking part in PrayerFlight, airplanes filled with people praying for the health and welfare of the state’s 11 million residents. […]
The prayer warriors, from all religious affiliations, pray silently and aloud while aloft. They ask God to guide leaders, pray for people in schools and hospitals, and ask for salvation. […]
The second flight had eight planes with 26 people, including six youths from Teens for Christ, a ministry of teenagers from 22 high schools. This time the group prayed over seven Ohio counties.
Samantha Ciminillo, 18, of Lima, a member of Teens for Christ, took one of the December flights. It was her first airplane ride. “You see rows and rows of houses, and you know they are full of people you are praying for,” she said. […]
For now, Ciminillo is looking forward to Friday. “God works through the power of prayer,” she said. “I’m expecting big things to happen.”
Now, as a connoisseur of sophisticated theology, I am well aware that the vast majority of religious believers share a philosophically nuanced image of the divine, such as one might read about in the London Review of Books. God is viewed as a manifestation of immanent transcendence (some tension there, to be deliciously savored!), a precondition of the universe’s existence, standing outside our ordinary categories of substance and imagination. Happy times they are, as these typically devout folks chat away over dinner about the progress of our understanding from Tertullian to Levinas, relaxing over dessert with anecdotes about Ricoeur’s hermeneutic speculations.
But, in the interests of complete honesty, we must admit that there are still a few folks out there — one or two, scattered about the landscape — who indulge in a somewhat more literal vision of the traditional religious stories. People who believe that God is some kind of person, sitting up there in the sky, looking down on us and passing judgment. A being quite frightfully anthropomorphic, whose omniscience and omnipotence correspond roughly to those associated with the beard of Gandalf and the strength of Superman, respectively.
It’s a funny kind of philosophy, and I do wonder how carefully people examine their own beliefs. If a human being were to manifest the kind of need for constant worship and gratitude that this God exhibits, we would call them pathological (or perhaps “Mr. President,” but that’s another topic). It’s a scary idea, that God has the power to exert great influence over what happens in our daily lives, but chooses to do so or not on the basis of a handful of people flying around in airplanes, praying their hearts out. (“Sorry, Kentucky; I’d love to help out, but the flightplan didn’t quite take the prayer team over your airspace.”) Subtle interventions to be sure; maybe this person’s cold won’t evolve into pneumonia, that one will get cancer but it won’t be very painful. And if it weren’t for the praying, those unsuspecting folks below would be out of luck; one imagines God doing a weary shrug, in a “Don’t look at me, I’m just enforcing the Cosmic Rules, which, yeah, I’m sort of responsible for in the first place, but still, rules are rules, you know?” kind of way.
And then there are people who believe that things don’t happen for a reason, nor are events influenced by anyone looking at us from on high. The creation of good and evil, justice and mercy, beauty and terror, are all in our hands, as complicated conglomerations of particles obeying the laws of Nature. I kind of like it that way.