a continuation from the suggestion of the last post, that there is a correlation between effectuality and righteousness
Part Two: What We Pray For
The effectiveness of my prayer depends, at least in part, on my righteousness.
This is a hard note for sure. It suggests -- and I shudder to say this -- that a certain “success” or effectiveness of my pastoral prayers correlate with my “righteousness.”
Permit me to look more carefully at the first term of that correlation: “effectiveness.”
What is the sine qua non of effectuality for the prayer of unction? Not, as one might expect, an explicit, immediate and comprehensive physical healing. As happens so often, the Bible is disappointing in its particular and transcendent penchant. No -- disappointingly, at least to a worldly worldview, the height of effectuality lies in the “forgiveness of sins.”
I think James, and Jesus, the apostles and the prophets, make clear the fact that the best of all healings to be experienced in this broken generation is the forgiveness of sins -- not the unstopping of ears, or the restoration of paralyzed limbs, or the lengthening of one leg or any of the Signs and Wonders repertoire, or the kicking out of demons heading various sub-departments in the rogues’ gallery of the seven deadlies.
Sorry for that little screed, but I thought it pertinent as it bares plain the essential point of the healing of the paralytic -- you know, the one where the four friends poked a hole through the roof, and where the Lord asked that very uncomfortable rhetorical question: “Which do you think it easier for the Son of Man to forgive sins, or to say Rise Up and Walk?”
How many of us, if we had to choose either possibility (the paralytic, thank God, didn't have to), would choose the right one?
There is too little concern, these days, for the forgiveness of sins. Normatively speaking, this highest of all priorities has been reduced now to a sentimentality, with about as little substance as a Hallmark card.
Miracles nor Numbers
It is probably easier to say what “effectiveness” is not. It is not calculated by miracles -- especially those of the spectacular kind, as the Lord has said that there will be those who have worked miracles who will not know the Lord in the Last Day. Moreover, in the Apocalypse, signs and wonders are done by the bad guys, too. “Even some of the elect will be deceived”: Lord have mercy.
Effectiveness is not measured by numbers, either. If it were so -- if it was true that numeric growth was God’s imprimatur on a movement -- then we should all be Mormon or Muslim, for those two movements are possessed of much better numbers than about anyone else in the religion business. Indeed, the Lord Himself failed this criterion, as His rather Orthodox teaching on the Eucharist did not meet the felt needs of His marketing segment. The difficult verse that points out this painful reality is, of all things, John 6.66 (kind of creepy, that).
Effectuality is hard to observe, and may certainly not be measured. Spiritual phenomena -- especially matters of divinity -- can only be discerned. They cannot be subjected to the business of materialistic or sensual quantification: this is the lesson, I think, of a particularly horrible little story in 1 Chronicles (known in the LXX as the first part of the Paraleipomena). No one preaches on this episode, as it is perhaps scary and awkward at the same time. It seems as though “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to number Israel” (xxi.1). Of course nowadays we would not be so quick to blame Satan, as our historiography is too polite to admit the agencies of the bodiless in its reckoning -- at least in mixed company. We would probably say something more au courant like “It was time to publish the quarterly report.”
In any case, even the sanguine Joab, who was not well known for his piety, scrupled at David’s executive decision to take a census. But the Lord did not scruple: a pestilence fell upon Israel, and there fell seventy thousand men. Not much was subtle in the Old Testament. The lesson was explicit and hamfisted: God does not tolerate quantification.
These are better days now, these New Testament times. But they are more mysterious. The true history of the world is wrapped up in Christ and His Body, and if you don’t want to see things that way, then you must content yourself with lesser, and more incomplete historiographies.
Effectuality exceeds the notice of TV cameras and dull statistical reports. No one is going to notice the emergence of a saint in squalid conditions. Love occurs especially in the context of the mundane. True history -- the history that anticipates the Day of the Lord and is informed by it -- proceeds more like Bethlehem than Rome.
Constantine has come and gone: he and his successors have done their job well enough, but now it’s probably time to practice up for the catacombs. The State will never again befriend the Church.
Please excuse that screed too, but it, too, was pertinent, as the whole subject of effectuality must be liberated from its usual marketplace stereotypes.
When a righteous person -- that is, a saint -- prays fervently, the virtue of his prayer is borne out in the effectuality of the Kingdom of God. There is the realization of God’s forgiveness, for one thing, and the lived out eradication of death-addictions in thoughts, emotions, and physicality. There is the freer, richer liberation of forgiveness that is inaugurated in personal relationships -- in the present and in the past, even. There is the greater participation in the infinite “becoming unto the likeness” that St. Gregory of Nyssa so enjoyed describing -- a participation that will only becoming infinitely greater along the widening horizon of eternity.
There is theosis, simply put.
There is, crucially, that maternal essence of the Church, of which St. Paul so poignantly addresses his own vocational anxiety: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you …” (Galatians 4.19).
And finally (or shall we attempt the word “teleologically”?), there is the “reconciling of all things to Himself” (Colossians 1.20). There is the maturation into “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4.13). There is the final subjection of all things to God, “that God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28).
If you have a telos like this, than you must needs be possessed of a different sense of history, I think. And you will have to notice effectuality in a different way.
Such is the “stuff” of the KIngdom, and its effects that might be “discerned” (an ecclesial term for the kind of observation that escapes the limitations of sense-perceptions).
This is the wide context: in a smaller, more immediate perspective, “effectuality” is described with old, undivided and simpler words like “peace,” “joy,” “good” -- words that cannot be tied up by diagrams or dictionaries. Orthodox and apostolic healings are marked by such terms: they are quieter, more dignified, so hidden from public view that they are accused of secrecy and esotericism.
The effects of a righteous prayer are whole and beautiful. They are not loud or crass. Sometimes, the manifestation of fulfilled supplications are numinous, and so mysterious that the proper response must involve not a little fear. There is also some confusion -- which mainly proceeds from a mind that has been over-trained by the structures of a language habitually declined away from eternity.
That, in short, is the sort of impression Orthodoxy must make in general and in particular, upon an individual or upon a nation.
If those impressions are not made -- or if other, lesser, more familiar and worldly effects are produced -- then, if James is to be believed, righteousness was not there.
And there is, unfortunately, where we are.
next up: non-fundamentalist, but just as scandalous, righteousness ... and its scary accessibility