A_Face_In_The_Crowd_13

Francis Spufford on the horizontal power of prayer, known uniquely to Christianity (from Unapologetic):

Christians too, of course, draw consolation from the patterns faith makes as it repeats in time. For us too there’s an important wisdom in not leading a life whose only measure is the impulse of the moment. But our main comfort in the face of unjustifiable suffering is very different. It’s not an investment in order we’re asked to make; it’s a gamble on change. Our hope in not in time cycling on predictably and benevolently under an almighty hand. Our hope is in time interrupted, disrupted, abruptly altering from moment to moment. We don’t say that God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world; not deep down. We say: all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us. We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story.

When I pray, I am not praying to a philosophically complicated absentee creator. When I manage to pay attention to the continual love song, I am not trying to envisage the impossible-to-imagine domain beyond the universe. I do not picture kings, thrones, crystal pavements, or any of the possible cosmological updatings of these things. I look across, not up; I look into the world, not out or away. When I pray I see a face, a human face among other human faces. It is a face in an angry crowd, a crowd engorged by the confidence that it is doing the right thing, that it is being virtuous. The man in the middle of the crowd does not look virtuous. He looks tired and frightened and battered by the passions around him. But he is the crowd’s focus and centre. The centre of everything, in fact, because if you are a Christian you do not believe that the characteristic action of the God of everything is to mould the course of the universe powerfully from afar. For a Christian, the most essential thing God does in time, in all of human history, is to be that man in the crowd; a man under arrest, and on his way to our common catastrophe (106-108).