This morning for a few moments the conversation with my friends turned to my efforts to create a new form of prayer. It could be called prayers for the new millennium, because what I have in mind are meditations that incorporate humanity’s new thoughts about our relationship with the world.
Back when Jesus and, later, Mohammed created their prayers the world known to them was basically what was readily visible to the unaided eye. There were no telescopes or microscopes, or CERN high-energy scopes. Even much later, when Machiavelli was writing, the time horizon was either infinite with a gradual wearing away of visible history by attrition, as he thought it was, or perhaps rather brief, being not much beyond written records of the historical age, as most others thought. We now know that world history is six orders of magnitude larger than their imaginations suggested, and the Universe perhaps contains ten to the twenty-second orders of magnitude of planets more than our singular home planet Earth. Very few planets would be habitable, but with their numbers so vast, the number of planets with life forms must be vast. I mention these numbers to place us moderns within a totally new world from the one inhabited by the classic prophets.
Our new conception of the world requires a new world prayer. The prayer needs to be one that acknowledges our new world view of the ultimate vastness within which we are confined to a tiny, tiny speck of time and space. Asking an invisible, unknowable, and possibly nonexistent controlling being for guidance is bound to bring the realization that the responses we may feel we are getting are only projections of our personal hopes, and these are driven by our own self-confirming biases. We see what we hope to see, and we don’t want to see our selves and our whole human species and its problems as insignificant, as utterly insignificant.
All of that is considered obvious by modern people who have thought about the appalling extent of time and space, but what isn’t so obvious is how we are to relate to it and still retain a positive feeling of self-worth. We need a goal to have purpose, to feel comfortable with ourselves, with our universe. We can place our attention on the instantaneous events of the moment, and that will give some brief feelings of contentment, but we also need a grander purpose. Some people find that in watching sporting events, some need a greater meaning to life and find it in national pride, and some explore more existential meaning, but often all of these fail and the individual and his society sink into a stinking swamp of despair. What we now need are:
Prayers for the new millennium.