Praying for your enemies

Taking a while to catch up with the Sunday Times, I noticed in the ‘Life Lessons’ section that the agony aunt Sally Brampton was recommending prayer.

Someone wrote in about her dislike of her fiance’s friend which was bad enough to make her want to bar him from their wedding.  Sally B. tried to jolly her into putting up with him for the big day, and then wrote:

Okay, now I want you to grit your teeth and pray for them, every day.  Yes, it sounds bonkers, but it works – following a long line of Buddhist tradition.  Wish them light and happiness and ask for your resentment to be lifted.  I’m not suggesting you turn into a Zen monk [why not nun?] but, as difficult and jaw-clenching as it will feel at first, turning your thoughts to peace rather than hatred does have a remarkable lightening effect on the mind.”

Well, has she been reading Karen Armstrong’s Compassionate Life?   She certainly recommends the personal therapuetic benefit of ‘loving one’s enemy’ through a mode of Buddhist mindfulness.  But why Buddhist prayer?  Is it somehow more acceptable than Christian prayer, which has as much if not more about loving your enemies and praying for them.  Perhaps it doesn’t spell out the steps to be taken quite so clearly.  But more likely, Christian forgiveness arises out of convictions about God which are not familiar or even plausible to many in their traditional presentations. 

I wonder if children in ‘circle time’ at schools will be taught to pray for others they dislike in this God-free but ‘mind-lightening’ way.


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5 Responses to Praying for your enemies

  1. Jenni says:

    It’s a worrying thought Alison. I am amazed at the garbage taught to my daughter in R.E lessons at school. My husband a REV. asked the children in local schools, that he visits ,to write a bit about the Easter story ,so that he could display them at church,He was rather suprised by the stories he received.One including a rabbit.
    Learning about christian prayer used to begin at school,and at 6, I remember being told that Jesus was listening,which I found exciting that He was listening to me! As a chistian body the church has a responsibility to get into schools and give children the facts to at least give them a choice in belief.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Alison. It’s rather concerning that we have not been able to get the message across that this is what it means to be a Christian! Jesus presents love for enemies as the defining characteristic of his disciples so why do our compatriots have to go looking for this insight in other places?

  3. alisonpeden says:

    I think it’s partly because the moral teaching is embedded in a theology that is much more taxing to grasp than a simple ABC of thought-changing. But also, that the way this theology is presented is sometimes not just difficult but off-putting. Sacrificial atonement belongs to such a different world – translating it into a modern mind-set, somehow, is really urgent. I don’t think the problem is accepting God; just the way we say God operates.

  4. Yes, I’m sure you’re right. What theology has failed to do well is tie up the narrative of Jesus’ life and teaching (generally more accessible) with doctrinal thinking. There are people out there who do that very well (Gerd Theissen and Miroslav Volf come to mind) but that thinking doesn’t seem to have filtered across very well to the way Christianity is portrayed or presented. It may also be that one of Christianity’s strengths – its historical particularity – is also one of the things that makes it less appealing to many than what appears to be a general philosophy of life. Paul probably got it right when he spoke of the scandal of the cross…

  5. David Warnes says:

    It doesn’t sound as though Sally Brampton has much understanding of Buddhism. What she suggests certainly isn’t within the Zen tradition, and my (admittedly limited) understanding of the other Buddhist traditions is that they wouldn’t endorse the view that there is a God to whom such prayer requests could be addressed. Sally’s advice is sound as far as it goes, but does it go much further than cognitive behavioural therapy? A Christian answer would include the element of prayerful recollection that Christ died as much for the person whom I find teeth-grindingly irritating as for me, but that isn’t a thought that one could include in an agony aunt column precisely because it is grounded in quite complex doctrinal thinking. And yet sacrificial atonement still has emotional force as narrative and a generation with little or no experience of church attendance and little or no knowledge of Christian doctrine can still, in that sense, “get it” when they read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.

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