Did you know that you can add a name to the Salt Lake Temple prayer roll by calling an 800 number? Our priesthood instructor mentioned this today, and it started me thinking again about the nature of prayer. And I admit, I am stumped by the prayer roll.
In my prior post on the nature of prayer, I asked whether “faith does not so much cause things to happen as it allows us to submit our will to the Fatherâ€™s.” This function of prayer makes sense to me. Under this view, prayer is a process of discovery, and the power of prayer is that it makes us more like God. Not in some mysterious way, but in the same way that deep conversations with friends or parents influence us.
This need not be the only function of prayer. (Some of the comments to my prior post explore this a bit.) Surely we can imagine that faithful prayers influence God’s will, though this introduces a whole set of questions about which faithful wishes God grants and which faithful wishes He denies.
Regardless of how you think about that set of questions, I think you will concede that the prayer roll is an odd institution. It is a list of names, unknown to the people who are praying. Even if the people who are praying could see the list, they would have no idea why the names are there. So there is no attempt to pray for certain outcomes. Moreover, the people on the list often (usually?) do not know that they are the beneficiaries of the prayers, so they are not comforted in knowing that others are concerned for them. Finally, as far as I know, there is no attempt to exert any quality control on the prayer rolls. Are the people “worthy” of prayers? If I want my son to perform well in his next football game, should I send in his name? Maybe I should request temple prayers for George Bush or John Kerry? What if I put my dead grandparents on the prayer rolls?
And why do we limit prayer rolls to people? Why can’t we pray that the war in Iraq will end? Or that the U.S. economy will perk up? Or that hurricanes will miss Florida? Or that the Wisconsin Badgers will go undefeated?