Rain is almost always welcomed here in the Valley, but that is not always the case elsewhere. In December 1944, General George Patton, commander of the American Third Army, was staring out of his window at the rain. For three months the constant deluge had been hampering operations. Tanks had been getting stuck in mud. Morale had been getting low, and everything depended on the weather. Suddenly, Patton had a brainwave. He called up the Catholic chaplain. “This is General Patton; do you have a prayer for good weather?” he asked. Within an hour Fr. James H. O’Neil had written his own prayer and delivered it personally to the General. “Have 250,000 copies printed,” barked Patton, “and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
Now, far be it from me to disagree with such distinguished theological company as General Patton, but I don’t think prayer works like this. It’s not about lobbying the almighty, nor is prayer an alternative way of getting things done in the world by cozying up to the divine. In contrast to this approach, perhaps Mother Teresa of Calcutta had it exactly right: “Prayer is not asking” she insisted. “Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
The problem with General Patton’s approach to prayer is that it was all about him getting what he wanted. For him in that instance, prayer was an extension of his will, a way of giving his own desire a metaphysical boost. But as Mother Teresa reminds us, this is the precise opposite of what prayer is. Indeed, the point of prayer is for the “I” to get out of the way so that another voice can be heard. The art of prayer is not the art of more powerful speech but the art of more attentive listening.
For those of you who are wondering what happened to the rain, Patton’s prayer was issued to the troops between the 12th and 14th of December. A week later, the rain stopped, and on Christmas Eve the General awarded his Chaplain a Bronze Star medal.
Amongst other things, bad weather has called people to prayer since the very beginnings of human history. Perhaps that is because uncontrollable weather is one of the things that continually reminds us of the disturbing truth- we are not ultimately in control of everything. But remember; sincere prayer is about learning to deal with that and not a means of trying to change it.