“The crucial question in prayer is not whether God suspends the laws of the universe, or whether he grants what people ask for, but whether we really open ourselves to him, open ourselves to his creating, saving presence” (Christianity Rediscovered, page 137).
In his now classic book, Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan writes of his experiences sharing the message of Christianity with the Maasai tribes in Tanzania. Prior to approaching the various Maasai clans, the young Catholic priest resolves to simply present the message of Christianity—stripped as much as possible of his own Western rituals and conventions. He presents the teaching of Jesus without offering anything else that would cajole the people into a response. Nor does he ask for anything in return.
As Donovan proceeds through his instruction with the Maasai, he is faced with the question, “How should Christians pray?”
In the Maasai tribal language, “to pray,” is translated as “to ask for.” This translation, Donovan realizes, is dangerous. It could lead the Maasai into a narrow view of God, focused solely on a transactional relationship, not unfortunately too different from much of our prayer in the West.
In his attempt to understand how to guide the Maasai, Donovan reflects first on the prayer of Mary and then of Jesus. In the garden, Jesus prays to be released from the terrible burden of sin, death, and momentary separation from the Father; yet, “Fiat”—thy will be done—is what he says. It is the same word that he taught his disciples to pray in the “Lord’s prayer” and the same word his mother, Mary, prayed as a teenager when faced with the startling news that she would give birth to the son of God. Thy will be done.
As Donovan concludes, “And by that word [Jesus] opened himself up to the creating, redeeming power of God within him, and God’s powerful work would be done, not outside him but in him, and he himself would be part of and involved in that deadly answer to his prayer” (Christianity Rediscovered, page 136).
“Perhaps Americans and other Christians do not pray anymore because they are afraid to pray. It is a dangerous undertaking,” writes Donovan.
Indeed, how hard and dangerous it is to pray “Fiat.” Those of us who have an illness know that our natural desire is for cure and longevity, but if Jesus himself prayed “Fiat” and wasn’t cured and didn’t avoid death, how much more can we trust that, whatever the outcome in our own lives, learning to pray “Fiat” will open us up to something greater.
Praying “Fiat” is not easy. But every time I come to God in prayer and am able to release myself to such a statement, I learn something of the true and peace-filled Christian life. I can rest in faith even in suffering or hardship or death, because after such things, I know that I meet with Jesus. That is His will, and it will be done.