Old School Modern: On the Evidential Power of Prayer

Image: Rob Park
 on January 18, 2020

It was an idyllic summer day when I went walking; the Monday of the August long-weekend. I drove to the commons in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and brought my Dominican rosary with me; winding it loosely in my hand, I allowed it to fall by my side as I prayed my way through mysteries.

It was busy on the trail, and there was no shortage of cyclists: “passing on your left”. I can’t believe what the bicycle industry has become; hydraulic bicycle brakes, now that’s something! You know you’ve arrived when you have hydraulic brakes! 

When I was young I had a one-speed BMX bike. That’s how they came back then, one speed. The girl up the street had a bike too, with a sparkling white banana seat! We called them ‘dirt bikes’, and they’d rumble-and-clatter as we sped across lawns and dirt paths, teeth chattering all the while, bums bouncing off seats. 

The BMX was the Lancaster Bomber of the bike world. My bike didn’t have fancy brakes, I’d peddle backward to stop. And stop it did! Aim for the gravel. Skid marks on the sidewalk. It was that type of bike. I think it was made of steel, and welded at the forge. It was tough, and it took a beating. 

Back then — the early 1980s — I felt like a rock star just having a bike. We’d ride bikes around town for hours. Those were the days of summer: every day was a warm day, and every day was a sunny day; it only rained at night. I don’t have a BMX bicycle these days, but I do have a rosary, and notwithstanding, that’s pretty old school. 

It was an idyllic afternoon when I went walking. Suddenly, a cyclist, almost losing control of his bike, blurted out: “Rosary, he’s got a rosary!” The enthusiasm startled me. He couldn’t contain himself as he wobbled, nearly crashing onto the pavement. 

He sped away, but I was left with a question: What was that reaction all about? Theological tradition calls it ek-stasis (ecstasy), a Greek word meaning ‘out-from’ / ‘out-standing’. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that there are forces that push (efficient causes), and there are forces that attract / impel (formal causes). An ek-static event is an impelling movement. It whispers into the soul and says, “Hey, soul, come out and reveal yourself.” Deep calls to deep (Psalm 139), heart speaks to heart (Augustine). 

Do you know how ek-stasis works? It works through invitation and in-forming. One moment you’re walking down the street happy-go-lucky, the next you’re overwhelmed by a memory, or a feeling, or an emotion. It comes out of nowhere; an invitation (impelling) to remember: the faint recollection of some-one, some-place, or some-time you once knew. Songs, smells, the feeling of being all caught up in mystery, and then the deep-feeling-and-feeling- deeply that accompanies it. The event leaves you feeling and acting ‘different’. Well that’s ek-stasis! 

People are often reluctant to evince their faith in public, but there’s an evidential power to prayer that’s undeniable. Prayer is a way of testifying, of providing evidence, to the impelling spirit. It was God, the deep feeling of God, which the cyclist recognized within himself, and he couldn’t contain it, so he shouted: “Rosary!” 

I’m old-school, but I’d like to think that I’m just old-school enough to be modern; prayer is evidential — it points beyond itself. God’s people should be more than willing to provide a tangible sign of their deep feeling and feeling deeply about God: “Rosary!”

  • Daniel Tatarnic

    The Reverend Dr. Daniel Tatarnic is priest-in-charge at St. Alban's, Beamsville.

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