A prayer for Fabrice

Some quite shocking news this week. In France a gunman, over the last nine days, has killed seven people – three soldiers of North African or Caribbean origin and yesterday (March 19) a religious teacher and three children. Another teenager, shot in the same incident, is gravely ill. Whether the perpetrator(s) is an extremist right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic or something else is not much more than speculation at the moment. Hopefully he will have left enough clues to ensure his quick capture.

In England the shock was provided during an FA Cup quarter final. The Bolton midfielder, Fabrice Muamba, without warning and unattended by anyone, suddenly collapsed from a massive coronary attack and stopped breathing. It goes without saying that someone of his profession, especially a “box-to-box” midfielder like Muamba,  would be regarded as fitter than virtually all of his contemporaries, and this made the news more shocking than ever. If nothing else, the event was a salutary reminder of life’s unpredictability. Muamba was on the pitch, unconscious, for six minutes, before being rushed to hospital. The players, officials and spectators couldn’t be fully aware of events, almost unique as they were, but there was a sense that something was deeply wrong. This was one of those “only a game” moments that we don’t see often enough.

It took a day for Muamba’s heart to start operating on its own, and only today, three days later, has he been taken off the critical list – apparently his first words were asking for his son. It has been heart-warming to see the levels of compassion, understanding, concern and support both within and outside the football community, and hopefully it puts the activities of the likes of Luis Suarez in better perspective.

I happily join the well-wishers in the hope that Muamba makes a full recovery, and if possible can resume his career. I’d also like to highlight the roles of the medical team at Tottenham and the London Chest Hospital –  including, apparently, one surgeon who was at the game – without whose dedication, knowledge and skill Muamba would not be alive today.

Which brings me to the more controversial analysis of the incident. Knowing that something was gravely wrong, a few players, including Jermaine Defoe, and no doubt many of the spectators, began to pray at the scene. Over the next couple of days, Muamba’s family called for prayers to supplement the medical skills – The Sun led with the headline “God is in control“, which was a tweet from Muamba’s girlfriend. She also said that “Fabrice WILL pull through because God is good”. And this was only the tip of the prayer iceberg.

I have no doubt that the many prayers on behalf of Muamba had no effect at all. The most recent analyses of intercessory prayer bear this out. Plus if God is control of Muamba’s recovery then what was his role in the initial incident? I suspect that even the people praying know this well enough. For prayer has most all of its benefit on the subject, not the object. It’s a way for people to express what they take to be good thoughts in the main (I exempt those that proudly proclaim their prayers for Obama’s death or the destruction of the kufr).

The subjects of prayer probably know this well enough, although they don’t care to admit it. Prayers, we are told, are a plea for understanding God’s will more than a request for a specific event to happen, even though they are invariably related to such a specific event. That way any result can be seen as a good thing – whether Muamba lives or dies is an expression of that same God’s will and can be accepted as such while still reflecting the thought that life is outside our control. Actually in Muamba’s case, prayers do absolutely nothing to aid our understanding. There would be a reason, possibly inherited, possibly something else, that caused Muamba’s coronary and we know the actual reason for his (so far, so good) recovery.

For me to say such things publicly would, no doubt, lead to a high level of opprobrium. But there’s nothing wrong for people to express their wishes in such a way. It’s not realistic to think that Muamba’s recovery is due to the thoughts of well-wishers, but in our society and culture, prayer allows us a vehicle, should we wish to use it, to do something more than simply hope.

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