Whatever You Pray, You Won’t Receive?

In volume 52 of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s slightly-autobiographical manga, Bakuman, two young mangakas are worried over the future of their manga, Trap, which is on the verge of being canceled by Shonen Jump Magazine.  While waiting to hear from their editor, one of the magakas, Akito Tagaki, gets down on his knees:

“I’m praying for real.  I think it’s the first time for me.”

The story of two mangaka without a prayer

Faced with a possibility of cancellation, a character relies on an unlikely source, for him at least.  While prayer isn’t unique in anime and manga, Tagaki’s stands out; he hits his knees and sends a petition to kamisama apart from the typical setting, which is at a shrine during Hatsumode, the New Year’s celebration.  Matthew Ropp, a former Fuller Theological Seminarian, writes that the components of the celebration include clapping one’s hands or ringing a bell, giving a donation, buying charms, buying fortunes and tying them to a tree, and praying.  Most of us are familiar with these traditions, as just about any anime that takes place in a present setting has an episode that takes occurs on New Year’s.

Ropp goes on to describe the prayers.  There are generally two types spoken: one for protection and one for blessing.  Both of these are petitionary prayers, where one asks for something.  The problem with petitionary prayer, of course, is that we don’t always get what we ask for.  Someone praying for protection at a shrine may end being hospitalized.  One praying for good luck might lose their money in the stock market.  Why don’t we get what we want?

Author (and personal hero) Philip Yancey offers several suggestions in his excellent book, Prayer: Does it Make a Difference? For instance, perhaps our prayers contradict others’ prayers: what if someone is actually praying that you won’t be blessed?  Only one of the prayers can be answered.  And what about one’s motivation for prayer – will God honor a prayer spoken out of selfishness, when He asks us to do His will?  Besides these, the question remains of Whom we are praying to – Kamisama may refer to the Christian God, but it may also refer to a variety of deities or some other deity.  Would God answer a prayer not directed to Him?

(Note: And what of the heart of prayer?  Chiba from Hourou Musuko offers just as sincere a prayer for what may also be folly.)

Durher's famous drawing, The Praying Hands

But one particular reason captures my attention more than others.  The Christian God is a god of mercy, and like a good parent, He knows that what’s good for a child and what a child wants aren’t always the same thing.  God withholds what we ask for, sometimes, because it’s for our good.

And so was the case with young mangakas from Bakuman.  Their manga was indeed canceled, much to the characters’ surprise.  But because of the cancellation, the duo were able to create a manga both they and their audience enjoyed more.  They didn’t get what they asked for; they got something much better.

When we pray, we’re always looking for God to say “yes.”  Maybe we should be just as happy with a “no.”

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
– Jesus, Matthew 26:39

“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”
– Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayers”


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