Rain never fails to fill me with peace. I have an audio track of it playing in my room as I sit on the floor with my legs crossed, back straight, and eyes shut. I focus on the pitter-patter of water droplets; the rhythm of my breathing; the state of my cluttered mind—this is how I direct my heart toward God.
“You should be grading more of your students’ papers. Have you checked in with this friend lately? Shouldn’t you be reading that book?”
A minute into prayer, I realize I’ve subconsciously slipped into slouching because my daily concerns are already weighing on me. I cast them aside and sit up straight. There’s a time and place to address my responsibilities, but not here. Not now.In the Star Wars universe, those who believe in prophecies are often deceived into believing they can control fate, but in the end, they pay for their presumptuous pride.
“You’ve already prayed for that countless times and nothing ever changes. Why do you bother asking God? Only you can fix your problems. Oh, that’s right. You can’t.”
I sigh and open my eyes. It hasn’t been five minutes and I’m already weary. What’s the point of praying?
In the wake of discouragement like this, I wonder what it would feel like to daily long for prayer and walk away with tangible joy. It’s hard for me to believe prayer is a road to change since God doesn’t answer in audible, immediate ways like a human would. I wish I could naturally desire prayer like Jesus did, who frequently retreated for prolonged bouts of isolation to do so (Luke 5:16; 6:12). What I do know is that Jesus is the key to my doubts. Qui-Gon Jinn made this clearer to me.
Set before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the novel Master and Apprentice develops Obi-Wan Kenobi’s relationship with Qui-Gon Jinn. The narrative chronicles a time where their trust in and understanding of each other is shaken right before they’re sent on a mission. To make matters more complicated, Qui-Gon receives a foreboding vision from the Force about the mission that throws him into turmoil over how he should interpret and react to it.
But prophecy is frowned upon in the Star Wars universe. Those who believe in prophecies are often deceived into believing they can control fate, but in the end, they pay for their presumptuous pride. Yoda warns both Anakin and Luke in the films that controlling the future is a path to fear leading to the Dark side, but in the novel, Qui-Gon begins to realize it may not be so black and white.
Regardless, the Jedi Order is too dogmatic and ironically obsessed with control to consider dabbling in prophecy. Obi-Wan reflects these traits in his negative response to Qui-Gon’s premonition, but relents when admitting the potential of visions to correctly guide people. “The Force is in all things, Master,” he says. “I can’t tell whether it has anything to do with your dream—yet it is present, guiding us, if we listen.” While Qui-Gon is doubtful and apprehensive of the truth and purpose behind it, he knows he shouldn’t be hostile to the whispers of the Force.
It’s easy to picture Qui-Gon as the Jedi equivalent of a new age hippie. He’s soft-spoken and wise, yet rebellious toward authority and willing to straddle lines of moral ambiguity. He’s obsessed with the prophecy of the “Chosen One” in The Phantom Menace and refuses to back down in his belief that Anakin is its fulfillment, desperately pleading with his dying breath that Obi-Wan train the child. Qui-Gon speaks of striving after “the will of the Force” as well. Master and Apprentice elucidates the rationale to his eccentric beliefs.
During his training as a Padawan, Qui-Gon became intrigued with numerous prophecies that spanned millennia of the Jedi Order’s history. He concluded that trying to know the future is moot—prophecies are more important for what they reveal about oneself rather than for gaining certainty over future events. In the novel, he said, “By asking ourselves how we interpret these prophecies, we discover our own fears, hopes, and limitations.”While Zen meditation’s purposes are in conflict with Christian faith, its methods and practices can remind us of the beauty of Jewish meditation in prayer as illustrated in the Psalms and Proverbs.
Approaching prophecies with humility allows one to better understand not only oneself, but also acquire a deeper knowledge of the Force. Qui-Gon inferred this in his intimacy with the Living Force (i.e. all physical life and matter) and believed communion with the Cosmic Force (i.e. the spiritual realm and divine nature behind the Force) was possible through meditation. “Your focus determines your reality,” Qui-Gon tells Anakin in The Phantom Menace. I believe we see this maxim in its fullest sense with Chirrut’s faithful meditation in Rogue One.
The Living Force—our reality—could be said to communicate the will of God as well, and we can turn to Jesus and the prophets to see how we can grow closer to hearing and understanding it through meditation and prayer. In Biography of Silence, Catholic priest Pablo d’Ors takes his framework of faith as applied to Zen meditation, and while its purposes are in conflict with Christian faith, its methods and practices can remind us of the beauty of Jewish meditation in prayer as illustrated in the Psalms and Proverbs.
With meditation, d’Ors discovers his sensitivity is heightened to the “true sound of the world”—that is, the wonder, complexity, and lessons that the world can teach us when we are still and at peace. This is opposed to what C.S. Lewis describes as “noise” in The Screwtape Letters, which is “the grand dynamism” that drowns out “the melodies and silences of Heaven.”
Both meditation and communion with the Force require silence, but people can lose themselves in the noise of their souls and the world. Obi-Wan says, “Surrendering to the ebb and flow of life [is the only way] the Force [can] be truly known.” When noise reigns within and without d’Ors, he says he must trust there’s a silence lying behind it. Living with this expectation is an act of faith because it forces one to wait on what lies beyond immediate senses.
I believe meditation is meant to be redeemed when complementing prayer. Author Paul Miller describes the latter as “the medium through which we experience and connect to God.” He unwittingly aligns prayer with D’Ors’ descriptions of meditation since they say that both are about shedding control and the self by cultivating humility in privacy (Matthew 6:6). But with prayer, these things are directed toward God. Miller says you must be “inside the story to see [the weaving of God]. It must remain hidden for the Spirit to work.”
The Spirit communicating the will of God to us is akin to the role of the Force and midi-chlorians in the Star Wars universe. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon tells Anakin, ”[Midi-chlorians] continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.” Miller believes God rarely (if ever) literally speaks to us today. Rather, He communicates through the “richer, more personal” instinct of wisdom with the urging of the Spirit, which purifies hearts of self-guided desires and perceptions.Qui-Gon learns that the path for our lives can only be divined in surrendering to fate; we must be selflessly perceptive in the present.
In the Star Wars universe, Anakin fell by confusing his emotions with the will of the Force, whereas Qui-Gon embodied a spiritual rationalism by conforming his will to the Force. This is what it means for God to speak—those who align their will with His own will hear Him.
I fail to listen to and obey God because prayer is hard, let alone meditative prayer. Miller opened my eyes when he said prayer is akin to a desert. When Jesus entered the Judaean desert, He also entered the desert of his soul and was found to perfectly embody the will and being of God. The desert “brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer,” Miller said. “Suffering burns away the false selves … [and] is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self. Desert life sanctifies you.” It’s no wonder D’Ors founded a meditation group called Amigos del Desierto—Friends of the Desert.
After the events of Master and Apprentice, Qui-Gon had been living for a long time in the desert of his soul. He learns that the path for our lives can only be divined in surrendering to fate; we must be selflessly perceptive in the present. When he was stranded on Tatooine, he knew the will of the Force could be found in all things, even a small slave boy.
The sandstorms and heat of my desert buffet my relationship with God; I lose sight of God when mirages and the noise of life confuse my heart. I revert to foolish assumptions that I can solely navigate my desert’s terrain. Qui-Gon reminded me that I can find God in everything when I quiet my restless heart in meditative prayer, trusting that He will lead me as He wills.