Friday, October 25, 2013

How then shall we pray?

Sundays after Pentecost, Proper 24 [29] Year C

It seems to me that we have always had a pretty high view of prayer – in the life of the church in general and in the life of the individual follower of the Way of Jesus.

It also seems to me that while the Bible says a lot about prayer, reassuring us often of God’s desire that we have what we pray for, in the practice of prayer may people seem left disappointed.  I know that we often use platitudes to ease our disappointment – but people still feel let down.

For example, very early on in my first ministry placement I heard a story about a wonderful member of the church who had been a medical doctor, a surgeon specialising in a particular form of brain tumours.  At some hideously young age – perhaps his early 40s – he was diagnosed as having one of the tumours he was such a specialist about.

The people in my church said they prayed fervently, perhaps annoyingly like the widow in the Gospel story, and all to no avail because this wonderful young man, who may have saved many lives, died despite their most fervent prayers. 

From that time on, these people really struggled when someone got ill and they were asked to pray.  They have adopted the worldview expressed by Nick Cave – whose sister went to that church interestingly enough – “I don’t believe in an Interventionist God.”

When I hear people talking about “prayer warriors” I think they are referring to people who spend lots of time in intercessory prayer – they might not but that is what I think.  Maybe that is because I confess that I struggle a lot with intercessory prayer – I have no problem praising and acknowledging the wonder of God in the world and in my life; nor do I have any problem with commending individuals and even nations into God’s loving care; but asking God to heal someone in particular, or to provide funds that seem necessary for some project or another, or to help the starving in Africa, or for a parking space when I need one – such prayers seem to be entering into the realm of God’s unfathomable grace.

So, let me do something a bit unusual, and ask you what you think prayer is about.  If you are brave enough to speak up, please speak loudly for me – sometimes in a setting like this my hearing aids let me down and I have to ask people to say it again.

Let me rephrase the question – how do people pray?  This means in your experience and perhaps what you know of other people and prayer.

I’ve a little list of my own here – let’s see how many we get between us.
Praise & Adoration
Meditation – Silence
Meditation – Mantra – Maranatha/Jesus Prayer
Singing – Psalms & Taizé chants
Reading written prayers/devotions
Lectio Divina
The Examen
Walking – Labyrinth
Being in Nature
When Creating – art, crafts, writing
Praying with Icons
Praying alone and Praying together
Written Offices of Common Prayer

There are probably even more ways than I have listed and we have discovered together.  The thing that holds all these things together in the category of prayer is that they are about a sort of inner dialogue – between us and God.

Now that is the bit that interests me when I talk about prayer – prayer, however we do it, is essentially about expressing, cultivating, nurturing our life in God – because this is where we encounter God most vividly.  And this is the fundamental task of our discipleship.

I have to say that it has really only been in recent years, as I have had my understanding of prayer broadened to embrace all these things, that I feel like my prayer life actually means anything – because, as I said before, I didn’t cotton on to intercessory prayer very well.

It therefore seems to me, at this stage in my work with you, that the readings we have had today, raising as they do the issue of prayer, are very timely for us.  As we embark on a journey into the somewhat unknown, as we enter into a period of discernment of the mind of God for our community, sharpening up on our prayer life can only be commended – highly commended.

I want to encourage you to have a little bit of a spiritual audit – privately – and give some thought to the question “What would be a good and relatively easy thing for me to do just now to add a little zest to my prayer life?”

Hold that thought for a moment …

The next question to consider is “What might help you stick at it, to gradually add this to your life with God as a place for growth and renewal?”

Some people find that having a safe place among friends to talk about these things really helps.  I would be happy spending time with such a group or groups for a few weeks facilitating this discussion so that we can give our prayer life a spiritual “vitamin boost” so to speak.  Now is the time – and I want to encourage you all to consider what would be the best help for you; and if you need to do that in the context of others, in a group, in community, I am willing to facilitate that.

I am also willing to facilitate an exploration of some of these other ways of praying that might be unfamiliar to you – forms of prayer that have nurtured the spiritual life of millions of saints before us.

Let us pray.

Loving God, you are the truth far beyond all knowledge, the word excelling all human ideas and wisdom, the joy higher than all delight and happiness, the glory brighter than the light of a billion stars. Yet you are nearer to us than our thoughts, and dearer than our deepest love. We trust you, we worship you and we adore you! In wonder and love we lift up our hearts in praise to you.  Amen. 

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