Prayer Redux - Part 1

by Greg Stevens on March 12th, 2012

Here’s the thing, for a lot of us (including myself), if we stick to the popular version of prayer we’ve inherited from the 20th century, would rather show someone our bank statements than talk about our prayer life. I’d be more prone to talk about my struggle with my weight than confess I hate prayer.

I think it’s clear why we hate it - we’ve done it, we’ve tried it, we’ve bought the books, listened to the sermons, and attended prayer meetings (upon meetings, upon meetings…) and nothing really seams to change. It’s also incredible boring. The common idea of prayer (formally offering some words to God) is miserable at times, especially when you're praying for someones healing and not a single thing seems to happen.

So why do we keep doing it? Why don’t we take some time to think this through, to re-evaluate why we think prayer should be done a specific way?

When we read things in scripture, like Jesus’ attempt at teaching his disciples to pray (ie. Our Father…), we often fall back into our non-critical lens, reading the text at face value and ignoring the context. In short, this prayer Jesus teaches is wildly subversive, it’s claiming Jesus’ kin-dom over Caesars, it’s promoting a commonwealth where belongings are shared, food is provided for all and evils are relinquished with love. It’s as if Jesus was saying more about society than actually setting up a philosophical framework for 21st century faithful prayers.

With my last post I talked about a Process perspective on prayer, which helps us wrestle with the idea of God’s response to our prayers. But I still never mentioned what you should do when you actually pray. Don’t look here for that though, cause it doesn’t exist. What I can offer is a glimpse at the beauty discovered in re-thinking prayer. In Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Alter In The World, she begins to describe how prayer is different than prayers. Prayers are the more formal moments of prayer, when we use words, when we attempt to be as theologically accurate and when we finish with "...in Jesus' name, amen." Prayer is more a posture of heart, mind and soul. She writes,

When I look up from feeding the outside dogs to see the full moon coming up through the bare trees like the wide iris of God’s own eye – when I feel the beam of it enter my busy heart straight through the zipper of my fleece jacket and fill me full of light – I am in prayer. When I spend all afternoon chopping onions, stewing tomatoes, and setting the dining room table with every piece of silver where I own for a supper of soup and bread with friends, I am in prayer. When I am so sick that I cannot do anything but lie in bed with a jar of Vick’s Vaporub and a blister pack of cold pills somewhere in the sheets, with all the time in the world to remember whom I love and why, I am in prayer.

Prayer is a way of orienting your mind to the beauty of God's fingerprints covering every inch of creation.


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