Wednesday, 11 June 2008

On Prayer

If you pray, things may happen, or they may not;
If you don't pray, things may happen anyway, or they may not...

Introduction and First Questions
God in the Mystery of Belief
People Finding Prayer
Writing Prayers
Jesus and Prayer
Grounding in Truth and Prayer
Prayer and Reality

Introduction and First Questions
At a recent Urban Saints staff conference I joined a session on the subject of prayer and how would it be possible to raise the prayer life of staff within the organisation. Some of the key points that stood out for me, or that I thought about, were:
  • What am I grounded in? (me: bible, nature....)

  • How much can you really change things through prayer?

  • How do/ you maintain momentum?

  • Does stuff just come in seasons (me: cf nature)?

  • What is your sacrifice when we are all so busy?

  • Can some things only be shifted by prayer?

  • Prayer reaches places we cannot know about

  • Is people's reluctance to pray actually because they don't have a personal philosophy/revelation of what prayer is? They may know it all, but somehow it just isn't a day to day reality to them that is grounded in their faith

  • Perhaps people are frightened to pray - when some very strange stories are told about what can happen when you do pray - spooky/supernatural or whatever (I know I do because it is outside of my daily experience of what I can understand). We may be conditioned to be scared of the 'supernatural' as it then comes close to being perceived as 'occultic' - and how do we deal with that?

  • "Pray to Jesus". Yes. "Pray to Nature". No. But... if you have the perspective that God is embodied/emspirited within Nature, then, if that is where you connect with God, you could have a slight problem (in general Christian circles) unless you can produce a convincing argument to back up your possibly perceived liberal and way off ideas....

God in the Mystery of Belief

Much spiritual literature and prayer around the world tells us that we can find God deep within the world and even with ourselves. Christians call this the mystery of incarnation; spirit and matter as one thing. ... Environmentalists and visionaries today face a similar task: to return spirituality to the Earth, grounding our spirituality and spiritualising our ground." ('Pray to Gaia' by Thomas Moore, Resurgence March/April 2008 No.247)

I have been surprised at how much "prayer" (talking to God, Divine connection or what ever you call it) happens in other religions, amongst pagans etc. now that I have become more aware of other ways of viewing the God. I do not want to say that a Christian's prayer IS the same as a Druid's invocation (or whatever you may call it) but a Holoist would probably argue that the difference is just cosmetic.

"In a tradition such as Druidry, the spell is a prayer: a respectful invocation that opens the soul and presents to to the gods and spirits of a situation's environment a request for inspiration, so that a solution can be found." (Orr, 'Living Druidry')

As it is perfectly possible for Druids to have a belief based the idea of a monotheistic God, I have no hesitation to draw some of their ideas into my writings. I have mentioned before that I rather like the idea of a Christian Druid though I might hesitate to actually call myself one - it does though bring me interest from other people searching the internet on the subject. Anyway, I am probably digressing, but this is my blog and I'm allowed to!

When I go to church and end up encouraged to worship Jesus, but then hear of a friend holding a women's drumming evening in her garden to drum for Tibet or some other big world issue, I wonder where I would rather be... Is "Being with God" actually what God would want from me or is being with people "praying" for suffering and injustice the place I should be... Who is right? Eeee, it's tricky stuff! Both are. Sort of. I think I am getting a bit bogged down again, so let's get back on track.

Prayer is...
Here are some quotes from John Odonohue about prayer (in Eternal Echoes):

  • Prayer should always develop the habit of delight.

  • Prayer should be the wild dance of the heart.

  • Prayer is an ancient longing, it has a special hunger and energy.

  • Prayer is an attempt to enter into harmony with the deeper rhythm of life.

  • Prayer issues from the threshold where soul and life interflow; it is the conversation between desire and reality.

  • Prayer awakens the soul and opens doors of possibility.

  • Prayer always brings transformation.

  • The unknown is our closest companion, it walks beside us every step of our journey. The unknown is also the place where each of us has come from. Prayer helps us build an inner shelter there.

  • Mystical prayer teaches us a rhythm of seeing that is dynamic and free and full of hospitality.

  • Each individual expresses and incarnates a different dimension of divinity. Each of us comes from a different place in the circle of the Divine. Consequently each of us prays out a different inner world and each one of us prays to a different place in the Divine circle. This is the place we left to come here. This is the empty nest in the Divine where the secrets of our origin, experience and destiny are stored. When we pray, we pray to that space in the Divine presence which absolutely knows us.

  • The magical thing about prayer is that it creates spiritual space. In spiritual space there is no distance.

  • It is a beautiful gift to draw someone into the shelter of your circle of prayer.

  • Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging. Prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging.

  • I had written these out a couple of years ago and re-typing them here just lifted my soul. Here is, for me anyway, a way of seeing prayer that goes far beyond the "Jesus heal my cold" sort of thing. I am alsohappy to leave the strong intercessory and warrior-like prayers to other people - previous blogs have talked about my thoughts on the perception of a Warrior God. For me, prayer is almost like tuning into the essence of life. The whole attitude with which you face your existence in connection with the Divine is almost a constant prayer. You tune into intuition and a connection with everything around you. I like a language of poetry in prayer, the language that John Odonohue used in his writings touches many people following many different paths. It adds mystery to prayer and one's relationship with God. When some people seem to be so in tune with God you can feel utterly left out, bewildered and frustrated - because you don't connect at that level and yet it is 'expected' that you should. I'm not thinking of anyone in particular either. It is just the way that some people genuinely do things. If, one day, I reach that point, then I may be able to look back and see where I went wrong. Today, I can only do what I can do, within the parameters of my perspective. I can only pray with honesty and truthfulness that way. Anything else is just posing. I just feel I connect differently.

    People Finding Prayer
    So, how do you motivate people to pray? Perhaps modern society isn't designed for us to pray in. For the past 20 years or so I have heard the same messages about Christian prayer. Does anything change? Do we somehow need to step away from distractions of work, tv, family, eating, the internet etc. and seek time to be alone with God. Is it about sacrifice? Is it about getting the grounding right?

    "Prayer is a bridge between longing and belonging" John Odonohue

    People need to know who they are. They need to have a framework in which they can place their "God". They then need to build a bridge to help connect them and their God. Bridges need foundations, strength, a direction, ends and, of course, something to cross over. Prayer needs to be a bridge.

    Writing Prayers
    I really like to write prayers. You create them into existence and then they have permanence; a voice or whisper does not have that enduring quality. A prayer written in a book lasts long after it has been written. I believe it continues to have 'power' for as long as required. I was also wondering about poetry and wondering whether there was a deeper link between poetry and prayer - are they the same?

    A couple of years ago when I was facing redundancy I wrote a prayer on a small piece of canvas and placed it amongst some trees in a wood not far from home. I liked the idea of prayer flags, and this was my 'prayer flag' - offering a prayer to the wind that could sort of reach out into the world seemed a good idea to try. In my sketchoo/journal I often write small prayers or try pictorial/drawn prayers.

    Jesus and Prayer
    I wondered if Matthew Fox had anything to say about Jesus and prayer:

    Jesus is also lover and pray-er of nature. Mountains, deserts, parks, lakes welcomed him for days at a time as he suffered his fame and his loneliness and his beauty and his decision-making in all these sacred temples. His biggest and most innovative decision was the manner in which he chose to preach. He chose the way and the life of the story teller, the parable maker who fashions a new creation out of the holy materials of the only creation we all share in common: the birds, the lilies of the field, the fishes caught, the fig tree in bloom, the sheep verses the goats, the leven in the bread, the mustard seeds of the world, the rains that fall on unjust and just alike. His reverence for nature was so great that the creatures of nature were indeed his teachers, his professors, who he recognized instinctively were looking "on him with affectionate looks and with truth to tell.

    In his prayer he learns to pray to a creator God as "Abba", or "Papa" thus personalizing as no religion ever had the intimate bond between creature and Creator. His panentheistic Father/Mother God is forever a personal God".
    ('Original Blessing', Matthew Fox)

    Grounding in Truth and Prayer
    I like the previous quote and Fox touches on a point that will be the basis of some further blog study by me: how can Nature be a teacher? I come across the idea many times in my readings but would like to explore it further. Can Christian Truth be found in nature? I was asked about the idea of fundamental Truth a couple of years ago and didn't really have an answer. Perhaps it's out there... in the trees... in the soil that Jesus walked on... in the things that inspired Him... This goes back to the subject of grounding - in what am I grounded? Prayer should be part of the outworking of your grounding.

    Prayer as Reality
    Prayer can be dull, hard work, unrewarding and sometimes seemingly pointless. And anyway, how do you decide what thoughts are prayer, and which are just, well, daily thoughts that our minds present us with every minute of our woken day? If I spend a few minutes thinking about a particular situation that needs 'prayer', does it have any less value than offering it as a particular prayer in a set 'prayer time'? If my life is truly a sacred experience in walking with God in all I do, does that mean I don't have to pray specifically?

    Prayer should be a reality. A connection with the seen and the unseen. It should embrace mystery and the unknown. It should build love, compassion, trust, respect and passion for life. It should seek to bring inspiration and understanding to situations. It should be accepting of uncertainty, but it should have direction, meaning and the energy to expect change. It should be a reaching out to the unknown, an attempt to reach the source of our longing for meaning and existence.

    Prayer should "Be". It should be there, be around you, be amongst you, be within you, be in your doing, be in your resting. Not always just the calm, chilled out "Be", but a strong dynamic, purposeful "Be" too.

    Does it work? Well, do you need to ask the question? Does it matter if it does or not? As long as you are building a bridge you are building a connection between soul, spirit and the Divine.

    Do I practice this? I feel I have a long way to go...

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