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I have just put away a book on prayer.  I thought i needed to read it because my prayerfulness  has not been that great or that consistent.  It is short as books go but it has been a painful struggle and after three months, i have not finished it.  I thought it might be because the book is on Christian prayer that i struggled with it; but the author went out of his way to make his discussion generic, and the approach is very compatible with the mystical traditions which i love.  The problem for me seemed to focus on this question:  "How much can one human being usefully  say to another human being about prayer?

Jesus, who ought to be a model for Christians, prayed silently and privately and advised his followers to follow suit -- prayer means orison, not oration.  He admired simple prayers: "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."  When his disciples allegedly asked him how to pray, he said this:

Father, may your name be holy.
May your rule take place
Give us each day our daily bread.
Pardon our debts, for we pardon everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us into a trying situation.  (Q1)

We have insisted on expanding and elaborating on this simple prayer, putting words in Jesus' mouth so to speak.

If Jesus had little to say about prayer, the Buddha, and the writer(s) of the Tao Te Ching said even less.
Prayer is, i believe, a cultural universal, yet i have seen no theory of prayer until relatively recent times, and most of what i have encountered has seemed pretty useless.

The book i am was reading had a few good points among the verbiage.  Had i finished i, no doubt would have found more, but it seemed an inefficient and unfun use of my time.  I will admit that one line really did grab me:

"You can't begin to change the human being you are until you start to understand that you live in a world that is, by and large, ten thousand times greater in its invisibility than its visibility."--Guy Finley

But unless we mean by prayer the entire conversation between the visible humanity and the invisible divinity (and even that may be far more simple than we imagine) prayer is certainly not rocket science.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 20th, 2013 09:12 am (UTC)
My favorite understanding of prayers is: Prayer is surrender.
Aug. 20th, 2013 01:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, i like it. But is surrender necessarily prayer?
Aug. 20th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, in my opinion surrender is prayer in the sense of allowing ourselves to be open, receptive, pliable, to be molded into the greater, to be clay in the hands of the potter where there is fire and a wheel and being and becoming.
Aug. 20th, 2013 04:17 pm (UTC)
Is surrender prayer?
That makes perfect sense to me.
(and it didn't take 151 pages to say it) :)
Thank you.
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:58 am (UTC)
Hmm. I'm inclined to think it depends what/whom one surrenders to!

I have been urged to surrender to all sorts of self-interested idols.

And I think this distinction is what African-American congregations are getting at when they tell the Almighty, "You are worthy! You are so worthy to be praised!"
Aug. 21st, 2013 10:46 am (UTC)
I would think in this context and circle, the discussion is on surrendering to God and has nothing to do with the self-interested idols to which you refer. I also think in these circles we are pretty much aware of the self-interested idols to which we have been urged to surrender whether we are African American or lily white. Further, "You are worthy! You are so worthy to be praised!" is not peculiar to the African American church. It is sung in white churches as well.
Aug. 21st, 2013 12:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, it sounds as if I annoyed you, and I'm sorry. I just felt the need for more specificity about surrender. I was also thinking about Valerie Saiving's essay on the toxicity to women (and other designated servitors) of many of the exhortations about surrender and service that are medicinal to women.

It's good to hear your experience in White churches of sorts I've never been in. I embody large swaths of ignorance.
Aug. 21st, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
To the contrary, to say that I was annoyed would be a cop out thus there is no need for you to be sorry. I was expressing a deeply felt view on the matter of prayer, one shared by many people and not original with me, one shared in many spiritualties, not just Christianity, but eastern religions, etc. I assumed in your original comment, you were speaking out of your understanding of the awful abuse women have endured at the hands of men, African Americans have endured at the hands of whites, etc. thus my need to be sensitive when I use a particular word.
Aug. 21st, 2013 03:01 am (UTC)
I think that learning to pray, and to understand that one is praying, is one of those things that can't easily be taught in words. That the former is kind of like learning to whistle: you keep trying what you've been told, but the way you learn is those odd moments when it works, you know it's worked, as you get a glimpse of the feel of it working, that tends to increase over time.

As for the understanding that one's been praying bit, I've told you about what God told me about intercessory prayer, right? Startled me, but seems to be right.
Aug. 21st, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
No, i don't remember what you said about intercessory prayer. Please repeat it?

I like the comparison between praying and whistling. :)
I love beautiful and meaningful prayers, but discussions of praying bore me. I pray for the "kingdom of God" But what is that? It is everybody following the eight-fold path and the sermon on the mount. At the end of his lesson against worry, Jesus says (in Q) "Instead, make sure of his rule over you." Prayer reminds me that i should be seeking that; it asks guidance in seeking that. Then all the other stuff is supposed to fall into place. (Or i come to recognize that all is already well.)
Aug. 21st, 2013 10:29 am (UTC)
Please do tell about what God told you about intercessory prayer. It's something I have a hard time with. Thank you
Aug. 22nd, 2013 12:30 pm (UTC)
Here are Richard Rohr's comments on prayer today:

"Contemplation, or meditation in some groups, was rediscovered in contemporary Christian times beginning with the writings of Thomas Merton in the 1950s and 1960s. The word most Christians are more familiar with is simply “prayer.”

Unfortunately, in the West, prayer had become something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect—which too often puts the ego back in charge. As soon as you make prayer a way to get what you want, you’re not moving into any kind of new state of consciousness. It’s the same old consciousness, but now well disguised: “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?” It’s the egocentric self deciding what it needs, but now, instead of just manipulating everybody else, it tries to manipulate God.

This is one reason religion is so dangerous and often so delusional. If religion does not transform people at the level of both mind and heart, it ends up giving self-centered people a very pious and untouchable way to be on top and in control. Now God becomes their defense system for their small self! Even Jesus found this to be true of his own scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law."

Aug. 22nd, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, i like Rohr and read him loud and clear.

In post WWII Italy prayers of petition were forbidden in many Churches because of their political or exclusionary requests.

But Jesus strongly approved of petitionary prayer. "Ask, and you will receive."

Lecto divina has four parts: devotional reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation with each term referring to different practice. Meditation is reflective thought; prayer is words addressed to God; contemplation is a still, clear minded, waiting.
Aug. 22nd, 2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
I like that idea of a still, clear minded, waiting. My mind has not been clear in a while. I think I will take that "still, clear minded, waiting" as surrendering. Peace.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )



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