How do you conceive or understand prayer?
Many of us understand prayer in terms of words: we ask for things. Whether the prayer is to God or the Universe, we make requests for something we believe to be good or to avoid what we believe to be bad. This is sometimes called intercessory prayer. But most people simply know it as prayer.
I think this kind of prayer makes sense for children. To help a child understand prayer, prayer could be explained as talking to God. From this perspective, it makes sense to teach a child to say a prayer of thanks before meals or to say prayers at bedtime.
Another common form of prayer found in Evangelical churches is praise. Choruses that repeat words of praise or that express, “Glory to God!” and similar sentiments are often repeated. This, along with prayers of intercession, is often the primary expressions of prayer.
If prayer has something to do with talking to God, communicating with the Divine, or being in a relationship with the Holy, it seems to me that always asking for things or repeatedly saying, “You’re great!” is a bit off base. Think about a friend who only asks for favors and is always saying what a great person you are. What kind of friendship is that?
The Hebrew Scriptures use a very different image of prayer than we do. In the writings of the prophets and the wisdom literature, our relationship with the Divine is often presented as a relationship between lovers. What is it that young lovers do? They think about each other all day. They anticipate being with each other. They look for opportunities to spend time together and do most everything together. They can’t seem to separate themselves from each other. Even in the midst of life’s disappointments and challenges, the Hebrew Scriptures present us with angry rants by the prophets — the tone of which is reminiscent of quarrelling lovers.
What about long-time lovers, married couples in the senior years of life? They know each other so well that they no longer need words to communicate. Instead, they recognize what’s happening for the other because they’ve grown so close to each other.
Prayer is a channel that opens us to be with the Divine and nurtures our relationship with the Holy One. At times, that relationship may be like that of young lovers who just can’t get enough of each other. At other times, the relationship may be more like the older couple who seem to think together as one.
If the words of your prayers no longer draw you into a closer relationship with the Divine, with an awareness of deep connection of Emmanuel, the God who is with us, then it’s probably time to let go of the words and learn to pray differently. Learning to experience awe, wonder, a deep abiding peace or joy at the presence of the Divine will draw you to greater intimacy with the One who is at the center of your being.
As you begin a new year, how can you move more deeply into prayer?
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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.