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Friday, April 18, 2008
Why Pray?
This morning, in previewing the activity my new "best bloggers" feed list, I enjoyed the stimulating post of my new blogging sensei, Michael Spencer, a.k.a. the Internet Monk. (a.k.a. IM) Michael, if you are reading I could use a better title for this post. You can read his fairly provocative post at the above link. The following excerpt captures the problem.

It seems to me that a lot of evangelicals have a religious experience that basically amounts to a kind of protection racket; a Christianized version of paganism, where you beg the gods to keep bad things from happening to you and work out your problems.

Those prayer requests are full to overflowing with directions to God to stop the bad that hasn’t happened and solve the results of the bad that has.

IM then goes on to discuss this in relationship to the sovereignty of God, the purpose of miracles and the real essence of prayer.

In my own pastoral experience I've witnessed the lazy, sloppy tendency to vacillate to one of two easy answers: 1. Prayer changes things. (i.e. my prayers are instrumental and essential) or 2. Prayer changes me. (i.e. God is sovereign). Something about his post stirred me to remember this word from Thomas Merton:
"Prayer and meditation have an important part to play in opening up new ways and new horizons. If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life--and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and “safe”--God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. In this way our payer and faith today will be oriented toward the future which we ourselves may never see fully realized on earth."
Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a world of Action.

I think Merton here identifies that nebulous and noumenal place somewhere between the easy poles of "prayer changes things" vs. "prayer changes me."

Perhaps real prayer designs to deliver us from this lever-like technological approach altogether and liberate us into a place that looks like identification with God. This is neither submission to the chaotic, cancerous reality of our broken world in the name of God's sovereignty nor projecting our own faith-solution oriented governance onto the situation in the claim of the power of prayer. Perhaps between these poles lives the truest dimension of intercession: identification with God in the troubled place twixt chaos and new creation. Prayer becomes not so much an instrumentality as the place of learning and pleading and so entering into this new reality. In this way, the school of prayer becomes the core curriculum of discipleship where we are communally apprenticed to Jesus in learning the way of the Cross, the mind of Christ and the inbreaking active realities of "on Earth as it is in Heaven."

Several years ago I published a short essay entitled, "To Pray or not to Pray," in a journal for seminarians. At the time if its writing, I think I was a bit more of a faith-idealist. My thinking today is both less simple and less sophisticated. All of this reminds me of that writing and particularly the following quote from the late Henri Nouwen:

“The word ‘prayer’ stands for a radical interruption of the vicious chain of interlocking dependencies leading to violence and war and for an entering into a totally new dwelling place. It points to a new way of speaking, a new way of breathing, a new way of being together, a new way of knowing, yes, a whole new way of living” (cf. Greer, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life [Crossroad/Herder&Herder, 1999] 25).

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom. Luke 12:32.

J.D. Walt
posted by John David Walt | at 4/18/2008 07:32:00 AM



Blogger Katie said...

JD- Thanks for this post. IM's view on this has been mine for several years now and prayer has been a huge struggle for me- specifically how we do prayer in the church today. I remember sitting in your office about 5 years ago talking about this very thing. It's definitely an issue that is essential in the church today. Thanks!!

11:01 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

these are amazing quotes. thanks.

5:02 PM EDT  
Anonymous Matthew Johnson said...

Make sure to check out some of Michael's archives. He started his website in late 2000 and has been going strong for sometime. Glad y'all brought him to campus.

1:55 AM EDT  

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