Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out
Prayer, therefore, is far from sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God's intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion. To the degree that our prayer has become the prayer of our heart we will love more and suffer more, we will see more light and more darkness, more grace and more sin, more of God and more of humanity. To the degree that we have descended into our heart and reached out to God from there, solitude can speak to solitude, deep to deep and heart to heart. It is there where love and pain are found together.
To lead a reflection on prayer for an interfaith chapel gathering, I started to wonder last night, might be navigating too close to theological shores.
But, on the other hand…when most surveys of American religious life indicate that between 95-99% of people would describe some part of their engagement of the spiritual life as “prayer” (I’m sure there is not consensus on what this means exactly), it certainly would seem that prayer would offer a deep place for us lower the anchor for a moment.
So, think less about this reflection as having a thoughtful takeaway, and more of this as prompting a conversation.
Dallas Williard, Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in LA, has described prayer this way, “Prayer is the method of genuine theological research.”
I wish I had known that before going to seminary, I would have saved a lot of money and time.
And that is the ongoing tension of prayer…it is both as simple as that…and as complicated as that.
It is at the same time, profoundly personal and effectually public.
It carries our most ecstatic shouts of gratitude and our deepest groans of sorrow.
It anchors us in troubled waters and disturbs our selfish tranquility.
It is both sounds that we cannot speak, and articulate words spoken and written by others that say what we feel.
So, when I think about prayer…and our ongoing theme of whole or holy lives, I do find, at least in my own life, tension over prayer.
I remember being in second grade at Linn Co. R-1 playground with my friend Shane and Ray. Shane and Ray were as cool as they came in my book. And, Shane and Ray could swear as naturally as the adults around me…without reservation or hesitation.
I remember thinking, “I wish I could swear like Shane and Ray.” At which point I remembered something I had heard in Sunday School. “Whatever you ask in Jesus name shall be given to you.” At least that is how I remember tucking that prayer away in my head.
So, I did what any 2nd grade boy wanting to be more like his buddies would do, I prayed. “God, please help me to swear like Shane and Ray.”
And, God answered that prayer.
Before I knew it, swearing was as natural to me as Shane and Ray, and flowed in inappropriate places that left me questioning why God would answer a prayer that would get me in so much trouble.
The story is true, and I would like to think that this many years removed from being a second grader that my prayers reflected a maturity from the 2nd grade playground.
And at times, I suppose they do…and then the tension of prayer reminds me of that 2nd grader.
Like many who grew up in our around the Christian tradition, we have tucked away in our head…at least a general outline of something called The Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father.
I sometimes resonate with the comedian Jim Gaffigan who complains that church is too much memorization and he confesses, I’m not very good at it. “I'm always like, 'Our Father who art in heaven without the approved written consent of Major League Baseball.”
Which, is not exactly how that prayer goes.
It is certainly one of the more well-known prayers and goes like this:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
but deliver us from evil.
When the gospel writer tells us this story, it is that Jesus is telling his disciples, “This is “how” you should pray.
And, I’ve been stuck on that word for awhile, because this seems like a “what” to pray.
And maybe there is not much difference.
But, I also know that “how” I speak to others is radically different than “what” I say to others.
The word “how” is full of potential!
What we pray is limited to a reflection on language.
How we pray brings the fullness of life experience to the conversation…and that life has been shaped by and continues to shape the world around me.
How we pray, calls for an integration of language and orientation to the world around us.
It is in this sense, I think about Willard’s words that prayer is our personal theological research. And maybe the extension of that research is that our lives become the published biographies of holy prayer.
Shane Clairborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove in Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers
The first word of the Lord's Prayer is Our. That's important. The prayer Jesus taught us is a prayer of community and reconciliation, belonging to a new kind of people who have left the land of "me." This new humanity is an exodus people who have entered a promise land of "we", to whom "I" and "mine" and "my" are things of the past. Here our God teaches us the interconnectedness of grace and liberation in a new social order. Here we are judged in as much as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive.
Sojourners Collegiate Ministry