Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What is Prayer and Why Do We Pray? by Lynn Kinlan ARCWP

Lynn Kinlan ARCWP

Every child learns in preparation for First Communion the answer to the foundational question of “Where is God?” God is everywhere. Most of us then embark on a path that doesn’t truly take this to heart in our living and praying. If the Holy One is indeed everywhere, that would mean we might as likely find and converse in prayer with Our Creator outside of church as in church; as likely meet up with the Divine in every single person as within ourselves; and discover God in gutters of urban filth as in sunlight glinting on the white tips of ocean waves. If everywhere is the neighborhood of God, then it makes sense for our talking with God to take place everywhere, at any time and at all times. The familiar saying by de Chardin sums this up nicely; we are not human beings having a Spiritual experience. We are Spiritual beings having a human experience.
Indeed, our humanity is often the greatest obstacle to prayer. Richard Rohr suggests that we pray well when we awaken, “evoke” and “trust” the indwelling presence of the Spirit that is precisely given us to help us pray. This requires leaving fear and pride and mistrust behind. In this vein, praying is not only a matter of memorizing sanctioned scripts or having the willpower to stay on one’s knees for great lengths of time – persistence and discipline are devotional but they aren’t the whole story. Rohr describes prayer as “foundational living in conscious and loving union with God in every minute”. That seems to require intentionality and intuition, alertness, listening, openness and willingness. Centering prayer and meditation, being welcoming to a mystical Presence and spontaneous, improvisational praying are likely ways of being open to the highly communicative relationship into which the Divine calls us.
Well crafted prayer is not an offering or a penance or wishful thinking or intercessory requests that try to persuade the Divine to be satisfied and merciful with us. Prayer does not placate or persuade the Holy One. Prayer might serve to persuade and assuage ourselves into using our Divine gifts to their logical and intuitive extremes by virtue of feeling connected and inspired by the Divine. Prayer connects us with all that is best in us and in the rest of Creation. Prayer embraces the Holy One and aids us in letting go of human foibles to allow the Holy One to embrace us.
Prayerful intention, according to Rohr, has us enter into the Spirit, allowing that Spirit to “flow in”, through, with, for us and ultimately “as us” – until we leave our human or personal identity behind, to join with the “Christ Mind”. By this reasoning, the “me” doesn’t disappear, it merges with the Spirit of God (Rohr would say trinity) and communes with the depth of God. Rohr says that when the Spirit is praying in each of us, it is not us doing the praying. Not merely us anyway. Our own very precious spark of the Divine is communing with the Holy One, bringing forth echoes of new voice and stirring ripples in what were still waters.
All this is well and fine but why then, is it human nature to have dry days of weak praying or times when we avoid praying?  Margaret Guenther suggests that praying means cultivating attentiveness and risk. She says praying means “accepting the freedom that comes with letting go our defenses and living into the questions” (The Practice of Prayer 19). Praying, like any meaningful relationship can be demanding, challenging, life-altering as well as blissful and reassuring. Prayer is powerful and sometimes, subversive of the world’s values in as far as they are in conflict with the way, the truth and the light of the Our Creator. Leaving behind the human defenses as Guenther mentions is not easy or comfortable. And yet, we yearn for communion with the mystical Body of Christ and the Divine who has included us in a consciousness greater than any one of us. Prayer is about belonging. Truly, the only thing that is harder than praying might be… not praying. 
Taking the focus away from personal prayer involving ourselves in the Divine, we also pray for others; those who are healing and struggling and facing daunting challenges. As children, this was intercessory prayer that magically tried to ask for better outcomes. Adult prayer recognizes that the Holy One is not a Santa Claus or a magician.  The wisdom of the Divine supersedes concern about who wins a sports game or whether our car will start on a cold morning or even if victims of a tornado will live or die. When we pray for Divine intervention, we are really calling on the Divinity that is already within our grasp, infused in the souls of those for whom we pray. We pray for Our Creator to lend comfort and patience and strength to human efforts and suffering; this won’t win the game or start the car or stop the tornado but it will help us and those for whom we pray to be sustained, to gain perspective, to feel the caring hand of a loving God. Prayer invites us to savor time and relationship with a Holy One who intimately cares for us so much that we are given the means by which to live freely, make mistakes, endure hardship, know triumph and gain perspective. Prayer is the vehicle for understanding what is important in life and death and how our faith can sustain us in both.
When we call on the Holy One to encourage those whom we care for to be more willing or stronger or to engage with the world, our prayers take on geometric power. Prayer is the means by which faith changes the world. Yet we don’t always feel bold and powerful. Joan Chittister warns us about the power of prayer: “Being immersed in prayer, really immersed…forces us to see how far from our own ideals we stand. It challenges the… piety and integrity we project. It confronts us with what it really means to live a good life. It requires courage of us rather than simply piety.” It is because prayer is so powerful that it is also scary. Only because prayer lives and breathes inside the blessing and reassurance of our Creator can we even try to engage in it honestly and intently. Perhaps, this is why we don’t only pray alone but also in community.
Rohr’s mystical view of prayer rests on a sense of belonging and integration with the Divine that may be life altering; at other times it may be restful, synchronous and reassuring. Prayers can be in longer contemplative sessions and/or shorter moments. How easy is this prayerful access for the person who truly believes that God is everywhere, loving us and wishing for us to be together! A portable, flexible and loving Divine is always here with us and for us. Because the mystic calls upon the Holy One with what Rohr calls, the “Christ Mind”, the calling has no boundaries.  And much to our chagrin sometimes, the answers may also be boundless.
Prayer is the expression of our yearning for the Holy One, for Abba. That is after all, why we pray – to achieve intimacy with the Divine within, for ourselves and others, to become part of the Body of Christ so that we become channels, conduits of Divine Love on our heavenly earth in our very human condition. We pray because we yearn for communion, for understanding of all that we are meant to be and all that we are able and called to do. We pray because it enlivens us to ask the nuanced questions, choose the tricky paths and change our world. We pray because doing so allows us to live in the human plane feeling that we are all in this together with a Loving Creator. With prayer, our empathy is sharpened, our kindness softened, our love roiled to a flaming fever.
Spong describes prayer as “meditation that self-consciously stand[ing] s in Presence so as to live out of that” in our world. He recognizes that praying happens everywhere and anywhere and that it has consequences beyond the well-being of the person praying. The outcome of prayer is that we become “channels of Love”, agents of life and conveyors of healing energy. Such is the power of entering into the Body of Christ, of connecting with the Source of Light and Life – all things are brought to fruition. Like a rock thrown into a pond, prayer ripples outward with repercussions. Like an echo in a canyon, prayer lives on beyond the original intention. Prayer elicits sincere thoughts into a broken world and wells up to change the consciousness of that world.
Prayer is more than hope and more than the optimism of a glass half-full; it is calling with honesty and best intentions on the power of Love. Prayer changes the person who prays, reassures and embraces those prayed for and enlivens the better angels of all our natures. Prayer involves us with the unimaginably large Love of the Divine so that we may know the embrace that is always there awaiting us, the good heartedness that is ours for the asking. Prayer is our love acting in the world. Like true love, honest prayer does not diminish when it is spoken or used. Like love, prayer leaves no vacuum but rather generates and accelerates itself.  Prayer puts us in contact with the Source of All, making us more alive, more loving and able to acknowledge how very much we are blessed and beloved.

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