Thursday, 3 December 2015

I believe in Prayer

I haven’t blogged in a very long time.
  and I'm going to be hackneyed and awkward today... blame on lazy blog muscles. 

I was silent during the Canadian Federal Election, because I was reminded by the government of the day that I was not allowed to be publicly partisan as a “minister”,  lest my church’s Charitable Status be in question.  As my blog is linked to my church Website and Facebook Page and because I agree that in my role as pastor/minister/priest there is no place for political partisanship,  I stopped writing.
Then, it seems that I forgot how to write.
Then, there just seemed to be too much about which I could write.
And I was crazy busy.

BUT then, the anti-prayer backlash became a thing.
After the horrific shootings in San Bernadino California yesterday, public figures who offered prayers were criticized for the weakness of their response.  It was suggested that Prayer is an easy way out.   I agree that many people say “I’m praying for…” as a way of doing something when they are unable or uninclined to do anything else… and I do feel strongly that water is the best response to a thirsty person, even before prayer.   But I also think that people have the wrong idea of prayer.   (practitioners and critics alike).

We’ve all heard stories of the power of prayer, people who have prayed  and seeming “miracles” have ensued; but we also know of lots of people who have prayed and “nothing” happened.   Prayers have not been answered  and please don’t tell me the “but the answer was ‘No’” story... ‘cause I pray for peace every day and I find it hard to imagine that God is saying “No” and millions of others every day.
The thing about prayer, is that I’m not exactly sure that it’s a conscious decision.

Most of us recognize hat prayer that comes out in desperation… even before we know it;  without our thinking…
“O God, no!”
“Please, please… God”

Even those who don’t believe in prayer… those who are non-theist, atheist, post theist… “beyond all of this”-ist… modern, right thinking rational people…  In a desperate moment, it comes out.

I talked to a modern non-theist, non-religious friend recently.  She told me that she stood in the shower early on a Saturday morning, after a night of hearing about the violence in Paris (a place that she loves to visit) and she found herself talking quietly to herself in the shower, asking for peace and comfort for everyone in Paris;  an end to the violence and that people would be okay… that a better day would come… 
I asked her why she did it… she said, “I didn’t know what else to do…”
I asked gently, “were you talking to yourself…?”
“No… I don’t think so… maybe… no”
My friend is not much different than most of us.  We’re modern, intelligent people and we’re pretty sure that we’re not talking to ourselves… but… but…
As we talked further we agreed that there is something special about those quiet conversations,  those hopes or fears that we speak in the shower, in the silence of our minds, or in the intimacy of church.  Those words have meaning and we do it because deep down we know that they matter.  It’s just that we don’t know how to describe it… we lack the vocabulary… and we don’t want to seem like idiots.   So, we don’t talk about it.
But we do it.

Most are very clear that we don’t  believe in a Cosmic Concierge, who gets us what we ask for because we’re on the team… or we asked the right way… or so often, or with so many people that we win him over to our wishes.  I think many of us are afraid to talk about prayer because we don’t want to endorse a partisan, petty god who works for us and not for others; who smiles upon Hannah, but doesn’t seem to care about Abigail.   We don’t believe in a god who allows us to abdicate responsibility by simply handing it over in prayer.

So let me say this:  I  still believe in prayer.  
I believe that it matters and that it makes a difference.   I learned about prayer from my parents:  As a little boy saying grace before dinner and prayers before bed, I told God what I had done that day and asked God to take of the people that I knew and loved.   In Sunday School and in Church the tradition continued.  Years later, experiencing the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with a someone with whom I felt connected, I experienced prayer in a very real way. I met people, became dear friends with people who prayed like drunks in church  (a fine tradition if 1 Samuel 1:1ff is any evidence).  These people prayed for a new way of living, prayed out of their torment, prayed out of need… prayed like their lives depended on it… also prayed without abdicating responsibility, but recognizing the limits of their own power.    I’ve seen prayer work, but it works in on-going relationship. 

At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t endorse a theology of the Cosmic Concierge who waits for me to ask politely before doing my bidding.   I do endorse a living God who dwells within me and throughout all of creation.   And in relationship with that living God, I find strength that I never thought I could have, I find peace that comes with the knowledge that it’s NOT all about me.  
When you read about prayer in most of the Abrahamic Scripture, there always seems to be a bit of negotiation. “   If you do this for me, I will do something for you”  “We will be your people, if you will be our God like this….” 
Again, that’s the problem for some people.  It makes God a petty despot who needs to be assuaged, cajoled or flat out “bought”.   And yet.. I’m not sure that it’s God as much as it is us.  Surely you recognize the familiar prayer:  God, if I get through this, I promise that I’ll never do it again!
God, if I could just win that lottery, 
get that raise, 
find that job, 
have this thing that I want to so much… 
I promise that I’ll give some of the money to charity; 
I’ll go to church more often; 
I’ll be nice to my neighbour.

What I hear in these ‘negotiations” is not the buying and selling of favour, but relationship.  Give and take.  Conversation.  Real sincere prayer, for me, is about relationship and so there needs to be an honest conversation.   This is who I am God…  I’m not great.. parts of me are pretty fair, but other parts… well, you know.. we talk to God sincerely; we get rid of the artifice and falsity and speak the truth.
When I pray – I joke with God (seriously, I do) because that’s who I am and somehow in the absurdity of humour, I feel authentic…  God, remember that I’m the guy who still prays for the Leafs, like it might make a difference, so you know that I am hopeful… please help me raise money for Refugees and those who are so vulnerable that my efforts might actually save their lives…
I’m in real relationship with God, so there’s no point in my trying to sound like the Pope or Richard Burton or Taylor Swift. (now, that would be a dinner party).
And being me, I pray for my children and my wife… and my sports teams… and for Paris, Beirut, Syria, San Bernadino...  not necessarily in that order, or under the impression that my children are more important than your children or that my wife is of greater value than a woman in the Sudan or that San Bernadino is the only place visited by violence and traged..  but because that’s who I am right now.. I am those worries and those pains.

And in the midst of such concerns, I also give thanks.  Because, I had a great afternoon yesterday, and  if we’re in a relationship you should know that.

And I listen.  
Because it’s a relationship.

I listen to the Cosmos Intoning… I listen to that still quiet voice within… and it provokes me, beckons me, invites me into new ways… new insights… I can feel my pettiness and fears lifted up into the light and I let them go… I face my cowardice and dare to try… I experience my humanity and recognizing the mystical humanity and divinity of Jesus, I am assured that God and I are not separate;  we are together.. in relationship… I am not alone.  I also find that prayer takes me deeper - if I give a thirsty person a glass of water, I will quench that immediate thirst - good for me! But if I also take the time to pray, I might also find myself engaged in that person's other needs; I might find that I need to consider justice and why it is that the person in front of me has no water... In this situation prayer does not make it easy for me, it makes it harder because it invites me into deeper relationship with this person as I recognize that we are connected through God with whom I am in deepest relationship. 

Prayer is relationship for me - not request, not abdication or passing the buck. 
In a relationship, I am influenced by the other.  
I am who I am because of my wife… and my children… and my friends…   and I am influenced by God.   I don’t do everything that my wife asks of me (I should); I am not at my children’s beck and call – but I love them, ache for them, hope for them and let them into my life;  I do not do everything that my friends hope that  I will do, but I hear their concerns and your worries, I smile at their joys and rush to their side in times of grief and pain… because we are in relationship.  Similarly, I listen to God… often, I follow bravely, sometimes I drag my feet… Occasionally, I pretend  that I didn’t hear.  All of these relationships make me who I am.

But relationships are two way and so just as I am influenced by God, so is God influenced by me… and others.  God does not do everything that I ask.. God is not solely at my beck and call… but God loves me, aches for me, hopes for me and invites me into God’s life.  God doesn’t do everything that I ask; God sometimes disappoints… but God hears my concerns and worries, smiles at my joys and rushes to my side in times of grief or pain. And it's not just me... it is all of us.   We are all in relationship.  And so, we know that God is influenced by us.  As a Christian I am assured because in Jesus we are promised the permanency of such a relationship – Jesus is both Human and Divine.. now and forever.   God and us, we are in relationship and that cannot be changed.

So, for me, prayer works.  But mostly because it affirms a relationship that makes me more daring and more loving and never lets me abdicate my responsibility as a human being to all of creation... and like any good relationship, it is anything but "easy". 

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