What is Prayer? How do I Pray? And about Postmodern Prayer... ~ BitterSweetLife

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What is Prayer? How do I Pray? And about Postmodern Prayer...

The nature of prayer came up in yesterday’s comments, and, as it turns out, the question has been on my mind lately. Most recently was this evening before we ate; I bowed my head, a cloud of emotions homed in, and I wondered what to say.

What is prayer? A thought, a query, a plea, a feeling, pushed toward God—and framed with words—that often leaves me wordless. Why do the most critical moments in life tend to obliterate language? And what moment could be more critical than the one in which I open my mouth with the knowledge that what I say will buzz in the ear of God?

Even if my prayer is inaudible, the moment hums with the immediacy of the communication. I speak and God hears—I speak and God—I speak and—I, I— There is no lag time, and this could be terrifying. I have no pre-articulated instant that is only “mine,” no invaluable seconds behind the curtain to use for a final posturing. Prayer "catches" my false starts, my deletes, my unintended revelations. God bears down hard.

The existential weight of prayer, I realize, could actually keep me from praying: My words reluctantly emerge, retreat, reform, and advance again, further hindered, no doubt, by the haze of our postmodern climate. I search for the “right words” and end up second-guessing what I say—before, after and during I say it. My prayers take on the solidity of an amoeba.

To counter this, I sometimes I find myself forming the same words repeatedly but with deep intent, lacking others: God? God! God! This seems infinitely better than tacking together a quick assessment of the day’s good things. My deepest desires are the hardest to articulate.

Of course, my concerns are such that they often do coalesce into prayers with more specific content. At such times, especially when I pray with others, I shake my head inwardly as I finish, wondering, Did what I wanted to say get thru? My words jumped up and ran around looking busy—but did they spell reality out? Prayer is such ugly, industrial-style work.

Which is why praying silently is easier. But sometimes we must pray together.

And so we sit there. In the end, what I want is for imminent heaven to break through as much as it can, invisible spirit infiltrating and subduing our words and thoughts as we sit here on old sofas sipping coffee and wondering whether to pray out loud…

But if I said, “God, break through, win out”—would that be sufficient? It would, I think, but perhaps it would be too general. When I pray out loud, other people hear me.

Maybe if I said, “God, shine in the mirror of your word so we can see you?” That might be better. But not really indicative of all that’s on my heart.

In the end, all our sessions with the Spirit hinge on the fact that he already knows our intentions, and applies this knowledge with flawless immediacy. The zero-distance from my heart to God’s eyes actually works on my behalf. Prayer’s existential weight turns out to be an upward force.

As Paul wrote:

God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God (Romans 8:26-27, The Message).

Undeniably, God asks us to pray. He chooses to work through these feeble verbal tokens, these uncertain attempts to put our hands in his. Moreover, he tells us to get on with it, together and alone, audibly and in the silence. And I want to.

I just thank God he doesn’t demand perfect elocution.

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Andy said...

Beautifully said, Ariel. Silent prayer is much easier, because it is private. The first time I was asked to do a public prayer in service, I was mortified...I didn't know what to say. But one of the members said, "Don't worry about what comes out...God knows what you're asking."

Since that moment God has worked within me with my prayers.

Camille said...

all I know is that I am very glad that God's spirit helps us... otherwise... (she shrugs) our prayers would be a poor thing indeed.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me think of the verse: "pray without ceasing...". When God asks something so great of us like that I can be staggered with the request. But then I realize, it is the heart of worship, humility, and dependence in the totality of life that he is after. He desires our spirits to be yearning for constant contact, in search of continual conversation with himself, not eloquence.

Thank you for sharing your sincere, insightful thoughts. They have enlightened my heart.


Pedro said...

You've used that picture of me twice on there now. You should pay me for being in it.

Ariel said...

Agreed, were it not for God's assistance, "prayer would be a poor thing indeed." And yet, God asks us to do it. The paradox will continue, in all its infuriating beauty, until heaven sets in.

I'm shocked by your ingratitude, little bro. You should be paying me for the face time. Or maybe this is a side-effect of that game of "21" I stole from you yesterday...keep working on your juke move.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife