I'm facilitating a thing this weekend for our church called the School of Prayer. I suppose it's a little presumptous to suppose that someone can learn prayer in a weekend, but we're working as a congregation at learning to pray (I think I have more to learn than anyone coming), so a weekend devoted to exploring it is a good thing. It's interesting to me that Jesus' disciples after observing his life sustained by his praying came to him and said, "Lord, teach us to pray."
In other words, his living and his praying weren't separated; They were the same thing. The disciples obviously wanted to be like Jesus and realized from careful observation that his praying was central to his character. His attractive life generated a desire in them to imitate him, hence, "Lord, teach us..." To be fair, their background was prayer saturated (The Psalms were their prayer book and praying was deep in the life of their people), but I would suppose Jesus' praying opened new windows for them.
This gives me pause. How central is my praying is to my living? So often, I pray because I want, need or would like something. God is a genie who gets me out of jams and keeps me from suffering. And if I'm honest, this is manipulation, not prayer. We pray to make our living a bit easier, not to live with God irregardless of the outcome. I don't think I'm alone in this.
So this weekend we're attempting to go beyond that, because obviously prayer is something that can be learned.
I had an email interchange a couple years ago with Dr. Paul Fitzgerald (here's his blog, well worth your time) about this subject and he opened a window for me through Eugene Peterson's writings on the subject. Many know him as the author of the popular paraphrase of Scripture -The Message. I copied Dr. Paul's comments here.
Peterson's book is the one on Psalms. After reviewing it his basic point is that prayer and the Psalms are what he calls primary language (Language I) -the language of intimacy and relationship. He identifies Language II as naming and listing speech that we are trained to use in educational settings. Language III is motivation speech and is the predominate language of politics and advertising. It is lovers, poets and saints who never stop using Language I. Romantics practice adoration and never sound like they are solving equations or selling soap. Here are some quotes:
"Romantic love extends and deepens it for as long as we have the will to pursue it. But our will commonly falters, and in the traffic of the everyday and press of making a living, we content ourselves with the required and easier languages of information and motivation. In the early months of parenting, the basic language is relearned and used for a while. At death, if we know we are dying, we will use nothing else. A few people never quit using it -a few lovers, some poets, the saints- but most let it drift into disuse. Walter Wangerin, Jr. calls this a 'vast massacre of neglect.'" (p 38-39)
"Languages II and III are no less important in the life of faith but if they are not embedded in Language I they become thin and gaunt ... our habit is to pray in these more easily handled languages (II & III). This is fatal to prayer. Informational language is not prayer language. Motivational language is not prayer language. To pray in these languages is, in effect not to pray. We must let the Psalms train us in prayer language - the language of intimacy, of relationship and of 'I and Thou' of personal love. ... Learning to pray is not learning anything new; it recovers our first language." (p. 39, 40)
I can't resist adding a few additional lines:
"Individual's don't 'make up' the community, they are produced by it." (p. 84)
"The Christian recovers a sense of community and experiences the dynamic of community not through the categories of sociology but through the music of liturgy." (p. 89)
"The recipe for obeying St. Paul 's 'Pray without ceasing" is not a strict ascetical regimen but a watchful recognition of the trouble we are in." (p. 37)