Thursday, February 21, 2008

School of Prayer, part 2

The major impetus for having the School of Prayer (at least from my vantage point), was getting people to actually interact with God instead of telling him what they want or need or don't want to go through (all valid prayers at some point).

We had 23 people around a big circle and it was really good. Really, really good. Really, really, really...well, you get the point.

The dialogue, the spirit, the pace, everything was just beautiful. As Paul describes poignantly in one of his letters, the "conversation was seasoned with grace" ...something I chalk up to the fact that God is actually more interested in us praying than we are.

At one point in our discussion, we ran into a very common quandry that anyone who's been praying seriously for more than a year runs into. It's a dualing scenario that presents a real problem to real people really praying.

In one scenario, we assume that God answers every prayer one of three ways: yes, no or maybe (I was raised on this immutable doctrine). The logical result of that understanding is that God is then responsible for the yes's, the no's and the maybe's--in a very real and substantive way. So if I suffer and he didn't take it away...then he made me suffer. For instance, if my mom died of cancer and yours didn't, and both of us were praying, well then, God must like your mom better (and I might add that my mom did die of cancer when I was praying). So we inevitably question: How can I have a relationship with someone that arbitrary who seemingly chooses to act in some circumstances but not others? What results is either blind faith ("don't think about it, it's easier that way") or abandoned faith ("I can't be in a relationship with a God like that."). I know people who have chosen to live into each option.

On the other end of the spectrum we assume that God already knows everything and has his mind already made up, so why bother? Prayer becomes an exercise in futility with the same results as the first scenario.

In both scenarios, you don't actually need God to pray. Seriously. A relationship with a living person isn't required if (a) God is causitively responsible for everything that happens or (b) doesn't need our input anyway. Prayer is comparable in function to putting money into a vending machine or hitting the print button on our computer.

What we discovered was that prayer isn't about doing something--fundamentally. It's about--fundamentally--being with someone. This isn't just semantics.

In a relationship, you naturally ask a person to do things. But it isn't much of a relationship if all you ask is for a person to do things.

A story from one of our participants makes this point (she's been caught in the above quandry for some time and had a bit of a breakthrough on the whole topic).

During one of our meditation times (we learned and practiced several ancient prayer methods--the Prayer of Examen--aka 'Holy Hi-Lo', Lectio Divina and the Ignatian Method), she had an almost mystical experience.

She felt like she was soaring up to the clouds. Up, up and up, higher and higher. She intuitively knew she was approaching God and felt that surely he would have something profound to say to her that would dispel her fears and put her mind to rest about her confusion regarding prayer. Instead, she felt like God took her, lifted her toward him, kissed her tenderly on the forehead and put her back down.

No answers, just relationship.

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