When it comes to the subject of prayer I always try to tread very gently and thoughtfully because I know I am entering very sacred space. These past few weeks have been no exception. I am acutely aware that behind every person who prays there sits a background story. Stories that emanate from life experience and often from childhood practises which are caricatured by a child with hands together, head bowed and eyes closed. I can remember in primary school opening one eye ever so slightly and through squinted eye lids sneaking a glimpse of the teacher praying. I remember feeling guilty thinking that somehow I might have just ‘undone’ her prayer or broken some magical spell.
Such was the nature of piety back then. There were ‘proper’ and improper ways to pray. The language was ( and in many places still is ) quite rehearsed with certain introductory phrases designed to clear the approach so-to-speak. Things like, “O God, we come into your presence unworthy as we are etc etc”. “We humbly request etc etc”. An approach to prayer based on formula and function. Some of these approaches have their roots way back in time when sacrificial animals accompanied the process of prayer and had to be made clean before they could be offered to appease an angry deity. To fix a drought or silence a volcano. Or heal a child. And when the act of sacrificing disappeared from our religious practice the spotlight turned upon us. Somehow we had to be rendered worthy and made clean, and so words and phrases replaced washing and blood-letting.
But times change. Our contemporary understanding of the universe, physics, geology, science and human need has reshaped our spiritual landscape and slowly but surely the God Story is changing shape. Gone, in the most part, is the old man in the clouds who now and then tinkers with history and crafts personal life plans for billions of people. But having abandoned that image and it’s associated capricious interventions, the space it once occupied remains vacant. Or, if not vacant, only partially filled. That’s not a bad thing – it leaves room for growth.
This can be rather discomforting and unsettling but slowly and equally surely, we are crafting a new language and fresh concepts with which to participate in prayer. Emerging out of this uncomfortable space are thoughtful ideas about prayer as connection, or companionship, or thoughtful nearness, or spiritual empathy. At its most simplistic, perhaps prayer is another way of saying “I am in this with you. I can see what you are going through and you have my understanding and my support”.
The worst of all feelings is the belief that you are going through some awful ordeal on your own.
Prayer as solidarity is the one that works best for me.
Reading : Matthew 6: 1 – 8