- Special Sections
- Public Notices
There is one marvelous reality Brunswick County can boast about and it is the abundance of prayer groups. Prayer is paramount, taking precedence over all other actions and activities. It is edifying and uplifting. And, I have experienced its power in a deeply personal manner.
I remember our first venture into the Southland when we stopped for lunch at a fast food spot. Families were seated at tables laden with all the forbidden goodies we love to eat but not a fork or spoon was raised until the food was blessed.
Coming from the frozen Northland, I was taken aback at the public display of prayerfulness. I was also struck by the fact I had never come out of the closet of private prayer. I had never witnessed to God’s graciousness among strangers without a degree of discomfort or embarrassment. As I approached the golden years sparkling with wisdom, I never considered Hardee’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, etc., as unique churches...special places of worship.
Obviously, this is not the end-all-be-all of prayerfulness. St. Paul tells us to pray always. I add “and in all ways.” Prayer is not a stopgap. It is not a begging post. Prayer is a lifestyle. Without prayer, we stagger through life helplessly and flee from truth that, though often painful, will set us free.
My recent stays at a variety of hospitals taught me a great deal about the power of prayer. They also taught me that prayer is limitless.
The “all ways” Paul proffered came from a man whose previous prayer life had been limited to obedience, adherence to the Torah, and rigid interpretation of God’s will. Paul came a long way from that lifestyle. But, he also endured a period of blindness, a time when he was totally dependent upon others. That reality rankles. No one wants to be totally dependent. Yet, our prayerful relationship with God begins with dependency, I on God and God on me.
Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes, “Our ideas of God determine our ideas of prayer.” Her words caused me to stop and examine the content of my idea of God...my ideas of God. The more I thought, the more I realized that my idea of God changed with circumstances.
There were, and still are, moments when I deeply desire a Santa Claus God who will bestow an abundance of goodies on me. I beg for healing, for immediate cure, and I promise to respond by being a better person. Prayer becomes a bargaining arena.
When I am in excruciating pain, my prayer is a scream for release. I enter the garden of agony as Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemene, but am unable to add the crucial words, “Your will be done.” My prayer is all about my will being done.
What is frightening about that kind of praying is it can lead us into a place where prayer ceases to be catalyst for a deepening of our relationship with God and eases us into a spot where God becomes a vending machine. This does not mean prayers of petition are wrong. It does not ban begging and prayerful intercession. It simply means we cannot remain in that passive state of receiving. That kind of praying binds both God and the intercessor. It does not promote freedom.
Joan Chittister pronounces the seriousness of prayer when she says, “The way we pray determines whether our faith is true or false.” It “measures whether our piety is childish or mature.”
Prayer cannot be used as a bargaining tool, but we can, and must, speak to God about all that ails us. The difference between bargaining and pleading is in the attitude and motivation of the individual.
To pray is to build a relationship. We can look to our human relationships for example. We begin with an exchange of data—our likes and dislikes. With the passage of time, the exchange deepens. We give more of ourselves. The trust factor intensifies until the day when we feel that there is nothing we wish to hide from the other. In fact, we are eager to share all that we are thinking and feeling, no holds barred. So it is with us and God. We become uniquely one in a marriage that exceeds all expectations.
We become collaborators and conspirators with God. Faith, religion, prayer cease being passive occupations. We no longer live on a “shallow faith iced over with a thin layer of piety.” [Chittister]
Instead, we live as Father Dan Berrigan so eloquently stated, “Prayer consists for the most part in insisting that God do for us what we are unwilling to do for one another. Let’s do for one another what we would have God do for us. This known as God-like activity.”
The bottom line, then, is to pursue God-like activity in the midst of our intercessory prayers. It’s a movement that incorporates “what would God do” with “who would God be” in any given situation. This prayerful state of consciousness intensifies and increases our awareness, both of our own being and that of others.
A commentary on Chittister’s book on prayer says it all. “Prayer is the link to a life beyond the mundane, the daily, the routine, the immediate dimensions of life. It is the beginning of a relationship with the God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. But...authentic prayer requires that we bring to it an open heart, a good deal of self-knowledge, constancy in darkness, and a willingness to attend to the Light, even when all we can see is darkness.”
It’s a tall order, but it is surely worth trying.