Karen J. Bowles
Matthew 6: 5-15
Why indeed. I hope this morning we can search this question and together canvas some answers. I am sure you have your reasons for prayer – some of you I know pray daily and some I know pray rarely. Every time we meet we pray twice – once to gather and once as a community prayer – Kristin prayed our gathering prayer with us this morning – to gather, to bring us into this time of worship – this time to pause – she prayed for our time together – for this community to be gathered – for this to be a good time, a wholly time (and I am spelling that word with an h) to be an authentic time – a time for connection.
And we normally pray a confession with our gathering prayer but we have prayed that separately this morning – we have prayed as our prayer of confession – an expanded version of the prayer Jesus gave us – well, gave his followers – and here I want to stop right there for a minute – the content of this prayer Jesus gave his followers is found in different prayers in the Jewish tradition – Jesus was using the words and the thoughts of his day and time to pray. What was different was he used the intimate notion of Abba or Father. God was not out there and not to be named – God was in intimate relationship with Jesus – that of a father to a son. The prayer Jesus gave his followers and by inheritance us – is one of confession and supplication – of entreaty and of asking – thus the repeat of give us and deliver us – the repeat of forgive us – and the hope we have forgiven others – and this is one understanding of prayer – this Jesus prayer is an asking prayer – a hope for prayer and an intimate prayer. And this is the first reason to pray – this is the first level of prayer – in fact it is the meaning of the word prayer – an entreaty – to beg – to ask. And this sort of prayer comes out of a condition of the asker – the prayor – for something – about something – to relieve suffering of the one who prays or the one prayed about – to gain something – to make a decision – to decide on a course of action taken or not to be taken.
The prayer of confession we said together is an extended prayer informed by the Jesus prayer – it contains confession, entreaty and declaration. We did not write it. We can be inspired or informed or enlightened by such a prayer and I hope we have – but it is not our own prayer. It is written by a nun expressing her own connection with the one she calls God but it is not yours or mine, although we can, I hope, glean some connection to it and through it.
Here is another form of prayer – the prayer of desperation – the prayer of imminent danger – the prayer of deliver me from where I am right now. Most of us have prayed this prayer – my sister related to me a prayer she prayed from the height of a misguided step on a mountain where she was hanging off the side and praying for deliverance from death – save me please — and I have prayed twice this way – once to be saved from a decision I had made and once from danger I had put myself in – in the first I tried for a bargain – I will change if you grant me this prayer and the second – just sheer darn fear leading me to prayer.
When we speak of this sort of asking prayer it comes out of great love or great suffering. But I put this before you this morning – authentic prayer comes always out of great love or great suffering – but it does not need to be imminent – either loss or gratitude .
And what does prayer look like that is not about something immediate or imminent? This is another answer to the question why pray.
The prayer of Jesus assumes we have connection with the one we call God because he does. And I think this is where we need to back up and consider the why of why pray? Where does this connection come from? How do we think we can ask – who are we asking?
And this is the second component of prayer that I think must come with before the content of our prayer (unless we are hanging off the side of a mountain) – our ask our entreaty. And this is meditation – a word that means – to ponder, to think over, to reflect.
If we begin our prayer, any prayer without a pause to ponder, a recess to reflect, then we will most likely be ‘babbling on, thinking we will be heard because of our many words’ as it says in the scripture passage – or hoping we will be caught on the coattails of another’s connection with God based on their conception – their image of God. It will not be authentic – or it will not be felt – it will be our head and not our heart speaking, not our head or even our heart praying.
So what is your connection to God – what is your image of God? I have been preaching this the last few weeks – your image of God creates you and by logical extension informs the content of your prayer. Is your God entirely outside you? If so then your prayer will always be an ask and not an answer. If your image of God is one where God answers or does not answer the content of your prayer – where you are eternally the supplicant, then your image of God is, I am sorry to say – immature and stuck. A story to illustrate – some students were writing an exam – all were getting ready to hand in their papers – but the invigilator stopped them and said – Before you hand in your exams, I need you to sign a paper saying you had no outside help in writing this exam. One student in the interest of full disclosure felt he could not sign the paper and told him he had prayed to God to get him an A before the exam. The invigilator asked to see his paper and after perusing it – said – your conscience is clear – you had no outside help in writing the exam!
This is a immature notion of prayer. Prayer is not the answer to insufficient preparation.
But if you can get into the habit of prayer as beginning with meditation – of the act of becoming aware – then through your meditation you will participate in the content of your prayer – your image of God will become one that is both within you and outside you – one that is vast – outside you — awesome – and is intimate – within you – equally awesome — in short you will pray to become aware – our second reading for today – a short poem called ‘Praying’ by Mary Oliver – is about this awareness – about pausing to pay attention – to become aware.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”
And then the question becomes to pay attention to the what – to become aware of the whom – as opposed to the ask – and all these questions are rather frustratingly answered by the simple response – to become aware. And as bizarre as it might seem – what you will become aware of is both a change in geometry and a change in participation. When you sit in meditation, when you make it your practice as part of your prayer – when your experience of awareness is yours and not mediated by another or by a dogma or doctrine – then you will begin to know God as not the top of a pyramid but as a circle – as a divine dance – as the sign outside says – an awareness of the flow of interconnectedness of everything. You, God, Jesus, the Spirit and absolutely everything.
When you sit in meditation when you make it your practice before prayer – your awareness will include your own participation in this divine dance, in this circle. You will prepare before an exam and if you do not – you will know that your lack of preparation is not the proper subject of prayer. This will not mean you understand everything or have knowledge of everything – no – it will mean you will know that beneath the tightrope you might be walking filled with your own insecurities or impending decisions or suffering or joy – is a safe landing, a net into which you can and will fall, into which you can and will rest – that is your participation, that is the doorway into thanks and silence – and that awareness is the why of prayer. In Genesis it says: In the beginning was the Word – but only as words are the only way we have of saying: In the beginning there was relationship – among God, the Spirit and every one of us – shown to us by Jesus.
Why Pray? So that you may be aware.
And then, resting there, pray.
And so beginning with silence – we are invited into meditation and into prayer
let us patch
a few words together
into thanks, and into a silence in which
another voice may speak.” Amen.