18 November 2010

More on prayer

and the Alhambra

Below: The Anabaptist 
church in Madrid where 
we worshiped on the
Sunday before we
returned to Russia.
Last week I wrote about some of my experiments in prayer, and was grateful to get several kind responses--some posted on the comments section, and some sent to me privately. One of the latter responses kindly reminded me that I was really only covering one type of prayer--intercessory.

True enough. And here's an explanation and a confession. Intercessory prayer is what I do at a set time every day, usually the first thing after waking up. However, I start with the Jesus prayer. This prayer is (as Anthony Bloom and others point out) a compact catechism of Christian belief as well as a full-spectrum prayer. It also has elements of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication ("ACTS" being the four classical categories of Christian prayer).

But, in praying the Jesus prayer before attending to the intercessory prayers, I wouldn't argue that I'm giving sufficient attention to A, C, and T. In fact, I think I do not give them sufficient attention.

If I wanted to emphasize how pious I am, I could say that I find myself praying brief prayers throughout the day--often adoration and thanksgiving, with contrition happening more than I care to admit. "Praying without ceasing" is what I want my life to be. But I'm weak in doing these things in any kind of diligent and orderly way. The Jesus prayer, after all these years, has almost become part of my breathing, but I think I'd do well to connect more deliberately with the full heritage of the praying church by widening my prayer spectrum.

(Please understand that by writing in public about an activity that should be mainly private and never for show, I do not want to put myself out there as some kind of spiritual athlete. Prayer is important to me, but that does not mean I'm an exemplary pray-er, not at all! My main purpose is to open up conversations that may help those who are in similar situations--wanting to be more diligent--and to reassure new believers that their questions about prayer are legitimate and deserve answers.)

I feel some comfort from the reader who wrote me that she feels no need to use written prayer texts; nor does she feel anxious that she doesn't pray the way others do. However, I've been outside the "West" long enough to begin to see those of us who are English-speaking nonconformist-church Protestants from other Christians' point of view. I've mentioned before that we are sometimes criticized for our casualness, our lack of reverence for God and for tradition, our unbalanced treatment of the Trinity--in short, the sins that can result from individualism, affluence, or (especially) the combination of the two.

Two other brief points about prayer in my experience:

First, I used to be categorical in prescribing good posture for prayer. When I want to pray for a long time, such as in a full hour or more of unprogrammed Quaker worship, I still absolutely believe that for me and many others, sitting with back straight and balanced, with good lower back support, was essential. In my experience, this allows me to be at peace with my body--not out of it in some mystical sense, just enjoying a good working collaboration. But I have learned not to wait for ideal circumstances--sometimes it's important simply to pray NOW. Times of illness and back pain have also taught me to be less, um, rigid in my prescriptions.

Second (and this may seem obvious), prayer is for everyone. In prayer, we turn our face to God, taking whatever time we need to prepare for such a meeting--perhaps stopping in Douglas Steere's metaphorical foyer to check our hair as we might before meeting any great personage. We might draw on text, tradition, rosary, posture, image, intuition, the examples of other believers, whatever it takes to bring the creature to the Creator, but when our intention is Godwards, we should not be distracted by someone else's rules of piety. We are not putting on a show; we are not required to meet someone else's standards.

You yourself probably already know all this already. But still it bears repeating. I remember Fred Boots giving a wonderful sermon at the Friends United Meeting staff worship once, in which he commented on the Scripture, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (KJV English intentional!--context here.) When Fred heard these words in his Friends church as a young person, they always reminded him of the elderly, quiet saints of his church--people who were not at all like him. It wasn't until later in adulthood that he understood the significance of the words that followed (Fred's emphasis): "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." God didn't require Elias (Elijah) to be perfect before granting his prayer, but it seems to be important that he prayed fervently.

Books on prayer:

I don't think books should be the only, or the primary, way we learn about prayer. But they were my primary way, because as a new Christian, I didn't know how or whom to ask about prayer--and I don't think my situation was unusual. Most of my copies of these books are in storage in Oregon, and I can't now describe them in detail--but I can say that each one of them held precious cargo for me in my early days as a Christian:

Douglas V. Steere, Dimensions of Prayer
E. Herman, Creative Prayer
Thomas H. Green, Opening to God and When the Well Runs Dry
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray

What would you add to this list?

Christianity Today's obituary for Vernon Grounds. And from the same source, Philip Yancey on "How the Christian faith will be a subversive--and liberating--influence in the Middle East." (An excerpt from his new book, What Good is God?)

Economist blogger on Aung San Suu Kyi and "freedom from fear."

Latest news from Friends United Meeting and Northwest Yearly Meeting: FUM's General Board has received a recommendation to appoint Colin Saxton, presently NWYM's superintendent, as the next FUM general secretary. My immediate reflection: It's finally time for Northwest Yearly Meeting to rejoin FUM!! In his letter to our yearly meeting, presiding clerk Tom Stave expressed what many of us are probably feeling: "We accepted Colin's request [to be released early from his current term] with reluctance, but also with great hope. This is one of those occasions in which sorrow and joy are equally appropriate: we will miss the service and friendship of a servant whose gifts and call have been so plainly suited to our needs and aspirations. At the same time, we recognize that Colin's leadership has put the Yearly Meeting in an excellent position for a transition, and that God has prepared a new work of ministry for him and Janine among Friends elsewhere."

Ed Park greets the new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style.  (Credit for the reference: Arts and Letters Daily.)

"Working Hard in the Name of Happiness"--music you probably wouldn't have associated with Russia and the Ukraine. (Keep up with this blog for a regular diet of delightful surprises.)

Here's why Judy and I have been calling each other names all day.

More from Michelle Birkballe:


Brigid said...

The book on prayer I would commend is Being in Love by William Johnston. It is on line as a Google book at http://bit.ly/aNhnX0. Thank you for your list. Anthony Bloom is a particularly great mentor-in-a-book for me. And as well I am familiar with Catherine de Hueck Doherty - and recently experienced a connexion, indirectly, with someone here in Australia who was directly influenced by her and Madonna House and who began an ongoing work in Australia.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you!! I'm looking at the Johnston book you recommended (here's a link that works better for me)--and it reminded me that I too read William Johnston and found him fascinating. The book I remember is The Inner Eye of Love--I'm sure I still have a copy somewhere in our boxes of books back in the USA.

I'm glad you like Anthony Bloom! His "writing" is so warm and generous. (Much of it is transcribed from his talks.) In some ways he reminds me of Thomas Kelly, though their backgrounds are so dramatically different. I love Kelly's sense of urgency, but what drew me to Anthony Bloom early on is that Bloom gives more personal examples and stories, whereas Kelly tends to be more prescriptive and philosophical. (Well, he was a philosopher, after all.)

Jay T. said...

I like these two:

Foster, R.J. Prayer: Finding the heart's true home. 1992. (San Francisco: Harper).

Buttrick, G.A. Prayer 1942. (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury).

I found the second one through a collection called Devotional Classics that Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith edited. 1993. (San Francisco: Harper). It has 80 some pages on the prayer-filled life.

Jay T. said...

This is very cool! I'm tremendously greatful to see all these good recommendations for books on prayer that I've never even glanced at.

Thanks, Johan and Miss Eagle!

Brigid said...

Well of course Kelly - aaah! I had never thought of putting him in the same category as Bloom - but then when I consider whom I value, then I guess I already have.

I have a first edition of Testament of Devotion picked up from the USA via EBay which I treasure. How I wish more people would read this simple, slender volume and think of the simple, spiritual life and world of Thomas Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Keating's Open Mind, Open Heart. This is a good guidebook for centering/listening prayer.

A comment on the previous posting on prayer: When we pray for someone who is seriously ill, our hope must be for that person to experience the healing power of God's love. One outcome may be healing of the physical illness, but the more important outcome is feeling at peace with whatever comes. In Elias Hicks' Journal he frequently reports being moved to caution Friends to prepare for their death. He certainly meant to tidy things up so as not to leave a burden on their survivors, but even more I think he meant to begin to live in God to the extent that death would no longer be threatening. (I have far to go on both fronts, but hope to keep these goals before me.)

Nancy said...

I join my voice to others thanking you for these posts on prayer. I will respond more fully in my own blog. But I want to say briefly that for years I've sensed God calling me to a life of prayer (above all else), and that I do it very poorly. Even so, I'm learning to carry this calling both seriously (giving it the weight it deserves) and lightly. The Jesus Prayer helps me tremendously and, as in your case, has become a way of being with God, a connection on many levels to Reality/reality. And also that I'm learning the value of both contemplative (being/relational) and intercessory (missional) prayer. I'm convinced you can't do either, without the other. A deepening relationship with God has to result in some kind of cooperation with God's purposes in the world. Anyway, I hope to write on this in my own blog. Thank you again for your encouragement.


PS: What a great photo of Judy!

Anonymous said...

My favorites are "Prayer and Temperament" by Chester P Michael and Marie C Norrisey (Open Door) and "Paths to Prayer" by Patricia D Brown (Jossey-Bass). Both explore a wide variety of prayer forms and look at what prayers can be helpful to what temperament at different times. Helps broaden the definition of prayer and appreciate that we have different prayer needs that may change throughout our lives and circumstances.