What’s with Prayer? – Luke 11:1-13
Mahatma Gandhi, said; “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness.”
He also said about prayer- “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Ghandi’s words echo many of the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus, when it comes to prayer.
I have thought much about prayer throughout my life.
As a small child I was taught by loving parents, that to pray was to be connected with the Sacred. Their guidance was presented with so much love and respect. We lived far from the church and some of my finest memories are of those Sundays when we were not able to attend church and Dad would lead a short prayer service in the intimacy of our home.
He would read from the Bible, pause for a moment, and then we would all go on our knees as Dad offered simple prayers for forgiveness and for safety, for rain and for family.
Today I look back on that and as a professionally trained theologian I can disagree with some of Dad’s theology, but those experiences remain the most sacred I have had in any form of worship. My family and I all alone, miles from a church, but fully supported by the love of God in the sanctuary of our home where a living space was made holy.
Since then I have developed my thoughts on faith and theology and prayer, sometimes in directions that may not support everything we believed back then. But I find my myself still longing for the sacred spaces of parents who loved us and wished to teach us something about faith.
Perhaps it was the sincerity of dad’s prayer, the assurance that mom practiced in her life by always being focused on giving back. It was acted out by ordinary people trying to make sense of life and live responsibly within the light of their faith.
As life went on I became aware of the things that no longer made sense to me.
We prayed incessantly for our friends fighting in the bushwar of those days and for the farmers and their families who were easy targets. Too often the news came of loss—of horror and devastation. Where was God in all this? Why did God allow this? Why did God not bring an end to this terror?
My search for answers led me to the point of knowing that I needed a new understanding of God. Hovering between faith and no-faith I realized that I either needed a new understanding of God or the door on God would close for me for always. I often stood on the threshold of unbelief.
Over time I discovered new voices of sages and prophets that offered a different view of understanding God and for me that was the beginning of a new path of faith that led me to the United church of Christ.
Ghandi’s words help me greatly to hold on to the practice of prayer.
“Prayer is not about asking. It is a longing of the soul.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples, at their request, to pray.
~ The prayer Jesus prayed begins with an acknowledgment of God, the Sacred, the Mysterious, the Holy.
~ It is a communal prayer. “Give us this day our daily bread”
It is an inclusive longing that includes everyone and it is a longing to have enough for the day. Notice, there is no longing for warehouses full of glut to satisfy my insecurity.
~ It is a longing to see us live in peace and harmony. A longing for us to find ways to heal the wounds that divide us and turn us into enemies competing for each other’s turf. “May your Kingdom come”.
~ It is a longing for a community where prejudice and rage and hatred will cease to exist. A longing for reconciled relationships between people whose relationships have been destroyed by painful experiences. “Forgive us our sins”.
~ And finally, it is implied that our longing for forgiveness is tied up in our ability to forgive—“as we forgive others indebted to us”.
The text encourages a commitment to persistent prayer and it suggests that those who persist get what they ask for.
That I find hard to accept as I cannot believe that God needs constant reminding. That if you whine incessantly God relents and gives in to our asks. That would place us in a position to manipulate God to get what I want.
Rather, I would interpret that as the value of prayer as a practice that brings a sense of peace—a mystical expression of our needs and longings, but that is bending the text to a point.
Prayer remains somewhat of a puzzle, to me, as I now no longer see it as a lever to catch God’s intention. Its not a tool of manipulation through which we sway God to do some supernatural intervention or prevention.
Rather, I experience prayer as an expression of our longings, a way to offer our thanks, a mystical event in which we call out to the Essence of life-God, if you must, speaking of our deepest and most profound experiences whether they are joyful or painful.
I wish I had a short and simple way to relate my understanding of prayer, but as you see, I am still on that journey of figuring this out for myself.
A famous ethicist came to work at Mother Teresa’s house of the dying in Calcutta. He was seeking a clear answer on how best to spend the rest of his life.
When they met Mother Theresa asked him what she could do for him, and he asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.
“Pray that I have clarity.”
Her reply; “No, I will not do that — clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” The ethicist observed that Mother Teresa always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, but she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
I don’t take the word “trust” to mean we expect God to make our life easier or help us win the lotto or the Super Bowl, or bring our child back from a debilitating disease or restore our land to us. But a trust that we will endure. That we will find the inspiration and courage to endure. That there is always a path to new life and opportunity and hopefulness.
Søren Kierkegaard says; “Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.” That I can live with.
If all else fails us, Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic, offered this thought; “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
For life, for love and for now, we say “thank-you”. Amen.