Thursday, June 18, 2009

summertime, and the living is easy...

After a couple of weeks away from St. Louis, I am realizing that this is a much less structured summer than I have had in a long time. I have been spending a few days at a time here and there: Mississippi, Alabama, New Orleans, Baton Rouge. I’m off to Arizona in a couple of days, and I’ll be there for about 3 weeks, but even there I don’t have a lot of stuff planned, and once I get back, there is nothing on the agenda for almost three weeks. I like that a lot, it’s just unfamiliar to me. There are about 2 dozen books that I had assigned myself to read this summer, and I have gotten through about 6 of them so far, so that will be a big part of my task in the next couple of months. I just finished Kite Runner this afternoon, after having it on my shelf for months, and when I finished it I went right to Walter Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms. I mention that because it was an interesting connection to read Brueggemann’s comments on psalms of lament and see the line, “grievance addressed to an authorized partner does free us…we do not move beyond the repressed memory unless we speak it out loud to one with authority who hears.” (58) Given the tenor of Kite Runner, a fitting juxtaposition.

Elsewhere Brueggemann is talking about the Biblical presupposition that praying prompts God to do things that God would not do without the prayer. In one of his conferences online, he discusses how the faculty of a theological school, upon hearing him address them on this issue, got all worked up, with the Biblical folks on his side and the systematics folks unable to handle the idea that God was prompted by the act of praying to do other than God would have done had the prayer not happened. I’m interested in that, because most Christians seem to believe that God doesn’t change, but they act as if God does change (e.g. via intercessory prayer). I am well aware that the Biblical God-image is quite malleable, so prayer in the Biblical tradition can naturally operate this way, but most Christians I know seem to have a much more Platonic than Biblical God-image, so they don’t see God as mutable like Judaism would. Of course, in many of the lament psalms, the implication of why the person is suffering is “because of Yahweh’s irresponsible absence, which is regarded as not only unfortunate, but unfaithful to covenant.” (59) Jon Levenson’s book Creation and the Persistence of Evil pursues that idea, that life is good when God is attentive, but when God turns God’s attention away from us, chaos rushes in, so the task of the sufferer is to call God back to attentiveness. Again, something that I suspect most Christians would not necessarily know what to do with.

So, I ask, not rhetorically, how do you understand what you are doing when you pray? I don’t mean that in a dismissive way, but to pursue how people understand their own actions, since presumably people could do the same act (prayer) within very different theological frameworks. Do you expect that what you pray for will actually happen? We know how often we pray for people who are sick, for example, yet how often they still die, so are people numbed against the expectation that their prayers could actually be efficacious? Yet we keep on praying…Is prayer simply the acknowledgement that we have done all we can, an acknowledgement of our creatureliness, an act of humility against the self-importance of our managing minds? Is it some sort of psychological trick we play on ourselves? Mere social convention, done without thought or theological expectation? For the three or four people who actually ever read this pitiful attempt at a blog, please let me know what prayer, particularly prayer that seems oriented to "asking for stuff," means to you.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your blog is very thought provoking - keep it up.

My prayer is an effort to communicate with our creator and savior. It gives me hope that life has everlasting meaning....

Anonymous said...

I understand what I'm doing when I pray because I have studied the Bible. God says to study to show thy self approved. If you pray according to God's will then prayer will be answered. Jesus did talk about asking and not receiving because you asked amiss. Jesus also said to never ask him for anything,but to ask the Father. Many people pray to Jesus and others, but it is unscriptural. Your last few questions are disturbing if asked with seriousness. When Jesus died the vail was torn and open relationship with God became possible. I hope you don't ponder for one second that prayer may be a trick of the mind. If you don't know the status of your relationship with God better than that of your family and fellow Brothers,you should. God will direct your prayer life if you know Him. And reading the Bible is the only way to know him.

ConcordPastor said...

Patrick: Glad to see you posting!

Just at the time you asked your question about prayer, I had my second meeting with "Ben," a man who lost his young wife several years ago and who is asking some questions about God in his life. The question of if and how God acts in our lives or in response to prayer has provided some rich conversation for Ben and me.

Around the same time, I was working on this homily and found your post here to be helpful.

To your question...

When I pray, I don't believe I'm expecting that God will change things, although I believe that God can change things. When I pray for someone who is sick, I certainly hope that person will get better, recover, be healed by medicine, time - or God. But the greater energy in my prayer is that of a child who holds on to her father's leg, perhaps in tears, trusting that this is a safe place to be in any danger, even if dad can't or won't or doesn't make the danger go away. Prayer is the place I go when I realize that the very things I want changed might indeed not be changed.

For me, a large portion of God's omnipotence is the power shared with us by which we endure and survive that which we thought would be our end - in both immediate and eternal terms.

Keep on posting!