Pastor’s Blog – 9.27.2015
- Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
- Psalm 124
- James 5:13-20
- Mark 9:38-50
When I was young both my brother and I were rudely awakened about the realities of prayer. My brother, four years younger than I, was having trouble falling asleep one night. I had always shared a room with him when we were growing up and this particular evening I had accepted a friend’s invitation for a sleep over. It was the first time he could remember not having someone with him for bedtime.
Eric cried and cried because he could not get over his new found fear of being alone at nighttime. My mother consoled him and told him to try prayer. She told him that whenever he was afraid God was always there and that he could try talking to God for comfort. This could provide him with great consolation is these times of fear just like Daniel in the lion pit. Eric calmed down and said he would give it a try. Mom left him in the room but after a little time passed again he began to cry. She returned and asked him if he had tried prayer. He told her yes, but he simply preferred speaking with someone who had skin.
Prayer does not always work as we would hope it would. We simply cannot list a set of petitions and have them all granted 100% of the time. God is not the cosmic genie in a bottle waiting around to do our bidding. Karl Barth is probably one of the most in-depth theologians to take on an analysis of the inner-workings of prayer. He says it works in two major ways. First there is a taking to God some petition, mood, energy or praise which is only 1/2 the battle. You need to figure out first what it is that you are actually feeling and this requires a great deal of presence. In groups this presence is much more important and can be harder to achieve.
The second piece of prayer Barth makes evident is that is puts into the mind a mystical consciousness which is needed to be raised over a particular item. Public prayer can place into the minds of everyone around a particular center for healing power and can inspire people consciously or subconsciously to even do something about a particular concern. Private prayer can cultivate a particular mood or energy to be brought into existence from the realm of idea.
Cultures around the world and throughout time have participated in prayer. Anthropologists think that there has always been something in practice by intelligent beings that we would consider prayer. When we see a group praying, whether it be in a church or the McDonald’s down the street, we quiet down a little bit as we recognize sacred space being held. It is an unspoken acknowledgment that finds aesthetic appreciation around the world; it ultimately binds us as human beings.
Prayer expresses itself in various ways. Muslim people prostrate themselves in complete submission, Hindus recite mantras, Buddhists chant in unison, Sufi’s swirl, Native Americans dance, Quakers fall silent in prayer. Christians have historically cultivated many forms of prayer over the ages, from sacrificial rites to adapting monastic lifestyles, each offering a different perspective on relationship with the Divine. Embracing such as a dialogue with God shows us that while the form of prayer may change the relationship itself between Divine and those who practice remains constant.
At seminary they teach us to pray in a simple format. They recommend that you follow the Address, Attribute, Petition, Purpose, Close formulation so that you can be in any situation and spit out a prayer on the spot. When used correctly it is a great guide. It is kind of like making a sandwich, and if you are into sandwiches you know this is no task to be taken lightly.
Sandwiches are all about the combination inside. The attribute, petition, and purpose must combine in a way that unlocks the metaphysical juicy-ness therein; just as when the proper combination of sandwich items makes the taste buds explode with joy. The middle is where metaphysical and physical exchange have the possibility to lead us to great moments of novelty.
When you open up your physical self to the realm of metaphysics all things are possible. You are quite literally opening yourself up to the abyss from which all structure is formulated. Some have called this place the void, tohu wa-bohu, or that which came before “beginning.” Here blue can be red… or if you mix back and blue together you get pink… or where it make perfect sense to ask: “if you have 4 pencils and I have 7 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof?” To which the void calls back confidently, “Purple, because aliens don’t wear hats!”
Metaphysics seeks insight into a fantastic realm of ideas where falsehoods, as we know them to be in this physical plane, can inspire us and where the real truths are glorious, such as love. I am confident that every sin, every violent act, or horrid outcome found in the name of love is simply a failure to communicate, an error in translation from this metaphysical realm of ideas into our plane of existence. Yet, we shall not cease from this exploration.
Knowing this prayer then does not always have to be a petition of God. Prayer can be silly. It can take the form of celebration as the Jewish people did in the creation of Purim. Prayer can be found in meditation; especially that which leads us to contemplation. It can simply express sorrows or grief in recognition of ones immediate, and present status. It can take the form of singing (as in the Taize community) or it can come out as anger and frustration. Karl Barth writes “to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of uprising against the disorder of the world.” In further contemplation he says “prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.”
Studies conducted by David R. Hodge in 20007 have pointed toward a small, measurable trend between prayers and the physical recovery of hospital patients. Hodge empirically combines case information of many other studies conducted on prayer to recovery and finds positive statistical correlation. When prayer is involved you will notice a slight rise in the number of those that recovered. This is not to say it works 100%, every time, all the time, or in the way that would have the outcome.
When I was younger I had a dog. At a very tender age my dog fell sick with a deadly disease called parvovirus. I remember holding my dog who was visibly ill and praying to God to save her life. Brownie passed away. As we buried the dog I remember being angry with God wondering why it was that the prayer did not work. It forced me into a deep contemplation on this relationship with God; I began seeking an ever deepening insight on how prayer actually works. In hindsight this contemplation is exactly what prayer provided for me in that time of despair. This is what gave me hope to move on after a difficult time. If we look at our text from James and Mark as Christians we know that even God prays. Even God contemplates relationship with us. By seeking hope, love and the many other beautiful things the realm of metaphysics has to offer, we can find companionship. Prayer in this sense, as Barth says, is only the beginning. It is what starts the uprising. It is a powerful and mysterious thing that joins us around the world; across time and space. It is important that we not take this stuff for granted shutting off the potential for the great good it has to offer; after all, the world is not a place of purely objective values.