Sunday 1 January 2012

Why pray?

Why pray? Here are ten reasons:

1. Our Father who art in heaven
Because without prayer there is only – myself. Between the heaven of prayer and the hell of the self there is no middle way. The more I try to find myself, the more I am lost. To call on God as Father is to discover myself as someone God calls child.

2. hallowed be thy name
Not because prayer will give me what I want, but because it will knead and pummel my wants, stretching them my whole life long, until at the last hour of my life I have learned to want one thing only, the only thing worth having. And so my whole life becomes a secret sigh, an inarticulate utterance of the hidden Name of God. And so even my death will be my prayer, the sigh by which I give myself up into the presence of the holy Name.

3. thy kingdom come
Because my prayer encompasses not my own life only but the entire world of which I am a part. What defines this world is scarcity, injustice, and oppression – in other words, hunger. To pray is to find in my own hunger an echo of the hunger of the world, in my own small cry an echo of the cry for justice that rises like smoke from the scorched earth.

4. thy will be done
Because prayer is the end of willing, the beginning of wisdom. The life of prayer is a slow dying into the will of God, a slow awakening into the freedom to live.

5. on earth as it is in heaven
Not because prayer is a technique of self-improvement or an instrument of spiritual experience, but because it is beyond all human competency, beyond all language and learning and control. Prayer is the speech of heaven. To pray is to live beyond the narrow walls of the self and beyond whatever I can merely control. As sunflowers open to the morning, so the praying life opens towards heaven, standing up straight into the bright burning presence of the Name.

6. give us this day our daily bread
Because every day, morning and night, I hunger. The stuff of my life is hunger, need, and lack. Technology and affluence blind me to this truth, but one day – a single morning – without food is enough to show me the truth of what I am. I live by lack: God lives by fullness. I am only hunger: God is only food.

7. and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Because hurt and disappointment and resentment are always knocking at the door of my life. As soon as I drive one away another arrives, eager to come in and set up its home in the little house of my heart. I will die of resentment; I am destroyed by what I am owed. But I learn to forgive when God writes off my debts and makes me free. Now I can live, now I can clear the debts of enemies and friends, and speak the magic word of forgiveness that drives resentments back into the dark.

8. and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Because this world is only trial. Yet it is God's world, and all the evils that crowd in upon my life can never hide my voice from the listening God.

9. for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever
Because God is glorious. All my life I was asleep within myself, but when I bowed my head to pray I opened my eyes to the glory of God. Glory should be seen. Just as it is right for a mountain to be seen or a piece of music to be heard or the body of a lover to be loved, so it is right to give God thanks and praise, for God is glorious.

10. Amen
Because the life of God is prayer itself. It is deep calling to deep, the endless giving and receiving of unbounded self-divesting self-communicating joy. My prayer is an eavesdropping on the Prayer that is God. God's speech is grace and truth, God's life is love, God's silence is the annunciation of the Name. The word of my life is a modest, small, yet glad and true, Amen.


alex schwindt said...

Simple and transcendent. Thank you for sharing your heart.

T. C. Nomel said...

10 excellent reasons.

cindijh said...

All my life I was asleep within myself, but when I bowed my head to pray I opened my eyes to the glory of God.

Because without prayer there is only – myself.

I love these two lines. Sometimes I wonder the question that forms the title of the post. Why pray? What an excellent list of reasons!!

Erin said...

nourishment, thanks.

Imogen said...

Excellent, though rather marred by the inclusion of women as objects to be apprehended rather than agents who also pray.

profanefaith said...

And there you have a basic spirituality far richer than you will here in even a lifetime of attending some churches.

Jess said...

I didn't think so. I took it as intimate and personal, not objectifying.

Geoffrey said...

Number 8, in particular, spoke to me. Prayer is the single candle that the darkness doesn't overcome. The church I attended as a child and youth had a little tag line at the top of the bulletin - Enter in Prayer. Stay in Prayer. Leave in Prayer. That and Paul's admonition to pray without ceasing have been watchwords of my life; I try, in contemporary parlance, to keep a line open throughout my day, a little silent dialogue that helps keep me grounded.

Imogen said...

I don't mean objectification in terms of egregious sexual objectification, but in terms of referring to a woman as if she is not a subject. When a list includes an inanimate geographical feature, an abstract artistic form, and the mythical absolute notion of a woman's body as similar items, I consider that objectifying.

Women are not abstractions, a woman is not a Platonic form, and more importantly, women pray the same as persons of any other gender. By using 'the body of a woman' as an object in a metaphor about prayer, Ben is implicitly excluding a woman from being the praying subject. He is assuming that his audience are (heterosexual) men, and he is reducing a female body's existence to its relationship to a subject who 'loves' it. It is not the absolute destiny of a female body 'to be loved', because women are human beings with agency over their bodies.

I doubt there was any adverse intention behind the metaphor, but it does treat women as implicitly non-subjects and significantly marred my enjoyment of the post.

Ben Myers said...

Apologies Imogen — you're right of course. In my draft I tried various words here (like "the body of a spouse", "partner", etc), but it sounded too abstract and impersonal. (And I really wanted the sexual metaphor to be linked to what comes after it — not an inanimate geographical feature, but the glory of God!).

Anyway, this morning I finally thought of the right word: "the body of a lover". That's what I meant to say, but couldn't quite find the right word — so I hope you'll accept this belated modification!

Rick said...

In the paragraph, the images are used to describe a person's posture before God. It is therefore possible to interpret the image in such a way that, I think, avoids your critique: there is a similarity between how a heterosexual male postures himself before a woman's body and how he postures himself before God. God certainly has agency, is not inanimate, is not a Platonic form, is not an object to be apprehended, etc.
In sum, if you take each element of the list (song, mountain, woman), and look its analogy to God, rather than to the other elements of the list, that the sentence does not necessarily imply that women are non-subjects. Does this work?

Andrew said...

Wonderful, Ben! It was a real blessing to me this morning! You have quite the gift for spiritual writing in the vein of a Merton, Nouwen or Rowan Williams! Cultivate it!

Pam said...

Prayers like gravel
Flung at the sky's
window, hoping to attract
the loved one's

R S Thomas

Nixon isLord said...

I don't believe in god. I think prayer is a way for people to rationlize what they want and what they want but didn't get. You want to waste your time-that's your business.

Lily Myers said...

I used to think prayer was just talking to God so I could never understand how one could pray without ceasing. But it's not talking without ceasing, it's listening without ceasing. Someone once said, "I used to see prayer as a way of getting God to do what I wanted. Now I see it as my way of getting in on what God is doing." The Lord has never told me to talk more, but he's told me to shut up a few times.

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