The Prayer

Posted: August 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 9C. 2016 Luke 11:1-13

THE PRAYER

PRAYER CHANGES PEOPLE AND PEOPLE CHANGE THINGS

One of the most perplexing and yet most valued practices in progressive Christian thinking is prayer and I want to spend share some thinking as my sermon this morning. Notice I said share some thinking, I did not say provide a definition or give any answers as to what prayer is or how it works, but in the thinking there is a hint of what it might be. There is a significant clue in my title for today’s discussion in that it can be about a prayer, a particular prayer and it can also be about the prayer, the person or persons who are praying. It is always a noun but has two forms, one as the object the prayer or the set of words and the other as the user of that object, the person who is praying the prayer. Its source is Middle English out of Old French and Latin from around the 12 to 14 hundreds. What I want to explore today is that ambiguity or that relationship between object and function because I think that somewhere in there is theology or as I understand theology to be; Saying an emphatic ‘Yes’ to life expressed as art within the context of the threats, the mystery, the amazingly full and yet amazingly empty nature of the cosmos. The yes is of course due to acts of interpretation that create meaning and value as the art of being alive, and it is here that we bother to pray because in exploring the imagination , praying as though something new is possible in the impossible. In expecting the unknown outcome, the unanswerable prayer to be answered there is a confidence based in trust, there is a trust rooted in the interpretation, in the artful expression. Just as a poem makes sense to the hearer who listens beyond the words so the prayer changes things. It is here that joy is the emotional expression of the courageous yes to what it truly means to be human.

And let’s also acknowledge that this is at the very core of what the Bible is. We explored that a couple of weeks ago when we explored the nature of what the Bible is and isn’t. And if theology is the art of saying yes to life, then life has to be about finding meaning in the emptiness of the universe. The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about the vanity of vanities and refers to momentary vapour that fades to nothing like a frosty breath on a winter’s morning. This is what gives theology its wild but creative affirmation of meaning and saying yes to meaning is an act, as David Galston suggests it is a human-creating act. Sadly Christianity has since the earliest years of the movement sought to push away the need for trust and courage and even joy and replaced them with final judgements and closed answers like dogmatic creeds. As an aside here it interesting to see that our debates about human sexuality are less about sexuality and more about our need to preserve, keep pure, and remove all possibility of debate. Truth is less about the discovery of something and more about its imprisonment. One has to say here that such action is the denial of theology, destruction of the interpretive task, the hermeneutic that is the very core task of theology. To arrive at an irrefutable truth is to close the questioning and end the task of religion. And in our own churches approach which has historically been as a Church with a Confessional focus as opposed to a sacred or a salvational one, our church has had a philosophical link to the medieval God as a necessary being. It also holds on to the primary being as perfect and unchanging. Again in relation to prayer this means that one has to be in a conversation with something as opposed to seeking and acting out the thoughts as acts of poetic enactment of the imagination trusting in their own efficacy to change things.

What this suggests is that our construct of prayer is what is threatened by the evolution of our thought about what thought is and about what its part in our lives is. Contemporary philosophical theology no longer upholds the ontological argument as it was expressed in the middle ages. For progressives God is no longer seen as meta physical, or greater than physical, other than physical, God is particle in empirical science or maybe that what the hope is, and for progressives God is a reasonable assumption within the experience of being, no longer being in itself. Galston suggests that reason cannot prove that God exists but reason can prove that it is not possible to prove God does not exist. Caputo and others prefer to say that God exists as that which is to be or that which is almost. This can be seen to be a way forward for us as a church because it is confessional in nature. It attempts to force human reason into admitting that God’s existence is entirely credible and in regard to our topic for today it legitimates the claim that prayer changes things. It makes prayer a credible activity.

In simple language then prayer is as Michael Morwood suggests ‘the language of the heart’. It is an invitation to sense the connectedness of the whole of life and the always present God rather than an elsewhere God. So taking all this I want to round of today by walking us through two ‘Community’ prayers or alternative ‘Lord’s Prayers’ The first is a prayer written by a Paul Alan Laughlin who wrote what he calls a Mystical Lord’s Prayer.

Laughlin introduces the prayer by saying that the first and perhaps most important thing that sets his version of the Lord’s Prayer off from the others is its theology, which dispenses entirely with the personal, parental Father-Sky-God of the original, and replaces “Him” with a non-personal, immanent power-presence (or sourceforce), an infinite one (or One) that is none other (or non-Other) than the spiritual core of the person or persons reciting or singing the prayer.  The implicit theology of this prayer, then, is not monotheism but monism…

“The second distinctive feature of his version of the Lord’s Prayer follows from the first; for having eliminated a personal divine Other above, this Lord’s Prayer… has no petitions for any intercessory acts on behalf of a human individual or group.  In their stead are strong affirmations of how we are already emboldened from within ourselves to become better persons and to accomplish ever-greater things.  This “Lord’s Prayer,” then, can properly be regarded as a daily reminder of our full human potential-miraculous and praiseworthy in its own right-to be good and do good.

“Thus he says his Lord’s Prayer is not an invocative device, but an evocative (psyche) exercise in self-realization-or perhaps Self-realization, if the ego-self is to be distinguished from one’s deepest and truest identity, as it is in most mystical traditions.  For humanists, this “within” may be seen differently: as our rational and empirical faculties, perhaps after the fashion of Plato, who equated the human “soul” with the intellect.  In either case, what we have here is an acknowledgement of a mysterious and in some sense sans divine Immanence (versus Eminence) – a reference to the indwelling mysterious Presence and Power that (at least for mystics) permeates or infuses the cosmos, and that (for humanists as well, though probably the capitals) abides in nature, human nature, and therefore ourselves”

After that explanation we hear the words of his Mystical Lord’s Prayer.

O presence and pow’r within us, Being and Life of all. How we are filled, how we o’erflow with infinite love and gladness!

We shall this day sow grace and peace, and show mercy to all, and gentle loving-kindness.

And we shall be not so self-serving, but a constant source of giving.

For ours is the essence, and the wholeness, and the fullness forever.

My critique of his prayer is to suggest that while I applaud the attempt to do what the explanations suggests and to recognize the anthropomorphic boundaries I feel that he has overdone that at the expense of the cosmic environment of the human species. Of course when you again read my attempt there are excess words in an effort to express the macro and the micro as well as the anthropomorphic in tension. Anyway let’s just hear my rationale and you can make your own. This is after all a poetry excursion in search of meaning.

Our eternal life which is in all creation

Known through the life of Jesus, the anointed one;

 

Here we have the timelessness of the evolutionary story. In the beginning stuff that is expressed again in the now, outside of any created boundary such as time. However all this eternal and all the creation is only ever as we humans picture it, imagine it, describe it and think it into being. Jesus the one like us is special because his life makes connections with ours beyond the limits of time and space. He is a human being be it a very special and insightful one.

 

Let the divine will be done in us and all creatures.

Help us as we long for a life of wisdom,

 

We recognize that this way of thinking about the purpose and the place of human life gives a sacredness, a specialness and a divine nature to all that lives. Life is what we seek to understand because it is so wonderful and it draws us forward in our search as creatures that strive for greater understanding about everything. That is why education is so important.

and awaken us to our blindness. Enable us to forgive ourselves and others,

for we cannot see the light; other than as alluring shadow.

 

This is an attempt to recognise that freedom to create brings with it responsibilities of due care and while traditionally we might have called this sin and human potential to sin the concepts of fallen nature and sinfulness have been tools of fear producing programs that we seek to change. The words recognize that human beings can be blind to things that are deeper in our culture and they recognize the need for a reconciliation process such as forgiveness.

 

Help us see that our billions of years

are the universe in all its glory.

Let the divine light at inconceivable speed

illuminate the dark curves of our sight,

 

These words acknowledge the vastness of our cosmic environment and that it is the human measurement of time and space that gives us the means of indentification and interpretation. We can see ourselves as a species with a history, and evolutionary path and a longevity within the billions and in the face of that which is in the realm of imagination there is the hope of illumination and thus understanding.

 

and show us the glow of our cells. Travel with us as we walk the star path

all the way to the Source of Wisdom that is Love.

For ever and ever Amen.

 

Here is again the dichotomy, the complexity and the wonder of the human creature, the subject around, for and though who the cosmos exists a simple small almost unidentifiable organism on the wondrous journey toward that which is the source of all that is. The vast indescribable organism is what it is in the act of love. Amen.

Notes: “Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer” by a group of Refugees, El Salvador, in G. Duncan. (ed) 2005.  Entertaining Angels. A Worship Anthology on Sharing Christ’s Hospitality. London. Canterbury Press. Mack, B. 1993.  The Lost Gospel. The Book of Q and Christian Origins. New York. HarperCollins. Morwood, M. 2003.  Praying a New Story. Richmond. Spectrum Publications. Taussig, H. 1999.  Jesus before God. The Prayer Life of the Historical Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press. Wieman, H. N. 1946.  The Source of Human Good. Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press.

Galston D 2016 God’s Human Future, The struggle to define Theology Today Salem Oregon Polebridge Press

 

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