A Community of Prayer
Seventh Sunday after Easter
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Seventh Sunday after Easter
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Let us pray:We pray, O God, out of the grace of Jesus’ prayer for us. We pray for faith, not for ourselves alone, but also for those whose faith might be stirred by ours. We pray for community with you and with all those for whom Christ prays in every time and place. Amen.
One of the widespread expectations of people like me who are commissioned or ordained as ministers is that we know how to pray. The fact is, I don’t remember a course in it from seminary. I do remember having a prayer critiqued, appropriately I would say, that was part of a worship service I had submitted for a class project. It may seem strange to write prayers for good marks, although I do say that many a prayer has been uttered for that very desire, myself included. Despite my lack of training in the process, I have been called upon to pray in any number of public events, and I’ve been called to pray privately for many more situations. I remember one colleague remarking to me that after his ordination he was usually the one called upon by family members to say grace at family celebrations, thus indicating to him his induction as he put it as “family Levirite”. In case that reference is a bit obscure, the Levirites in the Hebrew tradition were a priestly caste - entry was by birth rather than by training.
Without going into a lot of detail about the situation, because it is still in process, we recently had an interesting discussion at a pastoral care committee meeting at the hospital about a prayer for the hospital. One suggestion was that it not be called a prayer at all, in deference to the many different faiths and expressions of spirituality that are expressed by the staff and patients at the hospital. Of course, that led to a question about what we should call it, if anything, with one suggestion being the simple word “hope”. Given that discussion, it was very interesting to look the word “prayer” up on wikipedia. In case you don’t know about wikipedia, it is an attempt to create a publicly edited online encyclopedia. The publicly edited nature of wikipedia has been curtailed somewhat, because the ability to freely edit entries has been abused and misused, but looking something up on wikipedia is an interesting glimpse into a somewhat common understanding of objects and ideas. Here’s the wikipedia definition of “prayer” as I found it today -
“Prayer is the act of attempting to communicate, commonly with a sequence of words, with a deity or spirit for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins, as an act of reparation or to express one's thoughts and emotions. The words of the prayer may take the form of intercession, a hymn, incantation or a spontaneous utterance in the person's praying words. Secularly, the term can also be used as an alternative to ‘hope;’”
I ran across a very interesting article written by David Hart, a United Church minister in Halifax. The article titled, “The Uniting Spirit of Prayer” suggests an approach to “talk prayers” as Hart describes them given a different and emerging understanding of God. Here’s how he describes this new understanding:
“However, in the newer vision of God emerging today, God doesn’t exist as a being somewhere up in the sky or in outer space. Rather, God is the ultimate Spirit reality, in whom all life emerges and lives. God is like the ocean in which plants, fish, and all sorts of life come into being and live.”
The point of Hart’s article is to describe an understanding of the efficacy of prayer. If we no longer accept a notion of God who can pull strings to change situations for some people and not others, does it make sense to pray for people and situations at all. Hart says it does,
“When we pray to God for someone, although our words suggest that we are asking God to fix things for the other person, what we are really doing is directing loving intention, energy, and care to the other person. To a great degree, we live under the illusion that as separate, distinct individuals, we cannot effect change in other people. Only God can do so, we think. The truth is that we live in an invisible ocean of Spirit, one that connects us all together, and so our energy expressed as intention, as loving thought and emotion, as care and empathy, actually travels across or through the invisible spirit reality of God, to surround the other person. All of that loving energy does, indeed, effect positive change, even if at only a very subtle level. Praying for other people, then, is a very powerful way to effect change.”
He goes on to say that he encourages people to pray not just for people, but for the planet as a whole. As he says, the prayers may take the form of words, but once again what is happening is that our energized loving intentions, thoughts and emotions are spreading in and through the whole body of God helping it to heal.
The article was taken from his book, From Christianity: A New Look at Ancient Wisdom published in 2005 by Northstone. I found the excerpted article to be very helpful as a description of my own understanding of prayer - at least in one sense. What one realises, especially when asked so often to pray in public, is that prayer takes many different forms, is understood in many different ways, and serves many different purposes, even if the one purpose of being in touch with God is behind all of the different forms and occasions.
This discussion of prayer, of course is occasioned by the passage we heard from John’s gospel today. As mentioned, it is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer - a prayer for others. Let me close by quoting yet another source that refers to this prayer. It comes from the background reflection that I use to guide my thoughts and reflections each week as I prepare for worship. I think these words, connect very well with the words in David Hart’s book. We hear Jesus’ prayer for the disciples - the ones surrounding him, the ones who will come after and ultimately prayers for the saving of the world:
“Jesus offers this prayer immediately before entering the Garden of Gethsemane. Unlike the other gospel accounts where Jesus’ prayer in the garden struggles with his impending death, John’s gospel describes Jesus as affirming the hour that has come as one of glorification. Jesus prays in the hearing of the disciples, for while the prayer is addressed to God, its concern is for the disciples.
The immediate focus of this prayer is the disciples of that time and those who will follow. The wider focus encompasses the world. Taken out of context, concern for the world in this prayer might appear to be cast in negative expressions. John 3:16–17 provides the balance. Jesus’ coming has been generated by God’s love for the world. The purpose of that love is the world’s saving. Jesus prays for those called to embody that love in his absence. If God’s love is to be seen in this world, it will be through their (our) witness.”
Prayer is more than a one reflection topic. It is more than public. It is also private. It’s deeper than a wikipedia definition, and more personal than I could ever try to define. Why just today in our worship service there are different prayers with different purposes - greeting, confession, guidance. Prayers that remind us of our story, silent prayers, and memorised prayers. We’ve tried “breath prayers” a couple of times over the past few weeks - prayers meant to help us be in touch with God’s presence without voicing our intentions, listening instead to God’s intention for us. There have been contemplative prayer groups meeting in the evening and requests for prayers for situations and people. There are prayer cycles for northern communities and the world community. Truly we are a community of prayer.
Let us pray: Loving God, hear our prayers and in your love, answer. Amen.