Pinpointing Prayer

Last week I reflected on the Eucharist suggesting that I wasn’t so much bothered with ‘how it works,’ but with it’s trans-formative potential.

I strongly believe that the Eucharist, should form part of each Christian communities staple diet. It is a manifestation of God’s love for both each individual and the community as a whole. As a shared meal, in which everyone gets equal dibs, it represents God’s absolute impartiality. No special skill, merit, or aesthetic appreciation is required to feed on God, through the Eucharist. It is one of very few worship activities equally available to all. That is presumably why Jesus instituted it and Paul (see 1 Corinthians 11) was adamant that the tradition of the Eucharist / Mass / Communion should be handed down. It is also why the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, and mass participation (excuse the really awful pun!) in it, were central to the theology of the Protestant Reformers; Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. I suspect that all of them, despite their different formulas as to how the Eucharist works, would be horrified at how the Eucharist is regarded as an occasional option in some communities.

Luther, in particular, followed the Nike philosophy, ‘just do it.’ Calvin was quite happy for his followers to meditate on the host – he actively encouraged this as a Saturday pastime (at about the time the footie results come out) and, Zwingli felt that the Holy Spirit transformed the elements after we had consumed them; the ‘God’s work is invisible’ line of argument. 

Speak to an Orthodox priest / theologian about how the Eucharist works and he will look at you as though you have lost leave of your senses! He might suggest that the western church has become so successfully evangelized by secular philosophy that it is forever asking scientific questions of the mysteries of faith (you know those things we explicitly declare – perhaps with our fingers metaphorically crossed when we pray the Eucharistic prayer).

What has all this got to do with ‘ordinary’ prayer?

Well quite a lot because this too is often critiqued from a pseudo-science perspective. How does prayer work? Does God intervene? Will God, through prayer suspend his own laws? Do we change as a result of prayer? And, while we are at it, what exactly is prayer? Again all forensic, sciencey type questions. Very interesting up to a point and certainly a rich source of theological dispute (why do you think that there are so many Eucharistic formulas? Well, one reason is that the reformation arguments were, in some small part at least, an argument between faithful, intelligent and yet fallen men!) but perhaps not entirely useful. 

Now don’t get me wrong some formulas are useful in explaining ‘the mysteries of faith,’ I quite like ACTS for explaining prayer (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication), even if it misses out mediation and contemplation. I enjoy praying with Scripture using Benedictine and Jesuit techniques. I like naming prayers and, on occasion, short expository prayers. I accept that prayer and mediation change us; neuro-scientists actively endorse mediation, for instance, as a means of reshaping the  plasticity in the brain. I don’t know whether God changes or not. But what I do suspect is that when our prayers our properly sourced and grounded, through the Holy Mysteries, we somehow become united with God’s plans. The proper sourcing of prayer opens up the possibility for ‘thy kingdom come on earth as well as in heaven.’ Prayer, properly sourced, allows us to accept our Gethsemane moments, those occasions when we can really say ‘not mine, but thine, be done.’

So where can go to source examples of such prayer. Scripture! Gethsemane and the Psalms, for example. 

Gethsemane and the Psalms (see Psalm 30, for example) show us that real prayer is sourced from somewhere so deep that no forensic microscope could possible locate it. St. Paul agrees, he tells us real prayer comes from that place where the Spirit groans (Romans 8, 26-27); you can’t see a groaning under a microscope! 

The story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector(Luke 18,9-14) and 1 Paul’s Anthem to Agape (1 Corinthians 13), provide us with the key qualities required in trans formative prayer; humility and love. 

So having had a pop at formulaic approaches here is mine!:

Transformation prayer is sourced from somewhere deep within, animated by the Holy Spirit and offered in humility and love. All other forms of prayer are, to paraphrase St. Paul, simply noise, possibly very articulate, eloquent and dramatically choreographed, but still simply noise.

So let us pray………..Amen


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