Monday, December 06, 2004

Patterns of Prayer

On Moving Godward, blogger Anita Van Ingen wrote:
Prayer is not only a matter of speaking to God, but also of listening to God as he speaks. ... How do we listen? How do we tell him, in honesty, that we heard what he said? Did we even hear what he said?

Deepening prayer is frequently accompanied by repeating back the things we have heard God say. … "Your word says, 'Lo, I am with you always' and so I trust that you are here."

Although I wrote a short reply to Anita on her comments link; here, where I have more space, I want to say a little more:

Anita, you said, "I feel silly in constantly repeating back to God the words in the Bible. ... However, when I repeat back to him the words of the Bible, I am saying, I heard you when you spoke that promise."

Somewhere on this blog I wrote about participating in a discussion of Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath during Lent 2004. She says Jewish prayer is liturgical prayer, and when she neglects formal, printed praying (currently she belongs to the very liturgical Book of Common Prayer. For extemporaneous prayer, her prayer life and her total relationship with God both disintegrate. I'd say when you pray directly from scripture you're being liturgical and you are praying in continuity with Jesus of Nazareth’s Jewish heritage, which is the tradition in which we Christians find our source!

Recently I heard an account about a Jewish person's asking a Christian "Do you have a prayer for that?" implying that within Judaism people do not customarily pray what we'd call free prayer but rather in praying they connect with the saints that have gone before and those saints who will live on earth after they are gone, something parallel to what Christians regularly do during the eucharistic liturgy's anamnesis. That anecdote reminds us, too, that Jesus' bestowing a sample formula prayer at his disciples' request was commonly expected from spiritual leaders in that time, because people were unaccustomed to free prayer.

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