Thursday 15 August 2013

Being Prayed-For . . . It Rocks!

I am one of those Christians who lives far too much in his head. I think complex and wonderful thoughts about many things, even about the parts of me that seem other and outside of my complex and wonderful headspace: body and emotion, intuition and even the unconscious (if I am treated to a conversation about psychic states of affairs with Jim Olthuis). But I don’t always go on to live as if those complex and wonderful thoughts have much to say about concrete body, emotional, intuitive or subconscious living. There is a tension I am ashamed to say, a lived dualism that is at times not very healthy.

An implication of living so much in my head is the need to figure things out, to be able to place everything within a mental map or picture, each thing in its rightful place. Prayer has long been one of those things, a riddle needing to be thought into its proper place. Armed with a proper appreciation of the absolute sovereignty of God and a sense of human effort as comparatively speaking of little account, how was prayer to be fitted into the pattern of the whole. In prayer I may talk to God but I sure wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. I wasn’t going to be able to change his mind, was I? Surely that wouldn’t be appropriate to insist that a puny creature could affect the absolute Sovereign of the Universe? So what was I doing in and through prayer? Such was the way I approached prayer for just as long as I approached it as an intellectual puzzle to be pored over and mapped onto what I thought implicit within the contrast between a sovereign God and his subject creatures, particularly that subject creature I think of as “me,” for I know my own limits, my stubborn complexity, my habitual double-heartedness and so forth. What am I doing when I address my Maker and speak to him of the world as I see it, as I identify its need, when I intercede on behalf of those whom I love or acknowledge myself connected to in such a way as to include prayerful intercession? What indeed? And here’s the thing. Trying to answer such questions can be a replacement for the living reality such answers are an attempt to understand. Anyway that is what I have observed within myself.

But over the last five years of struggle and toil at work and with my health, actual living in the presence of prayer has changed the way I think about it. I had always thought about prayer as something I do in my attempt to respond to my Maker. It was not a helpful perspective, not for me; self-doubt and God-doubt masquerading as a proper reverence for divine sovereignty constantly muddied the waters. What changed is that I have had as never before the palpable experience of being prayed over and for, of being held up in prayer. And I have to say, experience of the prayers of others . . . it rocks! In the light of this experience the need to figure it all out, to put prayer in its place, pacify it so that it stays put within that great closet organizer I call a mind, seems beside the point. Prayer no longer seems like something that can be nailed down like that. It seems more like the Spirit, a principle of motion, flowing, blowing, surrounding, vivifying, a source of life. I respond to it differently when I think of it as sourced in the love and concern of others, blessed by the God to whom it is addressed. It will never stay put; that just isn’t its nature. The sort of curiosity that would pin it down and add it to the collection of things I have pinned once and for all on a high quality theological matte seems less and less appropriate. My inner cataloguer has been replaced, grid-lust giving way to wonder and gratitude.

It is a wonder and a source of great thankfulness, this experience of being prayed for. And of course with wonder comes a particular sort of desire. Imitatio was its name among medieval religious (monks, nuns, canons, friars, beguines) and theologians: the grateful desire to participate in the source of one’s wonder, giving to others the gift of being prayed for that one has received from others. In the process, one is reconnected to one’s own prayer life and receives it too as gift, beyond the corrosive reach of self-doubt or any other impediment to the approach of God. That too is a wonder and a joy, world without end.

Bob Sweetman