Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pentecost 21C

On Friday a group of us from Good Shepherd went to the Good Samaritan Society’s Spirituality and Wholeness workshop, and the presenter had us do an interesting exercise.

He first asked us to assume the posture of someone who is happy. So, we all sat up straight in our seats, shoulders back, chin square, and lips smiling.

Then he asked us to assume the posture of someone who is depressed. So we hunched over, slouched our shoulders, put our heads down, fixed our eyes at the floor, or in some cases, closed them.

Then we went back to our natural posture.

Then, he said, “Let us pray...” and we assumed a prayer posture, which soon became obvious to many people in the room that our prayer postures looked a whole lot like the posture of a depressed person.

Interesting, isn’t it? We say that prayer connects us to God, but does our body language say something about that connection?

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard some criticize the way we morph our bodies when we pray. Some say that when we pray we try to make ourselves smaller in a false humility. And prayer is supposed to enlarge us, deepen our relationship with God, and broaden our vision of how God works in our lives and in the world. We don’t have to make ourselves smaller for God to be larger. God already is.

Others say that closing our eyes while praying pulls us inward rather than pushing us outward, creating a mass of self-centred Christians whose eyes are shut to the suffering of others. Closed-eyed prayer becomes all about ME and MY needs rather than about US. Open-eyed prayer helps us see the world that needs more of God.

I don’t know if any of that is true. But I do find it interesting that our default prayer posture mirrors the body language of a depressed person. Especially after reading today’s gospel.

Jesus encourages persistence in prayer. Nagging. Crying until you get your way. A curious way to think about prayer, don’t you think? It’s not what we usually picture when we think of prayer. This is not what a depressed person does. 

Some think of prayer the honest outpouring of the heart, or the ancient poetry of the liturgy, or humble - or maybe even mindlessly rote - prayers before meals. Whining or grumbling at God, irritating the Divine isn’t what how we learned to pray in confirmation.

Jesus says to pray always and not to lose heart. He says to keep at it, keep hammering away at God, keep poking the Almighty until you get the response you’re looking for. That’s how to get God’s attention. That, according to Jesus, is how to pray.

If you think about it, that IS how we pray as a church family. Especially when we use liturgies over and over and over again, praying the same assigned prayers, many of them written thousands of years ago.

When we follow the traditional liturgy, God knows that on Pentecost 21 - Year C, God will hear a specific set of ancient prayers. These same prayers reach God’s ears over and over and over and over and over again. Relentlessly. Which, to God, must sound like nagging.

But, if Jesus is to be believed, we’re just following his instructions. And we’re still waiting for God’s end of the bargain to be upheld.

So, upon Jesus’ directions, we keep praying, and praying, and praying, and praying, until those words begin to do something to US.

We keep praying and we begin to be shaped by the words we pray, praying until those words become part of us, praying until those words take root inside of us, and we are changed.

We keep praying until we become God’s answer to our prayers. We keep praying until we become the Word we’ve been waiting for.

We keep praying until we see the world as God sees it. We keep praying until we start seeing others as beloved creatures of God. We keep praying until forgiveness takes hold of our hearts. We keep praying until justice becomes our daily food. We keep praying until compassion grips our lives.

I think that’s why Jesus says to pray and to not lose heart. Because, it is in the act of praying that God works within us. It is in those words we say over and over and over again that God’s Word takes shape inside us.

Words create a world. It’s not just the words we proclaim that create, but the words of prayer we offer in tears, through clenched teeth, and even through mindless rote repeating, that mold us into who God wants us to be.

We believe in a God who, with a word, created something out of nothing. We believe in a God who shows us that words have tremendous creative power; and who shows us that words that have devastating power to destroy. We believe in a God whose word is written on our hearts. We believe in a God who saves us through the Word that was made flesh.

So prayer isn’t just offering our hope and fears to an invisible God with the hope that this God will do something. But prayer is also God’s way of giving us power. Prayer changes US, not God.
Prayer, in the words we use, transforms us from those who wait for God to act, to those whom God has given power to act.

Prayer isn’t passive. Prayer is God acting in us, so that we become the answer to that for which we pray.

That’s why we’re careful about the words we use in church. I know I am. Although some of you might not think so. But when I craft the liturgies and compose my sermons, I linger over every word. I try to be colloquial and parochial, hitting the balance between common language and sacred speech, between earthy nattering and heavenly declarations. It’s in the connection between those two realms that God lives in Jesus.

I try to link life and faith, connecting to where we say God is and where we haven’t thought about God being. In the words I offer you, and words ask you to pray, I try to shape how you think about God in your life and in the world, because I believe in a God who creates a world with a word.

So, pray, and do not lose heart, because in your praying, God is at work in you. In OUR praying, God is changing US, so that we become the answer to that for which we pray.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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