The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christian community in Thessalonica the following words.
“We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays one evil with another. Always seek what is good for each other, and for all the people. Rejoice always and pray constantly and give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We have a need to pray. Paul says – “Pray constantly.” I tried to “pray constantly” and frankly it was daunting. I thought my best praying happened on retreats or those days that I managed to spend hours praying, isolated with God reading singing and praying. Today, I understand the reason why we pray differently.
How should we make meaning of prayer? I believe Jesus showed us by modeling for us our interconnectedness, as individuals in relationship with God, other and creation. We best understand the role prayer plays in a community of caring. Not long ago I talked about Facebook as a community of caring where it has become common place to ask or to offer prayer. I am convinced a face to face community of caring, a healthy church, allows people to engage in ways that Facebook falls short. In the prayer Jesus taught us he says,” Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When one thinks of heaven, one would describe it as a place where there is no more pain or tears, everyone knows love and peace and experiences a deep sense of belonging minus hunger, dis-ease, oppression and injustice. To pray, we are inviting God’s will in heaven to become goodness experiences here on earth. In its purest form, prayer opens our hearts to God’s eternal presence which interconnects all living things in a spirit of oneness.
John Shelby Spong’s 2001 book, A New Christianity for a New World he writes:
He said: “My actions, my engagement with people, the facing of concrete issues – these became for me the real time of prayer. Prayer came to be identified with my living, my loving, my being, my meeting, my confronting, my struggles for justice, my desire to be an agent of transformation…If prayer is the act of engaging God and if God is the source of life, then my prayer time became my time of engaging life.”
Now here is Spong’s definition of prayer which I now claim for myself. “Prayer is the way I live, love, struggle and dare to be.” I would add, “We pray for ourselves and each other because of our deep sense of belonging to God and others beckons us.”
Prayer invites us to be awake and aware within and without. The act of prayer is how we become agents of transformation of life, love and being. Spong says, “For the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth, is revealed in the personhood of everyone. This God is present in the love of everyone. This God is encountered in the being of everyone…This God calls me constantly to be the incarnation of God’s love. I do this…to free the life present in every person, to increase the love available to every person, and to celebrate the being of every person. It is in those actions that I discern the very presence of divine footprints and know that God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.”
Prayer then is much more asking and answers. When we pray we engage in “LOVE” who is God! Rumi said, “We must get out of the circle of time into the circle of LOVE.” Prayer does just that! Out of love comes compassion, empathy, a need for justice and peace which opens doors for action. It is written in Scripture: “let us not love in words and speech but in deeds and truth. (1 john: 3:18) The truest form of prayer then is in our actions not just the words that we speak. In many cases praying is the only way we can respond to life and being. Prayer is our ability to respond which reveals itself as our “response-ability”.
We make our whole life a prayer when greeting the day awake and aware that “God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.” This new understanding allows us to be alert and responsive. We matter in the big scheme of our interconnectedness with people moving through their day. Prayer allows us to engage in the chaos and creativity of life. Whether encountering disease, oppression and injustice or the beauty found at the birth of a child, the blooming of a rose, a rainbow after a storm, all things help us experience life providing opportunities to rejoice, pray and give thanks.