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What Then Does it Mean to Pray?
a devotional discourse by Gene Marshall
When "God" means the Infinite Silence, The Mystery, The Final Actuality which we confront in each and every moment of our lives, what then does it mean to pray? Probably we learned to pray when we believed that there was a benevolent grandfather living in a "universe" beyond this one who was patiently listening to our hearts desires and was always ready to interfere on our behalf in the course of things whenever "He" deemed it appropriate. If such a transcendent Super-Person is no longer credible for us, what does it mean to have a daily practice of prayer?
I want to suggest that what prayer always was for Jesus, for Paul, for the Gospel writers, for serious Christians in every era can be recovered now by us if we see that we are a relationship of freedom to the Infinite Silence which we constantly encounter. Furthermore, by taking time in our schedule for an exercise of practicing this freedom, we can make a difference in the course of our lives. Spending time each day practicing our freedom makes a difference in the performance of our freedom in our whole lives.
Spirit freedom is a profound personal reality, a reality we already are, however much we have damaged this treasure. Spirit freedom is not something we have invented or need to achieve. Spirit freedom is our deep actuality, constituted by the Infinite Silence, and given to us each and every moment of our lives.
We are often rejecting this freedom. Let us name this rejection "sin." And if we are accepting the gift of our freedom, let us call this acceptance "prayer." So there are just two basic alternatives in human living: sin or prayer. We are either living our lives in prayer or in sin-or perhaps in some combination of both.
A practice of prayer (meaning a period of solitary exercise worked into our daily schedule) is practicing our freedom for the sake of living our freedom in our entire round of life. The human psyche is somewhat like a programmable computer. If we set our intentions at the beginning of the day, they tend to remain set throughout the day. If we choose to be freedom at the beginning of the day, we tend to remain freedom throughout the day. If we choose to be open to life at the beginning of the day, we tend to remain open to life throughout the day. If we choose to own up to our weaknesses and escape patterns at the beginning of the day, we tend to remain aware of them and their danger to us throughout the day. If we choose to be grateful for our life at the beginning of the day, we tend to remain grateful throughout the day. If we choose at the beginning of the day to pursue some particular values for our own wellbeing, we tend to remain open to those values throughout the day. If we choose at the beginning of the day to concern ourselves about some particular causes, we tend to remain concerned about those causes throughout the day. Such setting of our intentions is a practice of prayer.
And we can understand such prayer as prayer to God if we understand "God" as the Infinite Silence, the Mystery, the Final Actuality we experience in each and every moment of our lives. Furthermore, this All-Powerful Presence does indeed respond to our prayers. How do we know that? Because praying does make a difference. We never know what difference it is going to make, but it does make a difference. The difference that being our freedom makes is determined not by us but by the Infinite Silence. How do we know that? We can just watch and see. Clearly the precise answers to our prayers are not foreknown by us. We are usually surprised by what happens when we pray. In other words, we are in a dialogue with that Mysterious Power which is greater than ourselves, which Power is both constituting us as a praying being and providing those concrete answers to our prayers which we continually find surprising. This is not magic. This is just reality.
All of us are praying persons, and all of us receive answers to our prayers all the time. Also, all of us neglect and/or refuse to pray. Our praying and our not-praying are happening all the time in our lives. And the Infinite (whatever name we wish to call that actual Infinity we always face) is constantly giving answers to our prayers or to our lack of prayers. If we do actively pray some prayers, it makes a difference in the answers (that is, the actual results) we receive. If we pray earnestly, it makes a bigger difference. If we pray passionately, deeply and without ceasing, it will make an enormous difference.
Let me illustrate what earnest, deep prayers might look like. The value of written prayers in the life of the church or of being led in prayer by someone else is that such prayers can catalyze our own personal praying into deeper water. It is true that simply reading or repeating a written prayer is not always praying. Praying is the operation of our own deep freedom. But it can happen that a written prayer assists us to pray with our own freedom. So I ask you to brood on these four prayers of mine with that possibility in mind. I have composed a prayer for each of the four main categories of prayer in the Christian tradition.
Confession: Oh merciful Home in relation to whom my Spirit greatness resides I am an egotistical nerd who is only intermittently committed to growing up in a Spirit way. I flee the deep nothingness of my life in various status-seeking actions. I flee the deep greatness of my life in passive inaction. I endure the pain of ongoing despair and the meaningless blaming of others rather than surrender myself in simple trust of you, that Infinite All-Powerful Presence who can confer upon me the tranquility I really want. Infinite Silence, have mercy upon me. Ultimate Healing Message of my Forgiveness, have mercy upon me. May the wind of Wholesome Spirit blow through my life once again. So be it! Amen!
Gratitude: Oh Infinite Generosity the miracle of my merely "being here" has not escaped my notice. And the miracle of being born into Spirit awareness is more wondrous than I can ever express. I thank you for the gift of teachers, friends, and intimate companions. I thank you for all my pains and all my pleasures and for all the lessons which both pains and pleasures have been to me. I thank you that I have somehow come through to this rich place in being alive. I thank you for my current challenges and for all my fears and excitements that go with them. I thank you for the freedom with which I will (or perhaps will not) meet these challenges. And I thank you for your enduring forgiveness that will encompass my failures as well as my arrogance over any of my successes. Oh Infinite Generosity, be with me. Never leave me. So be it! Amen!
Petition: Oh Sovereign Determiner of my destiny I ask for a foundation of physical health for my living in your presence. I ask that I will be alert to the ways I neglect my health and the opportunities I have to enhance it. I resolve now to be open to receive good health from your hands.
I ask the same for my psychological sanity. May I learn to treasure all my feelings and all my interior processes as sacred gifts from you.
And I ask especially for my Spirit maturity. Indeed, may I become what you have constructed me to be in my deepest being. May I become fearless in living all my fears. May I be firmly compassionate in using the energies of all my affections and all my irritations. May I never stray from my totally ignorant wonder in spite of all my wisdom. May I be tranquilly present in the midst of every circumstance. May I simply surrender to the boundless abundances which you always provide.
Help me. Help me to realize that you are always helping me. I seek now your help. So be it! Amen!
Intercession: Oh Sovereign Determiner of cosmic destiny I beseech you on behalf of my planet. I intercede for my planet. I stand between you and your dire consequences for my planet. I ask that you use my life and many other lives to direct all harm from this lush garden of planetary aliveness.
I ask that you use my life to awaken my companions to the consequences of our greedy living. I pray for old forests and clean air, for fresh streams and rich soils, for the insects, the fish, the reptiles, the mammals, the birds, the micro-organisms, yes, and humans too. May we humans find a proper balance within all this lushness.
I pray for our economic systems, that they may provide sustenance for each and every human being and still leave space for the non-humans to accompany us.
I pray for our political systems, that they may cease to tyrannize anyone or allow tyranny anywhere on the planet. Rather, may our political systems genuinely include all of us in the joy and agony of choosing our most wholesome future.
I pray for our cultural systems, that they may honor all sorts and conditions of humans and their creative inventiveness. May all human life be nurtured toward its fulfillment. May all human community support rather than resist the Spirit emergence of the rising generation.
Rather than view these wholesome outcomes for my planet as impossible or implausible, I intercede on their behalf. I place my mind, my body, my very self in your hands on behalf of these viable directions. These are my heartfelt prayers. I pray that others may pray them with me; but if not, I pray them still. I am your servant. With my entire freedom, I ask you to hear my prayers. So be it! Amen!