Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Have we forgotten how to pray?

Have you read Art Lester’s 2008 Anniversary Sermon? If not you should do, go on, do it, I’ll wait for you. Even if you’ve read it before, or heard it at the time, go read it again. It’s really important stuff. Go on.

Art’s words are on my mind at the moment. You see what I find most disheartening about some Unitarian gatherings is not someone saying “there’s not enough of us” or “we don’t have enough money” – it’s my sense that we’ve forgotten how to pray.

When we try to pray, or have something like prayer, I often think to myself that we don’t get it. They might be really worthy words, clever or thought-provoking words, but I don’t think it’s prayer.

Maybe I’m being really intolerant and judgmental and not recognising that other people have different sorts of spirituality. Maybe. Forgive me if I am. But Unitarian prayer often seems to me to be not deep enough.

Prayer’s not just “here’s some cool words.” Prayer should be saying “OK, what we’re doing here is connecting ourselves to the very depths of existence, to Being Itself, to, like, you know, the most important thing in the world. This is a pretty awesome thing to do, maybe even a strange thing, but we belong to the fellowship of faith that says that human beings can actually connect with Being through our own hearts, by looking within ourselves we can actually directly experience the Sacred. That’s pretty cool, right?”

In other words we should approach prayer with just a smidge of awe, and even fear and trembling. Sure, often prayer is just a nod in the direction of depth, but if it truly is prayer we should be open to the possibility that something awesome and dangerous might happen. The Angel Gabriel might just turn up and grab us in a hug that will knock the breath out of us. A bush might burn and talk to us, a dove might fall out of the sky and give us such a fright that we go into the desert and hang out with demons and angels for forty days. Sure, these sorts of things happen very rarely, but prayer is opening our hearts to the possibility of this kind of stuff.

Let’s not have the empty shell of a prayer. How about we try to actually pray? Really really pray? Pray as if we mean it? Pray as if something might actually happen? Pray as if we are in the presence of the Almighty?


Anonymous Angela ' said...


I am open to doing this. At the very least to aiming for this.

How do I do it?

7:13 pm  
Anonymous T.A.H. said...

Brother Stephen
To tell you the honest to God truth, I spent half of my life praying but not knowing why.I wanted to change other people.I wanted to change the world around me.I realized at age 35 that prayer is primarily about bringing out changes in me. And to be sure, its been a long slow painful but satisfying experience.It takes some of us longer to condition ourselves so that we are fit to work in the vinyard.

1:43 am  
Blogger Daniel said...

A timely post Stephen, thank you. I wonder if the problem has sometimes come from the way we experience prayer as children. They are periods of time when we have to keep quiet and hold our hands together. And when the grown-up has finished speaking, then we can open our eyes. Or, we are taught a prayer parrot-fashion (for many in this country, the Lord's Prayer), without any encouragement to meditate on the words or how they might affect us.

'To Pray' implies action. Perhaps we should always approach prayer with the expectation it will be difficult, it may be powerful, it could result in a changed outlook on life, and it can help you change the world for the better. Make prayer the centre of your worship, not an optional add-on?

12:10 am  

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