Monday, November 24, 2008

The heart of prayer…

The great commandment is not "thou shalt be right." The great commandment is to be "in love." Be inside the great compassion, the great stream, the great river. As others have rightly said, all that is needed is surrender and gratitude. Our job is simply to thank God for being part of it all. All the burdens we carry are not just ours. The sin that comes up in us is not just our sin; it is the sin of the world. The joy that comes up in us is not just our personal joy; it is the joy of all creation. All we can do is accept and give thanks.

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, p. 89

For me, this is the very heart of prayer. If we prayed just as ourselves, however much we thought of ourselves as praying for others, we would still only be like pagans making supplication to their deities. But we are in Christ. We do not pray as isolated individuals sending in applications to head office. We pray in the Name of Jesus – as Henri Nouwen said, "To act in the Name of Jesus, however, doesn't mean to act as a representative of Jesus or his spokesperson. It means to act in an intimate communion with him. The Name is like a house, a tent, a dwelling. To act in the Name of Jesus, therefore, means to act from the place where we are united with Jesus in love."

Not only are we in Jesus, but if we are in him, then like him, all of creation is in some sense in us. We are stardust, finding our way back to the Garden, taking all that is with us in our hearts. Compassion, suffering-with, is not just some soppy sympathy: it is a literal identification. We do carry the burdens of others, just as Christ did on the Cross; we are tempted with the sin of the world, just as Christ was in the wilderness, but in our little way, under the great cloak of his mercy and grace, and in the power of the Spirit, who prays in us as we cannot ourselves pray, being little, and weak (Romans 8.26-27). We do this spiritually, of course. I am not suggesting we attempt to physically suffer the injuries or sickness of others: that would be sympathetic magic, not prayer.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." (John 14.13-14) It is this vast and terrifying identification that is involved, that we can only bear because it is done in his strength, his Spirit. As Br. Ramon SSF once said, "We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into [prayer]."

We carry all creation's joys and beauties, too, in thanksgiving and in joy! Praying like this, with our hearts lost in Christ's heart (Colossians 3) we live in a joy and a strength that is not our own. The Principles TSSF state (28, 29): "We as Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in our lives the grace and beauty of divine joy… We carry within us an inner peace and happiness which others may perceive, even if they do not know its source. This joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong."

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