Sunday, August 28, 2011

Collaboration or competition?

When you truly know, the giveaway is that you know that you do not know! Truly holy people are always humble. If you are not humble, you have not experienced the Holy One. If you don’t see humility in religion, you know it’s not on the right course.

The prophets are always calling Israel to such humility. They represent the self-critical and honest part of religion. Without the prophetic element, religion is always self-serving and idolatrous. True prophets please nobody, neither left nor right, which are mere ideologies. According to Jesus, the whole world will hate you if you follow him (Matthew 10:22). When you are truly prophetic, both the left and the right will mistrust and attack you.

Richard Rohr, adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer (CD, DVD, MP3)

I know I keep on saying this in one way or another, but I do feel that what Rohr says here has a bearing on how we view prayer. Too often prayer assumes that if we do not know, then we ought to, and oceans of ink and forests of trees are expended by good and honest Christian charities producing and distributing prayer bulletins, prayer newsletters, prayer diaries and other aides de prière, so that supporters may pray in a more informed manner.

Perhaps those who put so much effort and so many resources into producing these publications intend us merely to be better informed, and so come to prayer with their needs closer to our hearts; but I worry that some of us will simply founder beneath the burden of detail, and fail to pray at all since we cannot pray for everything. In any case, God’s purposes may be greater and stranger than anyone may imagine who is caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of running an aid agency or a homeless shelter.

We need prophets, as Rohr so rightly says. We need, too, those who come before God in reckless prayer, crying out for mercy and justice, not for specific instances of charity. Of course we are right to pray for charities, Christian and otherwise, and for their work. Some of us may be called, by reason of personal involvement, perhaps, to pray extensively of one or another. But prayer activism is not the same as prophetic prayer.

Nor, come to that, does prophetic prayer consist in recasting Jeremiads in terms of contemporary events, like so many “words” coming out of certain Christian camps in recent years, proclaiming God’s wrath and judgement on corrupt and disobedient nations as if the Incarnation and all that follows from it had never happened.

We live in the Kingdom; but the Kingdom is not yet. We are redeemed; but the world is not, nor will it be. Someday there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Meanwhile, we work and pray to build the Kingdom one kindness at a time, knowing that it will never be more than an outpost of love in a broken and dying world. Jesus knew that, which is why he rebuked Peter for trying to keep him from the Cross (Matthew 16.23).

Elaine Aron, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, argues persuasively for society's need for sensitive, reflective people just as much as for extraverted, dynamic types. She categorises them as (p.18 et passim) “priestly advisors”, informing and balancing the “warrior kings” whom both the media and the man in the street tend to value above all. It seems to me that Christian society has just as deep a need as any other for those who are called to the contemplative rather than the active to take their vocation seriously. As Aron points out, introverts are not failed extraverts: they are a different, and equally valuable, kind of human being. Being human is a collaboration, not a competition, or at least it should be.

Perhaps those of us who are called not to “know how to pray as we ought”, but to pray, as Paul said in Romans 8.26-27, within the Spirit’s own intercession, need to stop feeling like second-class citizens of the Kingdom, but to realise that we are a vital part of its growth, as important as – though not more important than – those who are called to give their lives in active service. We need to talk, to inform each other, to understand each other. But it is easier, maybe, for activists to publish prayer bulletins than it is for contemplatives to communicate their calling to live out their intercession. Hence, perhaps, blogs like this?

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