Monday, August 29, 2011

Real prayer

“Contemplation,” or “meditation” in some groups, was rediscovered in contemporary times beginning with the writings of Thomas Merton in the 1950s and 1960s. The word most Christians are more familiar with is simply “prayer.”

Unfortunately, in the West, prayer had become something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect—which too often puts the ego back in charge. As soon as you make prayer a way to get what you want, you’re not moving into any kind of new state of consciousness. It's the same old consciousness, but now well disguised: “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?” It's the egocentric self deciding what it needs, but now, instead of just manipulating everybody else, it tries to manipulate God.

This is one reason religion is so dangerous and often so delusional. If religion does not transform people at the level of both mind and heart, it ends up giving self-centred people a very pious and untouchable way to be on top and in control. Now God becomes their defence system for their small self! Even Jesus found this to be true of the scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law.

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

At the heart of this lies my own uneasiness with many of the assumptions we make about prayer: that it is indeed functional, a means of getting God to do things for us, out there, in the world. And of course he does – we have only to read the accounts of the Gospel miracles to see that, or to read David’s anguished psalms of loneliness and betrayal to realise how freely God’s mercy is given to the broken heart. We mustn’t become so high-minded about prayer that we lose touch with that most fundamental of relationships. Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…”

A human father, though, would be soon grieved by a child who only ever spoke to him to ask for something. A healthy parent/child relationship consists in far more than an endless stream of demands!

Real prayer must allow God to change us, to open our hearts to his presence, his loving. More than that, when we come into God’s presence in prayer, we are coming with all the pain and loss of the world on our hearts, for it is all a part of each of us. And that I feel, is the meaning of the phrase “original sin”: not some inherited naughtiness, but our inescapable identity with a broken and spoiled world, in which cruelty is law, and might appears always to be right. Coming before God in conscious acknowledgement of that identity is true penitence, and true intercession.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…”

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