Friday, July 05, 2019

All prayer is...

Simon Cross, Oasis chaplain, writer and teacher, has this to say in the most recent of his weekday meditations (7/5/2019: 'No Hiding Place'):
One of the most famous of all the ancient Jewish songs we call the Psalms is number 139, which talks about the writer's understanding of God. A contemporary Christian view of God tends towards a view of the divine that is at once distant, and controlling. This is a way of thinking that owes as much to Greek mythology as anything else. 
The God of the 139th Psalm on the other hand is somehow different: "If I go to the highest heights, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." God is at once in all places. We tend to think of this physically, that there is no 'where' that God isn't. But actually the text goes beyond even this, beyond the physical: the word we translate as 'depths' is the Greek word šə·’ō·wl (sheol), which means 'grave' or even 'hell'. This is an idea which transcends physicality. 
There is nowhere, in life, or in death, surmises the poet, that is beyond his sense of the divine. This is not a remote, controlling God, not the 'deadbeat dad' of popular religion, it is an intimate, animated divinity, coursing like life itself through the veins and arteries of the universe, present in every dimension. The poetic language used here speaks of an idea of the divine which transcends the kind of boundaries which we seek to put in to place, nothing is cut off. This is a very deep idea of God.
As John Pritchard points out,
[In prayer] we cannot expect arbitrary interruptions of the natural course for our personal benefit. The dead of Auschwitz rule out the possibility of a cosy, domesticated view of how God relates to his world. But let's also recognise that there are no 'laws' of nature as such, just generalisations of observable experience. The fabric of creation has a much more open texture than we once thought... 
When we pray for things to change in a situation, therefore, we are not throwing pebbles at some iron wall of 'natural law'. We are co-operating with God in enabling his loving presence to come to bear on the situation, and so inevitably affect it... The supernatural is an infinite projection of the natural, to the point where it is transformed.
Now I happen not to like the word "supernatural". When it isn't conjuring up images of séances and ouija boards, it reminds me of some humanists explaining why they don't believe in that snowy-bearded puppet-master in the clouds. But if, as Pritchard says, there is more to reality than metrics and observation, and Newtonian mechanics, it may be an inevitable usage; if God is indeed "an intimate, animated divinity, coursing like life itself through the veins and arteries of the universe, present in every dimension" then there is nowhere and nothing that is outside God, not even the very worst of times. As Thibault reminded Peter Abelard in Helen Waddell's eponymous novel, in all the pain of the world, and in all its grief and loss, the cross of Christ, the cross of God in Christ, goes on and on.

"[T]he Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’" (I Corinthians 11.23ff) And so the prayer of the Church goes on, and on into unimaginable futures, in the unimaginable humility of God, who in Jesus "was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate." If indeed it is, as he said, his body and his blood that become one with us, knit with all the we are, cell by cell and breath by breath by the very processes of human biology, then in that plain fact the mercy of Christ is without end, an infinity of grace. All prayer is, can ever be, is simply owning that.

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