Sunday, March 12, 2017

Prayer is saying hello

This is a lovely episode of  On Being, Padraig O Tuama - Belonging Creates and Undoes us Both.

I loved many things that Krista and Padraig discussed. One that really stuck with me is what he said about prayer. I'll start, though, with a few other nuggets.

There is a pretty long discussion of the concept of "here." It made me think of a short writing I wrote for our church's e-newsletter:

"Here I am."

Our pastor has been leading us in a sermon series of God saying "I AM." There is also a theme in the Bible of God's people saying "Here I am." When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses said, "Here I am." When God called Samuel in the middle of the night, Eli told him to say, "Here I am." When God spoke to Abraham, Abraham said, "Here I am." These words are used by God's people when God calls them and gives them a specific instruction, or mission, or assignment. God told Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. He told Samuel about his plans for Eli and the people of Israel. He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Each time God calls and the people answer "Here I am," God gives them a direction for the future. Our church is in a "Here I am" moment. God is calling us and has a mission for our future. As we respond with "Here I am, Lord," let us pray and listen for God's instruction about our church's mission.

(In Hebrew, the phrase "Here I am" is "Hineni" -- pronounced he-nay-nee. Here is an interesting article about Hineni.)

In the podcast, they are discussing the concept of "here" in the context of Ireland and its troubles, Different, but an intriguing connection.

One of his poems which Padraig read on this podcast also struck me.

“Pedagogy of Conflict”

When I was a child,
I learnt to count to five:
one, two, three, four, five.
But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count
one life
one life
one life
one life
Because each time is the first time that that life has been taken.
Legitimate Target
has sixteen letters
and one
long
abominable
space
between
two
dehumanising
words.

Devastating. Wow. Those words, "one life   one life    one life". They're like bells that toll for the dead.

About prayer, I want to quote some longer passages from the podcast:

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. / Hello.

.“..And I suppose I really think that prayer is also not only naming or asking, but just saying hello to what is and trying to be brave, trying to be courageous in that situation and trying to be generous to your own self, also. To go, “Here’s a day when I feel intimidated,” or “Here’s the day; I’m just waiting for the end of it,” or “Here’s the day when I have huge expectations of delight,” because those can also be troubling.”

Recently, I heard Eugene Peterson saying prayer shouldn't just be about asking -- that we should shut up and listen. I've been thinking a lot about that. As I pray, I try to be still and listen. I try to think of ways to present what I want to say without asking. It's hard when it's intercession -- praying for healing for a loved one, for example.

Thinking about prayer as saying hello is helpful. Padraig says he says hello to "my desire and my trouble." I can extrapolate that to being troubled about those I'm praying for, right?

Hello, God, my mother is getting old and frail. She is often confused, many times she is unable to speak. Hello, sadness. I am sad, Lord, that she is not the vibrant, eloquent, funny, smart-alec, intelligent, inveterate advice-giving, repeating story-telling person we've loved all these years. But hello, gratitude. Thank you that she is, from all we can see, not in pain and is at peace. Hello, God. Here I am. Here is my mom.


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