Finding Our Way Again—Prayer.1

by admin on February 18, 2010

Reflection for Sunday, 14 February 2010

For a few minutes at the beginning I would like to share some comments and teaching about Brian McLaren’s book, Finding Our Way Again. This is a publication that I have shared with some of you, and we have additional copies available if you’d be interested in reading it. I guarantee you that it will open new horizons of thinking about this whole Jesus movement. I have come to honor Brian as a true visionary and prophetic voice in the wilderness. I do like the image of Sherpa, the Himalayan guides up the slopes of the world’s tallest and most treacherous mountain range. Brian is one of these.

Many of us have been to London and traveled on the famous subway called the Tube. You might recall the signs on the subway cars and platforms warning everyone: mind the gap. That’s British English for “watch you step.” Be mindful (as our Zen friends say) of your walk. Brian McLaren uses that image to speak of the gap between our desire to be followers of Jesus and our development of the same. If you grew up in a mainline church you probably never heard of this, that is to say, who of us knew that Jesus actually invited us to do something, i.e. develop into more faithful witnesses to him and his Kingdom project?

C.S. Lewis, in his marvelous book, The Weight of Glory, whose title he lifted out of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17 ⇒ (“This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I like Gene Peterson’s The Message rendition: “These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times. The lavish celebration prepared for us.”) Lewis speaks of being a glorified weighty human being. It is the glory of God that makes us weighty. Remember, the Orthodox teaching on theosis: the very life of Jesus Christ is alive in us. Jesus fills us everyday. It’s the life of Jesus, not us pretending to be like him that marks the difference. So the question that comes up is this: How to be a weighty person? How to be a person of character, depth, real adult maturity? How many churches really talk about this? How many even provide teachings by which this is doable?

We have talked a lot among us about being a community that practices the presence of God. We are talking directly about soul formation, engaging in spiritual practices that re-shape us for a more intentional, attentive and perceptive way of living. We want to be a community that practices the presence of God by directly joining Jesus in his Kingdom project. That is best discovered by looking at the results of Christ’s movement in our lives: Compassion, Forgiveness, Joy, Transformation and Community.

Some people call this disciple formation, soul formation, spiritual formation. I believe that is essentially an art, the result being a work of eternal glory and beauty in the lives of individuals but more importantly in the life of the world. It is for the life of the world that we do this. So we move together in Shalom. Practice then makes for possibility.

Brian McLaren is a leader, perhaps one of the founders, of a new reformation afoot in the church. I have been influenced by this re-emergence of a type of Christianity (and I even hesitate to use that word because of its freight; I like “Jesus movement” better); a type that is not afraid to investigate the many traditions of the faith we hold. No single denomination, regardless of how loud they yell and pontificate, or how high the hats of their bishops are, no one has a single corner on the truth. We all might have signs pointing along the way, but so many of us are content to cling to the signpost and never continue the journey towards the Truth. The best of the Emerging Church movement is not faddish, nor the latest bandwagon of church improvement, but rather a fusion of many traditions. Personally I have been deeply influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, particularly its Slavic roots and now recently the meditative practices of Zen. Tonight I will share more about this in the Jesus Prayer.

Being a Training Ground
More than ever I would like to see our budding community develop into a training ground for important life skills. Skills come through training, practice, tradition and community. All of these come together to help us grow in the likeness and image of Jesus Christ, which is the first and foremost “goal” of the spiritual movement called Christianity. By training I mean: becoming capable beyond our present power to a new possibility. We have all heard in church: you must forgive. OK, where did we ever receive instructions on how actually to pull that off?

Why do this? It’s the ongoing project of growing up; becoming a responsible adult. It’s about allowing Jesus to burst forth from that tomb called “my life.”

Our Weekly Gatherings
Now I would like to shift our focus onto our weekly gatherings, as they are beginning to form. There is a church in Washington DC, called The Church of the Savior, located in several places now, but when Karen and I lived in DC back in the early 70s it was located in a brownstone on Massachusetts Ave, just past Scott Circle. It was and still is the most radical idea of church I have ever known. One of the leaders there was named Elizabeth O’Connor, who wrote a book about this faith adventure called, Journey Inward, Journey Outward. Out of the ministry of COS comes the publication Sojourners. Betty talks about our common faith pilgrimage as a journey inward to the center of faith and then a movement outward of engagement with the world. (Again the theme: for the life of the world)

Brian McLaren speaks of the movement between two poles: the realm of the private contemplative life, including activities like solitude, silence, prayer, simplicity; and the realm of public missional practices, as in “what do I do at work?” Bridging them are the shared communal practices in which we engage on Sunday evenings. At least at this juncture we are meeting on Sunday evenings.

Here is a proposal of how our weekly gatherings could be structured.

1. We come together to share stories and experiences, often around the dinner table, which is why eating together is so vitally important.

2. We also come to exchange inspiration with each other. This takes the form of conversations and intercessory prayer. I am a big believer in the power of prayer and would encourage us to remember one another in our daily prayers. John and Beth Wagoner have given us a profound example in their daily prayer list which they prayed every supper time. Making an actual list with names is important. Remember, prayer is about changing us, about inviting us to draw closer to the will of God.

3. We also meet to embody and teach a set of time tested, helpful, do-able practices, e.g. prayer and the contemplative tradition. So that we can experience God now. That experience is can be described as gentle, subversive, electrifying. In my using the Orthodox prayer tradition I have been stunned by the profound depth of the vocabulary there: God as unfathomable goodness; filled with indescribable glory; so that we might be untroubled by beguiling influences. Wow….such words I have never used before. What depth. Prayer also prepares us to be surprised by Grace.

Prayer: Practicing the Presence of God
Now I would like to speak about prayer, which we will do for the next couple of weeks together. My hope is that our prayer life, both individual and corporate, will be enriched and take us to new places. We will share some prayer methods and practices as well as several resources. The best way to learn about prayer is….to pray.

What is prayer? What are your stories about prayer? Prayer is practicing the presence of God. It’s about being drawn inwardly toward God. It’s about wrestling with the divine. It’s about venting pain and sorrow, frustrations and disappointment. Prayer is also the primary anxiety regulator in our lives.

Last time we were together we began to talk about Philippians 4:6. “Have no anxiety about anything, but pray about everything.”

Anxiety….it’s the energy and force of life. Who’s got anxiety? Anxiety is our reaction to a threat either real or imagined. It has repercussions in our mental state—we get emotional. It affects our physical being—e.g. hypertension, ulcers, cardio issues. It plays out in our environment—anxiety is contagious: you get it from someone who gives it away. And anxiety can be acute or chronic.

Tonight we will talk about the Jesus Prayer and how it can provide space for our inner anxiety to quiet down. Remember, when our emotions are up, our rationality is out the window. We make bad decisions in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety. We all have stories to tell about that. A healthy rule of thumb is: I will not allow somebody else’s emotionality to control mine.

The Jesus Prayer is a long standing tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming popular in the west through the publication of an anonymous tale named The Way of the Pilgrim. A Russian peasant in seeking a deeper spiritual union with God began to wander all over the countryside, asking people to help. He met a staretz, a holy man, who gave him the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner. The staretz encouraged the pilgrim to pray it at least 15,000 times a day…..you get the picture.

Russians, and others, use beads, called “chotki” to help in this prayer. I am someone easily distracted, as most of you know; but the beads can give a focus to the energy of prayer. Each bead is one repetition of the prayer. The idea is to be mindful of the words, to allow them to sink into our hearts, to ease and slow down our breathing. That’s advanced topics at this point. Tonight I just want to teach you the prayer and encourage you to pray it often, preferably in some kind of quiet place. Driving a car calls for another kind of prayer….not contemplative. So don’t do this driving.

Practice, practice, practice. Make this prayer yours. You will notice a big difference in your attitudes about life. You will be more open to the love of God and be able to handle all that encounters you. Remember, the “goal” is Jesus in you and you will know that as your life grows in Compassion, Forgiveness, Joy, Transformation, Community.

Next week we will continue to talk about prayer: the importance of daily prayer and a scheduled time like morning, noon and night. I will also give you some excellent guides to prayer. Be encouraged. Shalom.

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