Saturday, January 30, 2016

On Prayer as Rhythm of Awareness

Life can be sheer chaos. If we are not careful, we can become overwhelmed and consumed by the pace and pressures we place on ourselves or have placed upon us by others. Our personal bouts with suffering, fears of death and dying, and doing our very best to raise children in the midst of today's world only enhances the distress.  Then we flip on the news, walk out our front doors, dare to stomach political debates, or encounter infinite streams of polarizing information on social media feeds, we may become all-the-more disheartened and distracted. 

We may begin to lose our center, get out of stride, and become victims to haste, anxiety, and the tyranny of the urgent.  We may ultimately be tempted to believe we are alone amidst the confusion and conflict. 

Despite fall tabloids to the contrary, these are indeed the very moments when prayer is of utmost importance; these are the places we invoke the name of God in the truest sense. Whether spoken in angst or fear, anger or grief, or even as a last ditch effort in the midst of doubt and despair, the purest forms of prayer are simple whispers or shouts of the name of Christ. 
"To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost." Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
To pray is to speak the name of God and enter into the sacred rhythm of divine awareness; to pray is to confess that we are not alone and there is nowhere God is not. Prayer as awareness moves us from long lists of requests* and theological rants and towards an opening of the mind, body, and spirit to the reality that we are always in the presence of the God who made us, sustains us, and leads us home.  In this way, prayer is less dialogical and more centering and meditative. Prayer is an awakening to the divine presence we can experience while driving or giving our children a bath, talking with a neighbor about their recent cancer diagnosis or entrenched in yet another meeting at work.  Prayer in this sense is pursued in the crowds and in the quiet, the mess and the mundane. Prayer as sacred rhythm of divine awareness gives new meaning to the Pauline charge, “pray without ceasing.” 

This is where Richard Rohr is most helpful, 
“This unspeakability [of the name of God, Yahweh] has long been recognized, but we now know it goes even deeper: formally the word was not spoken at all, but breathed.  Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation.  The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God.  This makes it our first and last word as we enter and leave the world….When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly- breathe.” (The Naked Now 25-26)
That is, prayer is an on-going, occasionally involuntary, holy ritual. There are even moments when prayer as breathing needs to be slowed, engaged with great intentionality or some form of assistance.  Sometimes our prayer breaths are erratic in the midst of fear and uncertainty, other times our prayer breaths are patterned; sometimes our prayers are congested in the midst of ill spirit and realities that lead us towards despair.  There are even moments when the breath of our prayers is “taken away” as we are left in awe of God’s mystery and lead to expressions of gratitude and grace. 

Prayer ultimately breathes the divine life into us and enables us to have particular movement in the world- to be aware of our most vulnerable neighbors. As we breathe in and out the name of God, we are reminded of our human agency as co-workers with Christ in the reconciliation of all things. So may we pray without ceasing, aware that God is forever with us, for us, and sending us, too. 
“The children of God are not anxious about work.  They work because they pray.” Karl Barth, Prayer 50
“The core task of all good spirituality is to teach us to ‘cooperate’ with what God already wants to do and has already begun to do.  In fact, nothing good would even enter our minds unless in the previous moment God had not already ‘moved’ within us.  We are always and forever merely seconding the motion.” 
Richard Rohr, The Naked Now 23

*This is not to say that prayer does not include the request, for it indeed must. Rather, prayer is not to be reduced to the ask. Prayer must move us into the divine life and presence, an awareness of who God is without the need for our words or speech.  In this sense, some of the best prayers are those left unspoken and more simply breathed.