Prayer: What does this mean? Lenten Ramblings 3-8-17

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 This verse from Thessalonians  Has been variously translated: 
 Pray without ceasing.
 Never stop praying.  
 Pray constantly. 
 Pray at all times.

 On Wednesdays in Lent, Gloria Dei will focus on the topic of prayer. Our book study is using Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. And the reflections in the Evening Prayer service are the Lord’s Prayer as explained in Luther’s Small Catechism. I decided to ditch the lectionary and spend my six Wednesday blog reflections rambling on about prayer.

I read a book called The Way of the Pilgrim as an assignment in a spiritual leadership program. The book is directly connected to the Thessalonian text. An anonymous Russian peasant of the nineteenth century attempts to "pray without ceasing." By chanting the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me), he eventually attains a closer relationship with God. Truthfully, if it had not been an assignment, I would not have finished it; it was not riveting. It does give a look at some beliefs and practices of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and it does engage in some theological and philosophical questions. A primary one being: what the heck did St. Paul mean by praying at all times?

But maybe we need to take one step back and ask what the heck do we mean when we say “pray”? Anne Lamott writes that prayer is communication from our hearts to the great mystery…or the animating energy of love we are sometimes bold enough to believe in…or something unimaginably big, and not us…or, for convenience, we could just say “God”.

In the book that Gloria Dei is reading together, Foster asserts that prayer is nothing but love. In confirmation class, we say that people are created with a “God-shaped” hole that only God can fill. And that prayer is conversation with God…a two-way street: we tell things to God, and we listen to what God has in mind for us.

The meaning of prayer and/or the practice of prayer is also dependent on what a person imagines God to be like.

This week at evening prayer the brief reflection is on the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in heaven. From Luther: What does this mean? With these words, God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.

In the mid-80’s I took a feminist theology class. Please remember that I am about as radical as a mid-western nice person can be. But mentioning different images of God as related to the concept of God as Father made me a raging radical for a few people…and heretical. There is a line one can step over theologically in the systematic Trinitarian understanding of God. It was pretty easy to convince people of gender inclusive words for “man”; the ship had sailed on “man” meaning “humanity”. God as Father was and still is too big for many people. So, what about people for whom God the Father is a big problem…big enough to drive them away?

Fortunately, Scripture abounds in other images. Kristina LaCelle-Peterson* calls them “discarded images” because they are often overlooked in Scripture. But, she says, 
God’s nature is too immense to be captured by one image, and our disparate life situations too varied, to be described by one metaphor. Metaphors help us both understand God and encounter God. And so, to avoid idolatry and making absolute something meant to be illustrative, we can follow Scripture’s lead and let a variety of images offset and enhance each other.

How about you? What image/s of God draw you to prayer? Does the image change the prayer?

How would you finish these sentences?

God is like breath because
God is like a rock because
God is like water because
God is like a mother because
God is like fire because

Your comments are always welcome.

PS. The texts from the lectionary for this coming 
Sunday, 3-12-17
2nd Sunday in Lent 
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

* author of Liberating Traditions: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids, MI 2008

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245