The word ‘prayer’ has often been trivialized by making it into a way of getting what you want. But I use ‘prayer’ as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow you to experience faith, hope, and love within yourself.
It is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now… Richard Rohr
This is from a meditation by Father Rohr, adapted from his book ‘The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See’. He goes on to say:
‘The essential religious experience is that you are being ‘known through’ more than knowing anything in particular yourself. Despite this difference, it will feel like a true kind of knowing. But it is also a freedom not to have to know!
We call this new way of knowing contemplation, non-dualistic thinking, or ‘third-eye’ seeing. Such prayer, such seeing, takes away your anxiety about figuring it all out fully for yourself, or needing to be right about your formulations.
At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you now, and you are not afraid of making mistakes’.
Sounds good to me! But it is hard to prioritise this kind of experience and very hard to let go of control. It’s a good thing heaven is orchestrating it, not me! In fact it doesn’t seem to be anything to do with my effort, but instead a choice to stand still and ‘let the Light look at me’…
‘Everything exposed to the light itself becomes light’ Ephesians 5:13.
‘In prayer, we merely keep returning the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves’
‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ 2 Corinthians 3:18
Surely this is the kind of transforming prayer and intimacy that will cause us to be glory-carriers and world-changers – partnership with the divine and kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. I know it doesn’t stop there… if we don’t then move on to actively engaging with the needs around us, doing Christ’s work in the world, we are not fulfilling our calling as His followers. Prayer must be incarnate – how many times have you been the answer to what you have prayed, even when it was the last thing you expected?! The burden becomes part of who we are. Surely every experience of God has to lead to some kind of action, outreach, fruitfulness – that is how we are shown to be His disciples (John 15v8): Jesus gave us the pattern by coming down to earth as a man and living among us.
So the activist in me doesn’t have much time for ‘glory junkies’ and endless sef-serving meetings unless there is an outflow. But as a rider to that, who are we to say what the timing of that is, or to point the finger of judgement at another person following the Spirit’s lead? ‘Don’t worry about him, you follow Me!’ John 21v22. And perhaps across the diversity of the Body there are some called to engage with heavenly realms and others with the earthly spheres as a matter of gift and calling – that is OK too as long as the vertical and horizontal stay connected and serve each other. I had a season where it was all prayer and felt guilty for not reaching out beyond church circles, but I know I was making the work of others possible at that time. I do believe this is a lot of what ‘the Word and the Spirit coming together’ is about – heaven and earth, left and right, men and women, internal and external, mission and prayer, prophets and evangelists: we need each other to give a full picture. Rohr himself, such an advocate of contemplative prayer, says it absolutely must be accompanied with action: his ministry is called Centre for Action and Contemplation (that way round!) and when asked which is the most important word he says ‘and‘!
But this simply underlines again that for each one of us, without the intimate encounter of whatever sort – burning bush, angelic message, voice from heaven, vision or dream or simply a deep conviction from Scripture or another person’s word – there can be no conception, no impregnation with the Holy DNA; there can be no growth of the heavenly seed, no germination, no birth of His purposes. There are no short cuts to having a baby! We end up with an Ishmael not an Isaac when we do things our own way… and isn’t it strange how all through the Scripture the model is given that real spiritual fruit comes from the dry and weak places and not human strength – so many godly children came from the barren and compromised wombs of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Tamar, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, Bathsheba, Elizabeth – even virgin Mary.
It is total yielding, dependence and intimate relationship in prayer that is is the only source of the fruitfulness we seek – followed by the journey of growth in character, waiting, sacrifice, cost, repositioning, waiting some more and general enlargement that the entry of the word of God always brings with it! Think pregnancy 🙂 We are called to ‘know the Lord’ (eg Hosea 2v20 and 6v3) – and that word know in Hebrew is that used for ‘Adam knew his wife Eve’ (Genesis 4v1); the whole book of Hosea is a graphic account of God’s passion for His people where the sexual metaphor is not hidden! Men, we are all the Bride of Christ – marriage and the act of marriage is the picture of our mutuality and spiritual unity with Him (Ephesians 5v30-32).
Here is a final quote from another advocate of silence and solitude, in the tradition of the mystics and desert fathers:
‘The Russian mystics describe prayer as descending with the mind into the heart and standing there in the presence of God. Prayer takes place where heart speaks to heart, where the heart of God is united with the heart that prays. Thus knowing God becomes loving God and being known by God is being loved by God.’ Henri Nouwen, Circles of Love, p77.
I have always loved the idea that we are praying more in line with the will of God in ‘groans too deep for words’ (Romans 8v26-27) than sometimes when our minds are involved in what we are asking for: its the ultimate letting go of control, a simple hosting of the Holy Spirit in complete surrender. So bye for now: I am going to the seaside this weekend to be out on the edge, alone with nature, to seek that spiritual encounter in prayer, silence and solitude and find healing, intimacy and peace. It’s a choice and an appointment, an opportunity and my heart’s desire. I wonder if I’ll conceive again 😉