I finally have some thoughts about prayer. That thing I’ve been studying for the last three months. I’m supposed to be finished with this portion of studying but I keep extending it because I keep not doing it, I am failing, and I’m learning nothing, and I am mad about it all. I am currently reading a book called The Art of Prayer and it’s all these excerpts from monks who give advice on prayer. This book is driving me crazy, I hate to say I hate it, but I hate it.
First you must know about me I am not a rule follower. I don’t like when people try to over control a process that involves the use of common sense and general wisdom and boil into a list of arbitrary rules to accomplish a greater goal. I also don’t like when people take an organic process that is individualized and personal and over-complicate it into a list of tasks.
This book touches on all my aforementioned pet peeves, it is constantly making deliniations in prayer about what is more pleasing to God. Inner prayer or outer prayer. What the hell does that mean and who has the right to say what is more pleasing to God? I don’t remember Him stating anything that specific about these types of prayer. I think our greatest example was the Lord’s prayer and it’s simple. This books makes it so complex, it list types of prayer, and ways to accomplish these types, and the amount of time one should spend in prayer (which is all the time), and the best form of prayer, which is inner wordless prayer if you’re wondering.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think our point here on this earth is to cognitively stare at God all day, I think we’re supposed to do something. These writers claim that prayer is the primary purpose of the religious life, I think that is only true in the case that prayer spurs someone into a life of action. I think it’s narcissistic to just want a me and God connection and not let that make me into someone deeply compassionate and thus deeply active in our world. The point of the Christian life isn’t just my salvation, is so much bigger than that, it’s participating in the work of God in the world. Is it really all that glorifying to God if we sit alone in our rooms repeating the Jesus prayer? Finally for my last pessimistic and arrogant statement, I really don’t appreciate when these writers make prayer into this formula that must be followed in order to accomplish a feeling for God, a formula that needs to be practiced to be accomplished because it’s so complicated and nuanced. Blerg.
There’s my rant, I’m probably dense and not allowing myself to learn because I have all these preconceived ideas. So like any good student I tried to pull from it what I could learn and I have begrudgingly found a few things. First, prayer actually does change me. I have been really busy these last couple of weeks.*this was written a few months ago* It’s the beginning of summer and so there are a lot of fun events happening and we have hardly been home. Because of things like Harry Potter at the Hollywood Bowl withLA Philharmonic playing the soundtrack, I have not been engaged with prayer or reading at all because I have been watching Harry Potter, loving it, and wanting for nothing. Literally it was a two week gap where I did nothing to engage with God except maybe a short muttered prayer at the end of the evening. These writers say that when we don’t pray our souls becomes numb, and we will lose the inner motivation that life is about God and not us, the heart grows cool and we fall into a state of indifference which finally leads to unbelief. In just two short weeks I went through the stages of separation as prayer is concerned beginning with apathy and ending with unbelief.
I once heard it only takes three days to get out of shape. Is that not the most annoying fact you’ve ever heard? I can spend months being diligent about exercise and in just three short days I lose massive progress and my thighs are a jiggling mess, which undoubtedly takes two or three times the amount of work to catch back up. This makes me angry. It makes me angry at God, and my abs, and Biology, and life because it’s unfair and very hard. I did bring this up for a reason, and it’s that the spiritual life seems to be the same way. Two weeks off and I’m a total unbelieving atheistic mess.
Does this mean I don’t actually believe and I have to be constantly indoctrinated in order to have faith? Or is there some real truth to the fact that we are deeply and profoundly broken so our default is apathy and indifference, and the only way by which we become something else is by connecting constantly with God. We have short-term memories and our souls move towards our natural and easy state of numb indifference where nothing but pleasure matters. It is only by the grace of God through prayer and remembering Him that we have any chance at passion and a compelling life that makes a difference in the world. This is what I’ve learned through failing at my practice of faith, that the practice actually matters. I keep learning that don’t I? That the mind often falls short and it’s only by participation that we can have faith. This is a fact of life that I can’t seem to get around.