Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Avoid Praying Against Anyone

October 6, 2021

Strive to avoid praying against anyone in your prayer so that you do not destroy what you have been building up by making your prayer a defilement.

Evagrius, 4th Century Teacher

I had to pause at this chapter and consider. I don’t think of myself as one who bears grudges and puts myself against others. Oh, yes, there are many with whom I disagree theologically and politically. And, yes, I’ve been wronged many times. But I don’t dwell on these and pray for their destruction.

I think of poor Jonah, who took his God-given message of destruction to the people of Nineveh with great joy for their demise. Then they repented and God told Jonah, good job, they have come to me. And Jonah was bitterly disappointed.

Have I ever sat in prayer and wished bad to come to someone? Have I ever paused for a quick prayer of condemnation toward another human, another of God’s children? If so, I stand condemned.

We pray that we may more closely be with God and that others also will be and for their healing. Take a blessing from this teaching today.

A Person In Chains

October 4, 2021

Sometimes we sit or kneel or lay in prayer and we cannot settle down.

Evagrius wrote 1800 years ago, “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

Ancient language, but he captured our problem.

We want to be at peace with God. Have an honest conversation. Talk to someone who listens, and listen to God’s advice and wisdom.

But so often we are chained to thoughts churning up from the gut. Angers, fears, feelings of being slighted, or being left out, worry, these all lead us astray. They must be dealt with through focus in God.

Today we teach breathing and have apps on our smart phones to calm the mind. All to the good.

When we were teens, sometimes we became attached to a peer group that led us into doing things we knew were wrong. Evagrius and other writers of his age would say “chained to” the group.

We had to find a way to leave the group and find a new one going the right way.

So, with our thoughts and passions. We must fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge and seek the spirit in quiet. We must break the chains of attachment. With me, this is not theoretical knowledge. It is life.

Imperturbable Calm

September 28, 2021

My internal clock awakens me at approximately 5:30 am no matter what time zone I’m in. Fly to Germany? Next morning, no problem, rise at 5:30 Central European time.

This morning? 6 am. The one morning when I had an early conference call with Germany. Then two announcements of new corporate strategies and products. And pick up my phone at 6:10 to three messages from soccer referees with issues who needed to drop games (and me to find replacements). And things to read. Things to write.

The last thing I read last night before bed served me well. Evagrius Chapter 52 on prayer.

The state of prayer can be aptly described as a habitual state of imperturbable calm.

By “prayer”, he doesn’t not mean when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. Or when you present your list of supplications.

It comes in that quiet time with only you and God fully present.

And after years of that practice, your personality, your life, they change.

And I could breathe. Refocus. And tackle my day one thing at a time.

It doesn’t mean that here at 2 pm I’m not tired. But tired is OK. But not frazzled. Not discouraged. I did what I could. Contributed in the conference call. Learned some new information about information technology. Contacted people. Hopefully encouraged a few.

I am not imperturbable. But like the surface of a pond when a stone is thrown in I have some ripples that gradually lose themselves at the edges and the pond is still once more.

Pray for Justice and the Kingdom

September 23, 2021

An instruction from Evagrius:

In your prayer seek only after justice and the kingdom of God, that is to say, after virtue and true spiritual knowledge. Then all else will be given to you besides.

Evagrius

Need we say anymore? Let us always remember justice and do justice in all our thoughts and actions.

Seeking spiritual knowledge goes without further mention. It should be why we have our daily practices.

A Cask Full of Holes

September 13, 2021

The man who stores up injuries and resentments yet fancies that he prays might as well draw water from a well and pour it into a cask that is full of holes. –Evagrius

That moment before you click “post” on Facebook or “tweet” on Twitter or “send” in your email app, that moment between reactive thought and public unveiling, that moment when you could have paused and inhaled deeply–what stored up injury or resentment is releasing its venom upon your friends, acquaintances, strangers who now think differently about you?

That moment when you sit to pray and your anger and hate spill over. Then, what is the condition of your heart? Is it that of the penitent of whom Jesus taught to settle things with the other person before approaching the Temple?

In that moment can be the pause where we realize the problem is not them but what is within ourselves. And how we can now lay aside those burdens and stand naked before God asking for grace.

It is that which TS Eliot wrote, “…at the still point, there the dance is…and there is only the dance.”

Food For the Soul

August 23, 2021

The ancient Desert Father Evagrius called contemplative knowledge food for the soul.

There was a time when contemplation was thought to be reserved for those who had a vocation for it–monks, nuns, recluses, strange people.

Perhaps “ordinary people” just had to work too hard to have time for contemplation. Although I’m not sure that’s the case.

We believe today anyone can be a contemplative. Unfortunately, this general attitude did not evolve from a Christian perspective, although Thomas Merton had an impact. Much of it is “New Age” which is Westernized Hindu and Buddhist meditation. Something where we can sell gurus, incense, candles, pillows, icons. It’s all a business.

As a youth, I actually never heard of Christian contemplation until I “accidentally” discovered St. John of the Cross at the library. What I had heard about was the Beatnik adoption of Zen Buddhist meditation (and espresso with cinnamon sprinkled on it). It fit my personality, this contemplation thing.

It can fit yours. 10-20 minutes daily physically changes your brain. It changes your personality. I was helped for many years in formation by repeating the Jesus Prayer–Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. After a time you can shorten, then shorten more, until you just sit in the presence of God.

And if you listen, there will be times when God whispers in your consciousness. This should not be ignored. It is a direction for you to go or instructions on whom to meet or a nudge for awareness of what is to come.

It is truly food for the soul.

Prayer

March 25, 2021

People have realized for probably as long as there have been people something about prayer.

Prayer is a lifestyle.

Just this morning, I’ve read from the oldest book of the Hebrew Bible, something from the European Middle Ages, something from the 1800s, and something contemporary. All realized the reality of prayer, not as some time and some place where you repeat words.

Brother Lawrence talked about cultivating the practice of the presence of God.

Job’s friends tore their clothes and sat with him for seven days, not in words but in practice, to pray with him for the disaster that had overtaken him.

Habits become just the way you live over time. The Russian peasant, the hero of The Way of a Pilgrim, determined to live the life the Apostle Paul advised when he had taught us to “pray without ceasing.” He was exploring just how one could make prayer an intimate part of life. And remarkable experiences came his way.

There are times to pray with intention for outcome. Times to pray aloud especially for the comfort and encouragement of others.

But mostly, let your life be your prayer.

Don’t Just Study It, Practice It

February 12, 2021

I’m deep into another book. It’s a class on taking a spiritual journey from a different perspective. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

Devoted as they are to the scholarly appreciation of art, most academics find the beast intimidating when viewed firsthand. Creative-writing programs tend to be regarded with justified suspicion: those people aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it! Who knows where this could lead?

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Once I had a bright idea. Going to the senior pastor of my church, I proposed teaching a class on prayer. Actually, the idea was not to teach about prayer; it was to teach and lead to practice the varieties of prayer. The students were not to view it as an intellectual enterprise where they would learn the types of prayer–intercessory, praise, complaint, or whatever–but they would become pray-ers.

The pastor was OK with it. Half-a-dozen people signed up. They all, each one, wanted to study about prayer.They did not wish to practice it. I never tried the idea on other people again.

I’m reminded of a scene in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Robert Pirsig, the author, has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at The University of Chicago to study philosophy. He proposes to the department chair that he focus his studies on rhetoric. “That is not a substantive discipline,” the chairman replied. And thus ensued the beginning of a long-running battle between the two.

You see, you practice rhetoric. You don’t study it like, say, Aristotle–the chairman’s favorite.

The ancient philosophers? As much as anything, they taught how to live.

The Bible–both the Hebrew and the Christian? Oh, you can spend your life intellectually parsing through the thing getting hundreds of ideas. You can develop inane theologies, philosophies, cults.

Or you can follow what Jesus’ brother James said, “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” Or, Jesus as quoted by John, “Those who have my commandments and follow them are those who love me.”

I went to graduate school to study political philosophy (OK, that was a mistake, but well, I was young and stupid). We graduate assistants developed a phrase, “Operationalize your Eschaton!” In understandable terms, “Get off your metaphorical butt, go out, and do.”

Prayer Is Life

February 1, 2021

Prayer is not a discourse. It is a form of life, the life with God. That is why it is not confined to the moment of verbal statement. The latter (verbalization) can only be the secondary expression of the relationship with God, an overflow from the encounter between the living God and the living person.

Jacques Ellul

We have thoughts, worries, concerns for others. Our minds are always busy with something. Even in deepest meditation, stilling our mind is impossible for long. Many think of prayer as a verbal outpouring of all these stirrings to God.

Ellul (a theologian/philosopher/sociologist whose work The Meaning of the City influenced me some 50 years ago) called that a discourse–speaking more than a sentence. But, he says, prayer is a form of life. I turn to examples such as Brother Lawrence, for whom life was prayer and prayer was life. He was a lay Carmelite brother whose teaching is found in The Practice of the Presence of God. That book, by the way, is not difficult to read. What is difficult is to order your life the way Brother Lawrence teaches. Or according to the idea expressed by Ellul.

It is too easy to pause a moment and rattle off a stream of consciousness discourse with God, relieving our minds and asking for miracles.

Return to the New Testament. Read through with an eye toward all the descriptions of people–both Jesus-followers and non-followers. Don’t look for rules and lists. Read as mini biographies. See what kind of life is described.

Go and do likewise. Live your prayer.

God Is With Us If We But Look

November 5, 2020

I’m currently reading again in the book of Daniel. I do not read it because of interest in future-telling. I know that some have woven fantastic and captivating stories about some future end-of-times. That’s not a new phenomenon, by the way.

No, once again I am captivated by stories of how a group of four friends, captured as teens, taken away to a foreign land, taught the language and culture of the foreign people, continued to live with God in the face of occasional grave danger.

The king has a dream. Won’t tell anyone what it was, but he wants an interpretation. His wise men tell him it cannot be done. The king says, then kill all of them. Daniel and his buddies learn about their imminent demise, turn to God, and God tells Daniel the dream and interpretation.

Tattletales tell on the three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the king orders them burned alive. When the king looks into the furnace, he sees four men. God is with them. They walked out unharmed.

The king gets mad a Daniel. Has him thrown into a cage with a hungry lion. God is seen with Daniel, and he walks out.

There are more–but do you get the drift. They live with God, and God lives with them.

Richard J. Foster called it the “with-God” life.

God takes care of his part. It requires awareness on our part. Even while administering a vast empire, Daniel had a rhythm to life of withdrawing three times a day to connect intentionally with God. Jesus also had a rhythm to his life of withdrawing to connect intentionally with God.

What about us?