Posts filed under ‘Prayer’

Review: In Constant Prayer

In Constant Prayer
In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

This is a very simple, yet winsome introduction to the idea of ‘praying the daily office,’ ‘liturgy of the hours,’ ‘daily prayer,’ etc. for the non-specialist. Benson describes keeping set times for daily prayer as ‘prayer for the rest of us,’ ‘prayer for the whole Church,’ and a necessary complement to prayer for personal needs.

What makes it intriguing for those who already pray the daily office? The drumbeat that the recovery of the office is the key to the recovery of the Church, and the author’s unsparing demolishment of his own excuses for NOT praying the prayers he has vowed to pray – excuses that I myself have used more often than not.

The only thing that bothers me is the occasional use of the tetragrammaton (‘Yahweh’). I wish that all Christian authors would follow Jewish practice and, out of respect, refrain from using this as God’s proper name.

A quick read, but you can take parts slow and savor Benson’s plain-spoken, direct, reverent words and his layman’s insight into theological ideas and the spirit of the age. An example (page 58):

“The prayer of the office can teach me the the world of prayer is much larger than just my own sweet personal self. I may well discover that prayer is not actually even for me.

“If I say the words of the divine office often enough and carefully enough and faithfully enough, I may well find a pearl of great price.

“Here is the pearl: the world is not my personal oyster.”

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May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

The Eternal and That Which is Passing Away

I certainly don’t know if I would have had the wherewithal to do this. A child interrupted his Orthodox priest father’s church service with the news, “Our house is on fire.” Fr. Adam Sexton’s response: “Go tell your mother. We’re celebrating the liturgy right now.”

Uncaring? Before you decide, read the post – and consider donating to the Sexton family. And while you do, ask yourself this: do we consider our worship of God to be a participation in reality – more real than the worldly realities with which we are confronted every day?

I am reminded of a story – I think it was told by Garrison Keillor – about the farmer couple who, seeing a hailstorm coming on Sunday morning, went to church as usual, knowing that when they returned home, their crops would most likely be destroyed. What is real? What is eternal? What is faith?

Do worshipers (either those leading worship or those participating) believe that what they are experiencing is a real encounter with the living God, a revelation of the reality of life on earth and a foretaste of that overwhelming reality of the coming Kingdom of Heaven? Or is it unreal, simply a play-acting, a brief escape from the much more ‘real’ reality of the world?

Those who believe that worship is more real than what we can see each day still may not have responded in the way this priest did. However, because this priest responded in this way, we all may be encouraged to consider the way we approach worship. May we approach with awe, as the Eternal really stoops to meet us and we really ascend to meet him, leaving all that is transient behind.

March 6, 2012 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

“Our Father…” When we pray in this way, we do not pray alone, but we pray with the risen Jesus and with all those who are his throughout the world. We confess that before the Father is our Father, he is Jesus’ Father, and that we are adopted sons or daughters, brothers or sisters of Christ by grace. Only Jesus can say “my Father,” but because he loves us, he now prays with us, “Our Father.”

Continue Reading June 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Divine Word, Human Word

This is the third post in a series on praying the psalms.  The previous two posts may be found by clicking the following links:  Post # 1  Post #2

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Prayerbook of the Bible, asks how the prayers of the Bible can be God’s Word, if they are simultaneously the words of human beings to God.  The two would seem to be mutually exclusive, as he writes:

The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us.  But prayers are the words of men.  How do prayers then get into the Bible?…are these prayers to God also God’s own word?  That seems rather difficult to understand.  We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us, to God the Father, who lives in eternity.  All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us and through which he brings us into the presence of God…

If all prayer is inspired, if all prayer is the voice of God’s Spirit within us, then prayer is simultaneously a human word and God’s Word.  Jesus Christ, who is both God and human, in whom the Spirit dwelt fully, speaks humanity to God  and God to humanity, so the prayers that are in the Bible are first and foremost his prayers:

…If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.

This again is a problem, for the writers of the Psalms, whoever they were (tradition says David and others, historical criticism has other answers), were not Christ.  How then can we say that the Psalms are about Christ?  Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

…it is important to note that even David did not pray out of the personal exuberance of his heart, but out of the Christ who dwelled in him.  To be sure, the one who prays his Psalms remains himself.  But in him and through him it is Jesus Christ who prays.

Again, there is more to say about this.  But if the Psalms are Spirit-inspired rather than merely human wants and needs, they necessarily are part of inspiration and will that is in Jesus, the Son of God and the One who is filled with the Spirit.

 

 

 

November 13, 2007 at 8:57 pm Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ: Learning to Pray

Note: Much of this post is based upon a discussion in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible.

The title of this post might be confusing.  “Learning to pray?”  Many people think that prayer is not something we learn how to do.  It comes from inside or from the heart, or it’s not prayer. 

But let’s think a little bit about this.  If prayer is a language, language for speaking to God, then it is learned, because all language is learned.  The reason why my children speak English is because their parents and all the people around them spoke English.  They were immersed in the language from the day they were born.

Children listen to adults talk, and they imitate the way adults talk.  Language-learning is one long process of mimicry.  From the individual sounds of vowels and consonants, to speaking in complete sentences, language is imitation.

So in order to learn the language of prayer, we need to go through this same process of imitation and experimentation with words that are not our own yet, but can become our own.  We need to hear God speaking to us and speak back to God with his own Word. 

When Jesus’ disciples observed him at prayer, they begged him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  He responded by giving them the prayer that was his own (Luke 11:1-4).  They, and we, are given the grace to speak to God not in our own words, but in the words of the Son of God.  We, in a sense, pray the Lord’s Prayer with the Son of God, and his prayer becomes our prayer.

On this side of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, we too can ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  God gives us his own words, in the Scriptures, and we can pray those words back to him.  We will explore this a little bit more in the next post.

November 8, 2007 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Psalm 1

NOTE: This is the first of a series on praying the psalms in Christ.  It is also a class I am giving Wednesday evenings in November and December. 

Psalm 1:1 reads thus, in the New Revised Standard Version:

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers.

This is good advice.  We are to assume that we are the intended subject of the psalm.  If we avoid these things, we will be happy.  It seems to be a logical conclusion.

Here is the translation in the King James Version:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Aside from the difficulty with saying “walk-eth, stand-eth, sit-teth,” there seems to be a definite advantage to using “they” rather than “the man” as that which is happy or blessed.  It applies to everyone, whether man or woman.  If we are applying this psalm to everyone as a meditation on the blessed life, it might be helpful to use a plural.

However, what if we asked “who is the blessed man?”  A possible answer might be any of the faithful, or the whole people of God.  But if we would have asked one of the early Christians about the subject of this psalm, they would not have hesitated to say that the blessed man is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the only one who has never walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood with sinners, or sat in scorn upon anyone.  All of us have done these things, but he is innocent of them all, instead:

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.

When we read the Psalm in this manner, it becomes not good advice for us, but a proclamation of Christ’s life and love.  Instead of a general exhortation to good living, it can be prayed as a meditation on God’s goodness in Christ.

We are present also in this psalm.  In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Psalm 1:3 proclaims of Christ:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; whatever he does shall prosper.

In a sense, both ways of praying this psalm – from our perspective, and from Christ’s perspective – are appropriate.  But to put things in a Lutheran key, praying the psalm from our perspective makes this a Psalm of Law.  The Law commands us to be the blessed person, avoiding those things which are bad and delighting in what is good.  It is that blessed person that we find it often so hard to be, and we wonder – no, we confess – that we are that sinner who will not stand in the council of the righteous.  We can only approach this psalm in aspiration, measuring our life by how well or how badly we approach the status of “blessed one.”

But to pray this psalm in adoration of Christ, the Blessed One – ah, that puts things in a whole new light.   It is the light of the Gospel, it is what God has done for us, not what we can do for God.  We are indeed called to the blessed life, but it is not something we do out of our own strength or goodness.  Rather it is a life of imitation: to model our lives after the life of the Blessed One who lived his obedient life to save us.  We are also reminded that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”  God’s vindication of Christ and his holy ones cannot be far away.  We need not fear the snares of the world or those who would harm us.

Psalm 1, New American Standard Version

November 7, 2007 at 10:43 pm 1 comment


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