On many occasions unknowingly, and on other occasions quite knowingly, Christian prayer has become a contest.
- Have I chosen the right place?
- Am I in the right posture?
- How often?
- For how long?
Each becomes part of the criteria for prayer efficacy.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 18: 9 – 14), which in the Gospel I use most often has the heading, ‘The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ is a story remembered by many of us – one up the front, the other down the back!
The Pharisee begins his prayer as a contest, “God, I thank you I am not like. . . . .”, and immediately the Pharisee’s prayer is about himself.
Christian prayer is not something we do – an activity.
Rather it is a relationship with another, and for those in a relationship, you will be aware that what happens is a matter of initiative and response, first by one and then the other; and in those moments of exuberant joy, there is a syncopation that only lovers know.
If I am engaged in Christian prayer because I have to, in order to be good and acceptable, then I am not engaged in Christian prayer!
There is a story told about a Jewish farmer who did not get home before sunset one Sabbath and was forced to spend the night in the field, waiting for sunrise the next day before being able to return home.
Upon his return home, he was met by a rather perturbed rabbi who chided him for his carelessness.
“What did you do out there all night in the field?” the rabbi asked him.
“Did you at least pray?”
The farmer answered: “Rabbi, I am not a clever man. I do not know how to pray properly. What I did was to simply recite the alphabet all night and let God form the words for himself.”
When we come to celebrate, we bring the alphabet of our lives.
Our psyches go up and down.
Sometimes we feel like singing and dancing.
Sometimes there is a spring in our step.
However, we have other seasons too – cold seasons, bland seasons, seasons of tiredness, pain, illness, and boredom.
If prayer is lifting of heart and mind to God, then clearly, during these times, we ought to be lifting something other than song and dance.
If our hearts and minds are full of warmth, love, enthusiasm, song, and dance, then these are the letters we bring.
If our hearts and minds are full of tiredness, despair, blandness, pain, and boredom, then those are our letters we bring.
Offer them and allow your God to construct them into words!