Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts on Prayer for the Season Ahead

The Church as an institution largely has failed in her task to develop people of prayer and Spirit. We could each list our reasons for the failure, and perhaps offer our own testimony as to how or why we missed the spiritual connection even in the midst of the body charged with handling spiritual matters.

I have my own litany of reasons for the impotence of the Church in helping people connect with deeper meaning and the Source of all life, and many of them are tied to personal experience and observation.

It is especially significant, I believe, that the Church has failed to help people connect more deeply and consciously with God in prayer. It has been devastating to contemporary life that prayer has come to mean discourse with God in which the one praying gets what he or she wants from God.

I don't think that's an entirely faulty supposition . . . it's just not the full extent of prayer, nor even the primary reason for prayer. Prayer that presents a wish-list to God for God's approval and satisfaction turns God into a celestial vending machine to which we go in order to get what we would like to have . . . most of the time what we cannot get for ourselves without outside help (health, self-esteem, prosperity).

Again, that way of prayer may be fine and good, but it is not enough to sustain our lives, to hold up the weight of who we are.

Rather, prayer is a life-stance, a way of being in the world with and for God. Prayer is not something that we do from time to time, and prayers are not something that we say from time to time. Prayer is who we are, the life we live in intimate connection with God.

Prayer is the consciousness we carry with us moment by moment that all of life concerns God -- not just Sunday services of worship or an occasional small group at the church.

Prayer is the awareness that we are not alone, but rather that God is with us always (in time) and everywhere (in space).

Prayer is the realization that my very life in an embodiment of God in the world, that Jesus walks where I walk and that Jesus touches what I touch.

In other words, prayer is an all-encompassing, unifying force that draws all of life together.

Because prayer is a life-stance and because it does take in all we are and all we do, we are wise if we can cultivate ways to be more consciously open to God who is present always and everywhere. We are wise to find ways to remind ourselves that we are never apart from the Source of our lives. We are wise if we can discover practices that remind us of our soul's ongoing connection to God.

Reminders of that connection are especially important in seasons like Advent and Christmas. They are important, not because these are holy seasons -- they are holy seasons -- and not because our devotion during these seasons is more important than devotion at others times.

We need to be reminded of our connection to God in the days preceding Christmas precisely because there are so many other things screaming for our attention. There are people calling our names, and the inner voices of our own expectations, and the desire to be all things to all people that fills up our calendars during December.

Please hear this: When the other voices and noises and obligations get loud, we do not lose our connection to God. No, we are still connected, as we are always connected, to the Source of everything. But we do lose our awareness (consciousness) of that connection. We can easily get swept into the tide of the season, we stop living mindfully, we get caught up in other concerns and get pulled by other centers of gravity.

Some specific spiritual practices may be important for you this Advent season. They would be practices or disciplines that would ground you through the weeks until Christmas, and would serve to remind you that all of life is prayer.

Your practice could be spending more time in saying prayers . . . but it could just as easily be something else that served to remind you that ultimately, all of life is prayer.

If you could find a spiritual practice that helped you stay aware of your life-giving soul-connection to God through this season, that's the practice I'd commend to you. If you stay faithful to that practice and carry through Advent that God-awareness, I'll promise you are more prayerful and fulfilling Christmas.

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