Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019.07.28 Do You Pray?

Let us pray. Let us pray. Let us pray. Oh God, let’s pray. Do you pray?

A teenage granddaughter once asked me, with a flounce of her head and a challenge in her voice: Grammy why do you pray? I was suddenly stunned and stumped and said the first thing that popped into my mind: I pray because I love. She made no comment but I kept on obsessing. Maybe I should have said I pray because GOD loves. Then I thought: Well, what is the difference? Aren’t we immersed in God’s love all the time? And God in ours? Is all Creation not God’s prayer?

Most prayer is lowly, earthbound, unsteady, even precarious. At the same time it deserves the highest reverence and the greatest praise. Sometimes I wonder if we take it for granted.

All living things pray in particular ways as everything reaches and stretches for love and life. Prayer is paying attention to that desire, noticing its variations, sinking into it, allowing its energy to connect you with what/who really matters to you and to God. 

Prayer, however, can be a touchy topic—loaded you might say. News commentator host of the WGBH’s nightly Greater Boston, Jim Braude, recently commented that to pray, as Speaker Pelosi did for our president and our nation in divisive times, was “smarmy.” Smarmy? I became immediately indignant and fired off a letter telling Braude his comment itself was smarmy and that he knew nothing about prayer.  I heard nothing back of course. Maybe he thought that all such prayer was condescending. How does he know?

Word nerd that I am, I looked up the words. Did you know that the Latin root for prayer is the same as the root of precarious?  Precarious prayer?  If I pray because I love, then it is precarious as hell, because love is precarious. I put my soul on the line when I really care, care enough to pray, to risk exposing my heart. And then what? I never know.

Abraham, for example, checks with God about Sodom and Gomorra. What’s God’s plan here? Is it really to destroy everyone in these putatively evil cities? Is God vengeful, wrathful? Some people today assume this is how God is too? Abraham “comes near” to God with his questions. NOTE: God listens AND responds as Abraham argues his case, over and over he asks: what if not everyone in these cities is sinful as charged? Abraham is assured that the God, who has made covenants of belonging and love, will not destroy everyone if just one measly righteous person is therein alive. We think God tests Abraham? No, it is Abraham who more often tests God.

Abraham’s prayer style is conversational, an inner dialogue. Mine is the same. I, like Abraham, learn something about myself, about love, and about God when I pray this way. Outcomes are rarely exactly as I pray. The same is true for Jesus. He taught his disciples to use the basic structure of the Jewish prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. He also elaborated about love-on-the-ground: if your child or someone you love asks for fish would you give a snake? No. For the sake of love you’d bend heaven and earth to give what is asked, even if it has to be stale bread or peanut butter because you can’t afford fish. You give in the spirit of love as you pray like crazy.

You know how to work this ethic in your personal life. You know how to work this ethic in your politics. Prayer may be precarious as love is, but it is not loving when energized with the spirit of venom. Listen to Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. Their causes and goals differ, but the venom behind their “preaching” is the same.

Prayer is a precarious love song. Ask, incessantly for exactly what you want. Heck, even our  public communal prayers are direct and bold, in manicured language, yes, but still we ask: God save the world, heal the sick, love the sinners, bless the dead. These are down-to-earthly love prayers. Pay attention to what happens, however small and however obvious. 

One of my sons, John, moved recently into a new neighborhood. He has two children Phoebe, 11 and Dylan, 5. They all felt the initial awkwardness of being strangers in a brand new neighborhood. The children sat with TV and their tablets, and Dad wondered and worried. Then the doorbell rang. Phoebe jumped up and ran to open the door, Dylan hot on her heels. There on the front stoop stood a group of young children. They chirped in chorus: “Hi. Do you play?”

Do you pray? Do you let it be precarious, wholly true, bold and direct?  “God, please be with my newly divorced son. He didn’t want this. Now he’s grieving, and trying to be a single dad to two young kids who miss their one-and-only home and so wish their parents were together, and they can’t make it happen.”
Who knew God would appear at the door and say: Do you play?