To sum up the first few posts on this subject, Scripture implies that we should pray as we really are and not as we think we should be. There will be much more to consider when we will look at the various prayer forms in scripture, but I’d like to stick with the perspective of the previous post, of the distorted image of Christ.
One facet I can draw from this perspective is the vulnerability of such prayer; or better, vulnerability as the pre-condition for such prayer. How often in our suburban religious culture do we say of ourselves or others: I only think of God when I’m in trouble? Doesn’t that imply that we only turn to prayer when we feel out of control? Aren’t we saying that most of the time we feel on top of things? Most of us live in a priviledged place in our society and when we’re shaken from our comfort zone and have to face the fact that we can’t dictate the most important things in life, we feel vulnerable. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word for wound. Without our armor of the illusion of a secure place in society, we are “woundable”.
But I’ve also heard people call themselves “fair-weather Catholics”; that is, they are good, observant Catholics when everything goes their way. Doesn’t that disprove what I just proposed? Not necessarily. In fact what may be at stake is following the “easy” parts of Catholic discipline when life is running smoothly and to my liking. There’s probably as little prayer (or real prayer) in good times as in the bad times when we ignore the faith. Nostalgia for familiar prayer forms or rituals from childhood, a sense of well being and comfort (as one reader commented:prayer as a lovely garden to retreat to), pious thoughts do not necessarily constitute prayer, not if prayer is a relationship. None of the above describes a relationship; rather it describes narcissistic fantasy. And there is no place for vulnerability.
In fact, the resulting disorientation may open a path to authentic prayer. If I rant and rave against God that may have the possibility of a genuine interchange and which is very different from self-absorbed musings. It’s roughly like an honest marital squabble as opposed to a husband and wife sitting in the same room but isolated from one another as they watch TV. One admits vulnerability the other does not.
Vulnerability, however, is not always a question of pain or loss. I remember my first Christmas living and working in a half way house for men off the street awaiting arraignment. One of our directors, a sister of Notre Dame de Namur, with a keen sense of people’s rejection and failure to be recognized, made sure that each of the men in the program received a few items, individually and carefully wrapped with cards signed by the staff. We’re talking about poor men for most of whom this was the first Christmas they actually received gifts. Many had no childhood memories of Christmas. It was pandemonium as they opened and joked about their gifts: they were really thrown off balance. Suddenly, one of the least likely candidates for the role, said, “We ought to give thanks.” With a spontaneous sincerity I’ve never seen in the formality of the liturgy, they bowed their heads and folded their hands and thanked God in their own words. It was a vulnerability that cut like a sharp blade through pretense or etiquette. It was humbling. I think that’s when I began to learn what gratitude is.
It wasn’t pain or loss that took them out of their comfort zone–that was the air they breathed. That was what they expected from life. It was a random kindness, a confirmation that they were human and cherished that threw them out of their expectations and brought them to their knees.
It can be wonder, beauty, hope or blessed humiliation that suddenly throw off our armor as well as need, misfortune, bad luck. When we’re too comfortable with our selves do we yet feel the need for anyone else? If there’s no hunger for relationship, how could we ever pray?
to be continued