Praying for prayers…

To observe that prayer is incredibly important but also really tough is a cliche. The cliche begins with noting that God isn’t Santa Clause. We then follow up with the idea that there is nothing wrong with asking God for stuff; we follow this up with the claim that we should have a prayer life that is more than just this.
But there’s a problem with the cliche: Nobody is very clear about what the “more” is. I’m clear that if I’m in relationship with God there should be give and take. I should be listening at least as much as I’m talking in any good relationship.
The problem, though, is that I’m not always able to hear much when I pray. I get in this mode of listening, listening, listening… but there’s nothing.
I truly believe that I’m like a medocre radio. Even the most powerful station in the world can’t broadcast if the radio’s not tuned in. I’m clear that the issue is mine, not God’s.

Sometimes, I am so very tuned in. Some of my most profound experiences of God’s presence and love have come in these times of listening. But most of the time… I just drift off.
My brain takes a little vacation, my mind starts wondering, it’ll be like half an hour later and I’ll discovered I never really intentionally stopped praying… I just faded out. (Marty’s got a great account of his similiar experiences at:

http://pastormarty.wordpress.com/2007/11/06/could-you-not-watch-me-with-me-one-hour/

)
This leads to the question: If I’m not supposed to pray about the stuff I want, and if it doesn’t often work to just try and listen… what should I do?

It seems like the whole world is really asking this question. There’s this whole spiritual formation thing going on right now. It’s kind of exciting, though occasionally kind of new-agey.
I’m reading “The God of Intimacy and Action” by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling right now. It’s about this topic.
One of the practices they suggest in the book is “The prayer of Examen” It’s a practice that was first identified by Ignatius but has clear biblical roots. (They cite a variety of verses which seem to support this activity.)
The idea is that it’s a daily practice. At the end of the day, you look back on all that you did and all that you didn’t do. You list the blessings you recieved and the blessings God gave through you. You consider the things you should have done but didn’t do, and repent for your harsh words and unloving actions.

I guess I’m an expert now, because I’ve done it a grand total of… once.
But I found it to be a really interesting thing. It’s very balanced: it’s not all feel-good, Jack Handy daily affirmation garbage. It challenges us, to, I think, look at our day through God’s eyes.
And while there is that way in which it’s very-in-your-face, it also really helped. I’d been feeling like this day was kind-of brutal. And there were some tough spots. But after an investment of maybe fifteen minutes, I’ve got this different perspective on my day.
I’ve noted much of what I have to be thankful for. (And realized, yet again, that creating a complete list of what I have to be thanful for is literally impossible. We’d never get to the end of a complete list of the things God has done for us.)
I’ve reminded myself of what went right, of the people I helped.
I’ve apologized to God for what I did that was wrong.
I’ve thought about how I’d do it differently next time.

Not a bad investment of a quarter of an hour.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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