29 July 2007 * Proper 12C
Genesis18:20-32 * Luke 11:1-13
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at
The Word Is Very Near To You: Meditative Prayer with Scripture Part 3
Over the past two weeks we have moved from a notion of prayer as conversation with God to an understanding that God is a conversation – a conversation that is eternal and already ongoing between Abba/Father, Jesus/Son and the Wind/Breath/Spirit of God. And we have discovered that Meditative Prayer with God begins with our attentiveness to God’s word, receiving it in love, and responding to it, letting God set the agenda. And we learned that in fact our attentiveness may be all the response that is needed!
We also learned that Meditative Prayer with scripture is both a welcoming of God, Father, Son and Spirit, into the household of our heart as our guest, while at the same time allowing God to become our host, inviting us, calling us, wooing us to share in the very intimacy of conversation, dance and song going on between the three persons of the Christian Trinity.
How wonderful is it that we draw these current reflections on prayer to a close with the teaching of what we call The Lord’s Prayer, and the example of Abraham.
“Jesus was praying in a certain place…” Jesus needs a place to pray, and so do we. We need to find a place as free of other distractions as possible. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus directs us to find a room and to shut the door. Which is not to say that we cannot pray anytime and anyplace, but for meditative prayer with scripture, a quiet place will aid us in giving God our undivided attention. Find a certain place to pray.
This seems to be a luxury in our time and place, and we will find many excuses to say it is impossible to find a certain place to pray. This may reflect an unconscious resistance to finding intimacy with God. It may reflect a cultural suspicion or discomfort with solitude and quiet. It may reflect our shyness at letting others know our need for a place specifically for prayer. And it may reflect our fear of being unable to settle down once we find a certain place to pray. We wonder where to sit, how to sit, how to orient our bodies and ourselves to facilitate our attention to the conversation that is God.
Similarly, we wonder when we can possibly find the time to spend half-an-hour being attentive to the conversation that is God. As Martha thought last week, there are so many other important things we need to be doing, attending to the needs of others and ourselves. Yet, as Jesus suggests, when we allow Him into the household of our hearts, and let him feed us, nurture us, care for us and tend to us, we become far better equipped to extend hospitality, especially His hospitality, to others. We become more fully our selves so we have more to offer.
We need at least a half hour to attend to God’s Word to even begin to sense that God’s word is, indeed, very near to us. Once we sense the nearness of God’s Word, we need time for it to touch us, to formulate our response, and then time to transition back to “business as usual.” With any luck, however, after spending time in a certain place with God and God’s Word, there will no longer be “business as usual,” but instead a life that is continually and eternally transformed and made new!
The disciples want to know “how to pray.” John the Baptizer had taught his disciples how to pray, we want to know too. Jesus may have his own reasons up to now for not teaching the “how” of prayer - perhaps because he wants us to experience the presence of God’s Word without concern for technique and form. Remember, Jesus wants us to share the very same intimacy with Abba-Father that he already shares. Technique and form might only get in the way of such intimacy – might hold us back from just jumping into the eternal dance that is already in full swing between Abba/Father, Jesus/Son and Holy Spirit.
But if you must have “some thing” for which to pray, pray for kingdom living – Hallow God’s name, pray for God’s Kingdom, pray for bread which is given daily, forgive and be forgiven, resist temptations to sin. Note how simple Luke’s version of this all too familiar prayer really is. We have gussied it up for public worship, but at its core it is stripped down and to the point.
In meditative prayer with scripture we might find our selves reflecting on just what it means to allow our selves to be dependent on bread which is given daily. How might our lives be shaped by such dependence? Or, just how does one “hallow” God’s name? How might every thing we say and everything we do reflect the hallowedness we desire to give to God’s name?
Giving our attention to Genesis 18, what do we learn about responding to God’s Word? Do we sense that it is OK to challenge God? Do we sense that like Abraham we might have a say in what God does or does not do? Do we sense that God allows us to disagree with God? Do we sense that an important role for us is to advocate for the needs of others – others who might not have a standing before God, or don’t even know our God the way we come to know God through meditative prayer with scripture?
Martin Smith suggests that the shape of such prayer might look like this: Select a specific story or passage before your prayer time. Find a certain place. Set a certain time. Find ways to settle down. Ask God to touch you through this scripture. Read the scripture several times (perhaps even while walking). Notice which words or phrases you trip over, or jump out at you. Stay with those words. Place the Bible aside and let your imagination go. Bring the scene to life. Become a participant. How are you feeling? Let the drama unfold. Don’t control the story. Don’t be thinking of applications to your life. Be attentive to the words and actions of the story and your feelings. Let yourself respond. Tell God/Jesus/Spirit how you have been touched! What are you thankful for? What do you need? How is God inviting you, wooing you, caring for you, tending to you? Sometimes it is best to just soak it all in, savor it, and let your attentiveness be your response. Come to a simple conclusion, perhaps with the Lord’s prayer or some other familiar or easy prayer. Or, forget about these guidelines altogether and just be with the Word that is very near to you. Martin Smith, The Word is Very Near to You (Cowley, Cambridge: 1989) p. 105-107
Jesus concludes today by saying to us, “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” This is an invitation to prayer, to communion and intimacy with Abba/Father God. As George Herbert so eloquently puts it in his poem, “Prayer 1,” it is an invitation to:
Prayer the Church's banquet, Angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The Soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th'Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
The Word is very near to you. Attend to it with your heart and mind and soul, and it will be the Father’s good will to give you the Holy Spirit. Amen.