21 July 2013 – Proper 11 – Luke 10:38-42
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Timothy's School for Girls
The Word is Very Near to You
Last Sunday we began to reflect on Prayer with Scripture, or what is sometimes called Meditative Prayer. We examined a standard definition of Prayer: Prayer is a conversation with God. Although we tend to assume it is our responsibility to get the conversation going, we discovered that prayer is not initiated by us.
God initiates prayer – indeed, one might say God initiates all, but all is a rather too comprehensive a reality to take on within the friendly confines of a Sunday morning sermon! As we begin to reflect on the reality that it is God who is calling us, wooing us, choosing us and inviting us, that the “conversation” is already in process, we learn that the first priority in a life of Meditative Prayer with Scripture is to be attentive to what is already being said, to receive it from God, and to respond. We also have come to see that our attentiveness may be all the response that is needed.
So that if we discover in our time with scripture that God loves us, we are to savor that, and allow it to sink in. We do not have to “do” anything except perhaps bow our heads, or raise our hands and say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Yet, it is far too easy to simply reverse the common definition of prayer as conversation and say, “In prayer God speaks and I answer.” For to say that implies that God is out there speaking to us in a one-on-one confrontation, and to stay with this understanding prevents us from living into the distinctly Christian experience of God – God as expressed in Trinitarian worship and Trinitarian belief.
Early Christian writers soon discovered that the experience of Abba-Father, Jesus-Son and the Indwelling Spirit-Breath-Wind of God were not simply colorful metaphors to enliven our devotion to the One God, but rather the Christian community was led to a radical revisioning of who God is, a revisioning that is as daring today as it was nearly 2,000 years ago! So that Christian Orthodoxy came to insist that we cannot have a simple “one-on-one confrontation with God because God is not merely one. Got is a three-fold life – Trinity! The ‘personal’ God of Christian experience is not an omnipotent Individual, but a communion of self-giving love.” The Word is Very Near You, Martin Smith (Cowley, Cambridge: 1989) p 26
So when we are attentive to the conversation that is already going on, we come to know that there is no individual to whom we respond, but rather we are drawn in to a relationship and dynamism of mutual love and self-giving going on within God. So that it is “one thing to say that prayer is conversation with God. It is another to say that God begins the conversation. But it is yet something else to say that God is a conversation. In God love ever flows between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. Love is answered by love, and the conversation … takes in the suffering of a whole universe striving to attain fulfillment with its Creator.” Ibid, p 28
Prayer is communion between all that we are and all that God is.
When we allow our selves to sit with a story like the one in Luke 10 we sense some of all this. It is a continuation of a series of stories in Luke reflecting on our calling to love God and neighbor. Like Abraham and Sarah welcome the three mysterious strangers by the Oak tree, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home – much as we do in prayer, welcoming Father, Son and Spirit into the home of our hearts. Like Sarah and all middle-eastern women of her time and ours, she sets about meeting the needs of the guest in her home. Her sister Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet and listens.
It is interesting to pay careful attention to what Jesus replies when Martha suggests Mary might be more of a host in the traditional sense: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” We see a picture of Jesus who is open to the choices of women. He does not expect women to run for the kitchen when he comes within their home. Despite the traditional take on this story, Jesus does not appear to be chastising Martha, but rather is suggesting that she might also choose to sit at his feet and listen. There is room for Martha to join him as well. He permits choice. In so doing, Jesus becomes the host.
Two things: 1) it is important to find time to welcome God as Father, Son and Spirit into our households, and 2) it is just as important to allow them to host us. For when we open ourselves to receive them into our hearts, we find they come to care for us, to tend to us, to heal and nurture us.
We are all “Marthas” much of the time. We are so busy doing, doing, doing day and night that we forget that when God enters the households of our busyness we have permission to drop everything, even time honored and expected hospitality, and sit quietly as our guest becomes our host, caring for us, comforting us, holding us, loving us for who we are, where we are.
Imagine what it would feel like to allow Jesus to wash your feet for just a few minutes in quiet once a day? This is what Meditative Prayer with Scripture means to be for us – an oasis of God offered hospitality in the midst of an otherwise all too busy day.
Concludes Martin Smith, “In the love the All-embracing Father has for the Son, and in the love the Son has for the Father, in the issuing of the Spirit from the Father and the Spirit’s return in the Love of the Son, there is everything we mean by prayer – intimacy, adoration, self-offering, love, desire, crucifyingly acute sympathy for a world torn by pain and joy. Our prayer is not making conversation with God. It is joining the conversation that is already going on in God. It is being invited to participate in the relationships of intimacy between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is an eternal dance in full-swing, and we are caught up in to it. Prayer is allowing ourselves to join the dance and experience the movements, the constant interplay of the persons of the Trinity.” Ibid, p Amen.
The source of humility is the habit of realizing the presence of God.
Archbishop William Temple
Archbishop William Temple