December 7, 2015 Gathering
On prayer, Martin Buber said, “What distinguishes… prayer from all magic? Magic wants to be effective without entering into any relationship and performs its arts in the void, while… prayer step[s] ‘before the countenance.'” There are ways of praying, without really entering into relationship with God, or with those for whom we pray. We pray at a distance – sending out a wish for magical intervention, without feeling connected.
Another way to understand prayer, then, is that it’s primary purpose is to keep us in relationship with God, ourselves, and others. Soren Kierkegaard said, “The purpose of prayer is not to influence God, but to change the nature of the one who prays.” When we pray by thinking of the situations of those for whom we pray – when we use the power of ethical imagination to consider what they’re experiencing – we come into relationship with them. We are transformed, even if in just some small way, by having spent time, spirit-to-spirit with others.
The same can be true of our time with God. God may already know what we’re thinking and feeling, perhaps better than we can even articulate, ourselves! Perhaps one of our greatest prayers might simply be a “sigh too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26) Or perhaps, what we need most is simply to spend time with God, listening to one another, as Mother Teresa talked about. But when our spirit meets with God’s, it’s more than magical solution we seek. It’s a sense of understanding and being understood, I and You. It’s a real relationship with the Divine that keeps us connected in ways beyond words.
Of course, we pray for things that we would like God to change. They’re often in our thoughts and the meditations of our hearts. When we pray casually for change, we engage in an I-It connection with God and with those for whom we pray. God becomes a tool to change what we want to be different. When we spend time and energy focused, not on what we want to be different, but connected with what is, we meet the spirits of others, including God. From this deep relational experience with another You, then, our prayers of intercession change from a magical request into a deep longing from One we love, for one we love.
We took a look at the opening prayer we use each week and asked, “What does this prayer say about what we value here at Companions on the Way? Why do we choose this prayer to reflect the way we try to live?”
This could be done with any favorite personal prayer, or even the Lord’s prayer, asking “Why do I connect with this prayer so much? What does it say about how I relate to God and/or to others?”