O breathe on me, breath of God/ fill me with life anew/ that I may love what thou dost love/ and do what thou wouldst do. I am going to skip ahead in my walk through the liturgy, to the “Prayers of the Faithful” because I am reading Carter Heyward’s book, Saving Jesus from those who are right. I am going to reflect on the ideal we hold in praying together, what might we mean by the “faithful” and what is the point of praying anyway? Please don’t expect definitive answers to any of those questions but they are my reflecting questions today.
Heyward talks about relationality being the ground of our being when we pray, also the Spirit praying through us (a biblical concept) in a deeply emotive, yearning movement towards God. Can God yearn for God? If God is more than an individual then there is dynamics and relation WITHIN God and then our role within the dynamic that is God is the question. But the hymn above goes on to put a possessive and almost forceful spin on God’s work to assimilate us, to remake us better whereas I don’t think there is anything forceful or disrespectful in how God makes us one-with each other, the earth and Godself. Rather than a forcing or making (see eg Donne for a rape-battery metaphor for the process) the spirit blows through us (like in Winter’s beautiful hymn) and we like well-crafted musical instruments respond WITHIN THE NATURE THAT IS INTRINSIC TO US- making music of the breath of God.
So it is like a call from a lover, or child to remind us that our priorities need to line up with the love-of-our-life rather than being a coercive, conscriptive process to a good that goes against our selves and our personal good. We are not born to be individuals, we are not born into aloneness, birth itself is going from intimacy (within our mother) to intimacy (in the arms of a family and community). Death is going from intimacy (the people who’d much rather we weren’t leaving) into…what? Memory? Some new form of life? What we do know is we are relational/mutual by nature and we are called to be true to that by an eternal God. That means something for who we are.
“Who we are is how we pray.” That’s the title of a book by Charles Keating that I have never read but it seems to me there is a wealth of wisdom even in the short title. And so “prayers of the faithful” could also be called “prayers of the relational” or “prayers of the responsive” as we come together to respond to each other and to our world and to ground that being in God and God’s desire to call, relate and respond to us. I like it better in communities where everyone can pray- at times we talk about the trivial, the personal and at times we look widely to the world but we pray aloud and we hear each other’s prayerful preoccupations and the miracle is the way we are sometimes able to respond to each other, or at the basic minimum be with each other in the complexities of life.
Does prayer “achieve” anything? I tend to intellectually think that there is no interventionist function in God (otherwise surely s/he would respond more strongly to save refugees and other innocents and not bother too much with trivialities like where I put my car-keys or how hard it is to find a date). That said when I “need to be rescued” I do send up that clamour to God, whether God does anything much with my selfish requests is another issue. But not all requests are selfish. We want a better world for everyone. We want answers about how to make this possible. We pray about the big things in our lives and our world.
I suppose an analogy could be the tendency we have to take home whatever happened at work (or wherever) and talk it over with out lover or get on the phone to a close friend about it. Why do we do that? Rarely do we want practical “help” or “advice” and even when we want those we can’t always get them in the way we think we need. But talking things through with someone who loves us is intrinsically helpful an God loves us. But now I am almost sounding like God is our invisible, imaginary friend that reflects back at us whatever we want to hear. This is a dangerously individualistic and relativistic theology.
God loves me, but God is not all about me, me, ME: wrapped around my ego like some sort of flag or reinforcing layer. I read a horrible blog today by a woman who has cast out her own son for being gay. The blog was full of sadness but also a toxic form of self-congratulation that having made such a big sacrifice “for Jesus” she was some sort of a heroine. That decision too could have come out of a more-or-less genuine attempt to pray. Just because we piously reference “God” in our decisions does not guarantee their rightness. If I knew how to guarantee rightness I would share the secret- but until then I find it important to remember when dealing with people who are “wrong” that I am also “wrong” a lot of the time.
Nevertheless, despite the potential to make big mistakes in everything we do an decide, it remains important to do things- to confront the dilemmas and injustices of the world and to seek to be more loving and also to insist that everyone be treated with love, inclusion and fairness. We can’t simply acknowledge that “everyone has their own opinion” and retire from the debates and struggles over social goods and access to them. Nor can we “give it to God” in any sense that undercuts our own responsibility to respond and to work toward answers. God isn’t going to magically save the earth from environmental disaster and the unfair thing is many of those who make/made the decisions to degrade the earth so much either won’t live to grapple with the fallout or will be rich enough to be protected from the worst of it (initially). I’d love God to “cast the might from their thrones” and heal the earth but God is looking to us, “the faithful” to pray more actively than just with words of resignation but to enter the social and political arenas of our lives.
“Lord hear us” we used to say, as if we were bringing supplications to someone higher in status that ruled over us and even when we do tweak it to try to make it less kyrierchal the imperative “hear us” seems to still separate the “us” praying from the more powerful “Thou”, God. How else could we put it? Love you hear us (indicative not imperative). Love you stand with us. Love infuse us. We pray in the Spirit. We pray together. We pray in God. We pray in Love.
Or sometimes I think just the old “Amen”. Just a way of bringing ourselves into the words and beyond the words, making the “words” part of prayer, part of conversation and whatever else the sharedness of the presence of God in our lives entails.
It is not “my” individual prayer or faithfulness that is at stake here. It is the way we take up each others prayers that makes us faithful and brings us into God. God pours Godself into whatever is other and when we are “the faithful” that is the work/dance we also engage with.