Category Archives: Prayer

Reluctant Pilgrim | Book Review

For a while now I’ve been interested and spiritually craving books of prayer – books like The Book of Common Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, or The Divine Hours. I’ve even enjoyed the Treasury of Daily Prayer. Each of these books has it’s own unique gift to bring to praying with a prayer book. And, with curiosity, when the new Common Prayer was recently released, I took interest in how a modern community shapes it’s life together around prayer and praise. Common Prayer was put together by three people: Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. I had heard of the first two, but Enuma Okoro? …not yet. So, I looked her up on Amazon and this book came back: Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community With a title like that, I had to check this out. Lucky me – the local library had a copy.

Jenny, my wife, read a bunch out load on our way to family for Thanksgiving. She at first laughed at me and the title – wondering why I wanted to read it. But, within the first chapters, we both felt the same struggles, same desires, same spiritual itches, that Okoro writes about, granted with a female side that Jenny I’m sure understands more than I do.

The title gives a lot away and creates a craving to hear another person’s story, another person’s struggle for honest community, that kind of community where you don’t feel apologetic for wanting to really pray together or ask humongous theological questions together and spend weeks wrestling over one question… Hearing Okoro’s story gives legitimacy for my own story and creates a connection to others who have shared similar spiritual longings for community, for Church.

The basic premise so far, and we’re only half way in, is that finding or being found to a spiritual community is hard. Our inner desires seemed shaped by God to crave community like this but yet living into a community like our desires seem shaped to crave is borderline impossible.

My response so far: perhaps our desires are mis-shaped. Or, perhaps the community we feel obligated to be a part of is mis-shaped. Or… perhaps is those two mixed with a good dose of God working within messed up communities who aren’t sure of who they are or who they’re supposed to be and who happen to be composed of individuals who aren’t sure who they are and who they’re supposed to be. Yeah, I think that’s a bit of it. So, it’s more or less like we’re in a constant identity crisis. Maybe crisis isn’t the right word… Like crisis, but less anxious.

Why do Jenny and I resonate with the book so much? I think it’s because we’ve felt that same desire for a spiritual community like what Okoro write about. A community that listens to one another, takes time for one another, prays together, praises God together, serves together, plays together, thinks deeply together, and basically gives one another permission to be the beloved children of God we’re called to be through the waters of baptism. Permission. Attentiveness to one another and to God. That sounds about right.

Contemplative Youth Ministry

In May of 2006, a good friend of mine, his son, and my wife Jenny and I went to Denver to participate in a retreat about contemplative spirituality and teenagers, worked from the book Contemplative Youth Ministry and led by the author, Mark Yaconelli. That retreat experience, and the book, have left a permanent imprint on my soul and ministry mentality.

I’ve found it hard in my youth ministry years to retain a mindset and a ministry that isn’t clouded and damaged with anxiety. The anxiety comes from all kinds of things: feeling anxious about what sometimes feels like a declining-in-numbers youth group, feeling anxious about kids making bad decisions in life, feeling anxious about not knowing how to pass on a faith we feel somehow to be important yet many of us lack the vocabulary to express… Continue reading

Roles vs. the Personal and the Language of Prayer

Here are a few more words I’d like to share from Practicing Resurrection by Eugene Peterson. The words are about depersonalizing people into roles, and only roles they live out. …as if life were nothing more than some kind of pseudo-scientific expression of these roles and that if/when you figured out your role (as the culture expects you to play them out, of course) you’re considered “excellent.”

Roles, I believe, can drain the life and expression of life from a person. They reduce the adventure and journey that life is into a mathematical connecting of dots. …a reduction of people into what they can do, produce or what their culture expects them to be.

Prayer, can be similar.

Here are the words from Practicing Resurrection:

As we become increasingly proficient in the language of naming and defining and describing, the personal, relational aspects of language recede as we learn to talk our way competently though a world made up [by human objectives] mostly of things to arrange and work to do. In the process, sadly, we “thingify” persons. More often than not, the words we use and listen to are in the context of the roles that we are given to play: students, customers, employers, workers, competitors, all of whom could just as well be, and often are, nameless…

…as language becomes impersonal, the world becomes depersonalized.

…prayer is personal language or it is nothing.

…When we use impersonal language in this most personal of all relations [prayer], the language doesn’t work. And when we listen to Scripture and in silence to what the personal God has to say to us in our unique personhood, anticipating information or answers and not hearing anything remotely like that, we don’t know what to make of it.

…The language we are really fluent in, the language we are most used to, deals with impersonal data and functionalized roles. The practice of prayer, if it is going to amount to anything more than wish lists and complaints, requires a recovery of personal, relational, revelational language in both our listening and our speaking.

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Praying and the Words of Prayer

I read something today in Practice Resurrection, (Eugene Peterson) that helped me see another element in prayer. It was about the struggle we feel with prayer sometimes in our culture. It’s the struggle or uncomfortable feeling when it comes to praying out loud or just praying at all – when the mind flashes in and out of “praying” in a volley of thinking, “This is dumb; I feel dumb; I feel like I’m talking to myself…”

Peterson brought something to my table: essentially, we struggle with prayer because the language we’re mostly accustomed to in our culture is an impersonal language: a language that describes, analyzes, dissects, and then reports.

Praying, we know, is a posture of relationship, expression in conversation. I wondered, as I read, that our struggle in prayer is that we’re so used to a typically impersonal language and that just doesn’t work in a posture of prayer. Prayer and praying go together (obviously) and both are deeply personal: personal action (praying) and personal words (prayer). Perhaps we’ve felt so strange in prayer because we started prayer off with a recitation of facts, like we’re reading a small town newspaper of our day to God, telling the details. (Sure, God loves the details.) But what about the deeper side of those details – the way you reacted, how you saw a glimpse of God in action, how you felt, what you thought?

I imagine that pairing relational language with praying (which is relational in nature, like talking to your mother over coffee) might just make it seem more natural, more put together in it’s expression.

 

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