Posts Tagged 'prayer'

Zeitgeist vs. Paraclete – A Prayer Conspiracy

I was able to write an autobiographical reflection on the role prayer has played on my life, for the fine folks at Conspire magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the fourth issue:

Ah, Prayer – what a complicated relationship I have with Thee. Are You talking to God, or are You what happens in the spaces between the words?

What is prayer? Ask a dozen people, you’ll get at least a baker’s dozen responses. From books of common prayer and missals, to extemporaneous evangelical prayer (punctuated with the unwritten mantra of ‘holylordfathergodwejust’ every few seconds, used as a kind of prayer-comma), to ecstatic glossolalia, we followers of God in the way of Jesus are all over the map on the varieties of our prayer experience. Is prayer about asking God for things? Does it form the basis of our much-vaunted ‘personal relationship’ with God, a grand I-Thou dialogue? Is it the glue that holds together churches, neighborhoods, faiths, and countries? Yes, absolutely.

Yet as comprehensive as the above laundry list of prayer might seem at first glance, it actually eclipses its meaning for many of our most significant poets, mystics, lovers, and rapscallions through the ages. For a wise minority both inside the Church and without it, prayer is a difficult-to-quantify exchange-less exchange, occurring between people and a God beyond imagination, after words have been spent or when they’ve been gently laid aside.

This ground clearing – the release of words – is, ironically, a whole lot easier said than done. For me at least. I am deluged with words from morning ‘till evening – can I get a witness? And I was raised on prayer with words – asking God for stuff in my Baptist beginnings, which I continue to believe is just fine.

In my Pentecostal years, heartfelt, exuberant prayer was emphasized – we sang and danced prayer, to the beat of drums and tambourine. And glossolalia, or ‘praying in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance’ was encouraged, subject/object boundaries collapsing between you speaking to God and God speaking in and through you. The emphasis here was on ‘power with God,’ your prayers for self and others augmented via being directly ‘plugged in’ to the Paraclete, the Helper, the Holy Spirit of God. Tongues were like Popeye’s spinach for training ‘prayer warriors,’ heaven’s storm troopers who would kick butt and take names for the Almighty. I was never a really good prayer warrior as it turned out, but unlike a growing number of people who are part of Pentecostal churches these days, ‘tongues’ weren’t just a fad with me. They were a gift – a permanent stage you might say – and I continue to enjoy these hotly contested ‘other tongues’ to this day, some 15 years after my Assemblies of God days.

Of course, this would cause me no end of confusion during my soon-thereafter Presbyterian days, where tongues and tambourines designated you as lower-class, theologically inferior, mentally ill, or all three. (Turns out they were on the money with two out of three; sometimes the ‘planks’ you call in brothers’ eyes turn out to be right after all…) My Reformed friends, in this particular church at least, liked acrostics: In youth group we learned that the most pleasing way to talk to God was to act up – or, to ACTS up. That is, we approach God with Adoration, Confession, (oh gosh, I forget what the T is – Thanksgiving? Lemme Google this, be right back…) Thanksgiving (yes indeed), and Supplication – a weird word that means you finally get to ask God for stuff. I always got ‘Adoration’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ confused – kind of like which way to go in the Box Step whenever I’d try to learn the waltz over the years. This was especially awkward when doing it with a partner – praying or waltzing. I’d step all over the other partner; it was like I was all left feet.

Then one day in the late 1990s, during my freshman year in college when the Internet barely existed in popular use but it was already consuming more and more of my time, I felt a calling: Not to abandon all of these beloved (and sometimes frustrating and contradictory) prayer forms, but to transcend them for something sweeter: the call to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (That’s not me talking; it’s God. It’s in the Psalms. Look it up.) I remember when I first heard this siren song: sitting on a bench in a beautiful wooded area on my 28,000-acre campus, probably avoiding homework (or maybe even cutting class), transfixed by this little book by evangelical mystic Jerry Coulter called Beholding and Becoming. This passage is indicative of what caught my heart:

[Jesus] wants to be “with” us now. He wants us to experience that same intimate relationship with him that he had with his disciples. He wants to walk and live with us constantly. He wants us to sense his loving presence in our daily circumstances. He has made provision for this intimate with-ness for each of us. He has prepared a place for us where we may be “with him where he is.” Right now!

Jerry goes on to describe this path as one of koinonia, or fellowship with (and within) the Godhead that takes place in the depths of the human spirit; this romance of language and shift of perspective almost instantly gave me a whole new, more alive reading of Scripture that freed it from the more wooden interpretations of my youth. I wanted to be such a fellowship-er, what I learned Christian faith has named a contemplative. I wanted to have a more significant, intentional living into the One in whom we live, move, and have our being; the One who, it is said, is the All in all. (See Acts 17 and Ephesians 4, you Bible-lovers out there). If Jesus’ own prayer to our Abba in John 17 was true, this was an invitation open to everyone who begins a journey along the Way – to be hid with Christ in God, the same way Jesus was cloaked in his Father’s essence while treading our humble and blessed earth.

And so it has been. From that ‘call’ at the tender age of 19, through my 30th birthday just a few days ago, I have been a wannabe contemplative, stumbling and faltering through the absurd possibility that our faith offers us – to be friends with God, and participate in extending this friendship to all creatures for the healing of the world. What I’m going to share now is what I try and fail at, as taught by some pretty adept folks toward living into this audacious goal. In my faltering attempts I see our enabling Paraclete graciously inviting herself into increasing palpability and centrality in our lives – collectively and personally – as she seeks to put the mighty Zeitgeist, the spirit of our frenetic age, in its place as servant rather than master of our most precious resource: our attention.

– to read the rest of this piece (this is only the first third), go here to find out how you can pick up a copy from an intentional community within driving distance from you, or online.

Pentecost Prayer

Come, thou Holy Spirit come:
and from thy celestial home
send thy light and brilliancy.
Come, thou father of the poor,
come who givest all our store.
What is filthy make thou pure,
what is wounded work its cure,
water what is parched and dry.
Gently bend the stubborn will,
warm to life the heart that’s chill,
guide who goeth erringly.
Fill thy faithful who adore,
and confess thee evermore,
with thy sevenfold mystery.
Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity. Amen
– From a 13th century Latin Hymn, courtesy Paraclete Press


Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life

treeoflifeiiIn a few days I’ll be speaking at the Transmillennial 2009 conference in Little Rock. I’ll be sharing on The Incredible, Edible God: You Are What You Eat. (or, How Faith & Food go together like Peas & Carrots) – Love feasts! Home gardening! Farmers’ markets! The Tree of Life! What on heaven & earth do all these things have in common? Join Mike Morrell in an interactive conversation on spirituality, hospitality,  culinary pleasure and the coming deep economy.

The Tree of Life has always fascinated me – as a symbol, and icon, a pointer to a deeper reality of divine fellowship and a new way to live. When I heard that Frank Viola was doing a mega-blog-circuit for his latest (and quite possibly greatest) From Eternity to Here today, I just had to ask him about his take on the Tree of Life, which he discusses in Chapter 19, God’s Building Site.

Here’s the interview:

1.) Can you give us a practical example of what it might mean for an individual or fellowship to partake of Christ? Is this a way of describing all spiritual activity a person or church does (ie, worship, prayer, thanksgiving), or do you mean something more particular?

Worship through song, prayer, and any other “spiritual disciplines” or activities can certainly be the vehicle through which a person partakes of Christ. However, an individual can do all of those things without partaking of Him. So it depends on whether or not their inner being is engaged and they are connecting with the Lord through it. For example, in Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts the Asian believers to be filled with the Spirit by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Now, one can sing a song and their heart (mind, will, emotions, and conscience) not be engaged at all. In such cases, there will be no “filling.” Or they can sing the same song and be turning to Christ and receiving from the Lord’s Spirit through it, i.e., eating and drinking of His life. It’s the same with reading Scripture. One can read the Scripture in such a way wherein there’s no spiritual transaction at all. Or they can read it as a means of spiritual communion with the living Christ. That said, I think of various spiritual activities simply as utensils. But those utensils are designed to carry food into one’s body. It’s possible to put an empty fork or spoon into one’s mouth. We wouldn’t call that eating.

2.) You outline the superiority of living by eating from the Tree of Life rather than the Tree of Knowledge; you rightly point out that, biblically speaking, the Tree of Knowledge contains knowledge of good as well as knowledge of evil and that the only one who is innate Goodness is the Father. Can you share with us an example of an individual or fellowship who was partaking of the Tree of Life in a way that might have appeared ‘evil’ in the short term but was later vindicated as the highest Good (or Life) in the long-term? I’d love to hear a story from history or your personal experience.

I’m not sure if I can think of a case in my own life where something I did was considered “evil” in the eyes of others, yet I felt it was the Lord. Perhaps writing the book Pagan Christianity falls into that category 😉

Nonetheless, I can think of many cases where a certain action wasn’t understood or thought to have been wrong by others and the Lord’s vindication came later. (At the same time, I can think of times where I completely mistook what the Lord was putting on my heart and interpreted it wrong. Or where I expected Him to do something, and He didn’t.)

I’ll just share one case that comes close to what you’re asking. Once an individual came into our fellowship. For purposes of clarity, we’ll call this person “Pat.” Pat was frustrated because they felt I wasn’t spending enough time with them. Pat then began to sow seeds of discord between myself and a friend of mine. It got so bad that Pat and my friend visited me unannounced and began to rebuke me for all sorts of vague things that Pat had “sensed.” I didn’t say a word. The silence was deafening. I was then rebuked for being silent and not responding to the charges. In a private conversation with my friend sometime afterwards, my friend pressed me about what I really thought of Pat. Feeling forced to give an answer, I said that Pat was not being honest with us about who they were. I perceived that Pat came into our lives under false pretenses and was sowing seeds of discord. My friend defended Pat and asked for concrete evidence. I had none. I just perceived it, and I was certain enough to say it. Not long afterwards, it came out to everyone that Pat had lied about who they were and where they had come from. The story shocked everyone who knew Pat because the details weren’t pretty at all. As soon as we all found out, Pat disappeared.

As to your specific question about something appearing “evil,” some would offer Bonheoffer’s decision to support the plot to kill Hitler as a case in point. Bonheoffer felt it was God who led him to do this, even though he was seriously conflicted over God’s will in doing it.

So there you have it! What do you think, dear readers?

Mine is just one of 50+ blogs asking Frank questions and reviewing his CBA-bestselling From Eternity to Here today. Find out more about the book & join the Facebook group here; see a full list of the blogging participants after the jump.

PS: Do you Twitter? Let’s follow each other! I’m @zoecarnate

Continue reading ‘Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life’

Abu Ghraib Crucifixion

Photographs from Abu GhraibI know this is a little late – such a reflection would have been more ‘appropriate’ a few weeks ago, during Lent. No matter. It’s worth thinking about today.

“This year I am reading the crucifixion story through the lens of an unknown photographer’s camera. One of my responsibilities…at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church has been to choose visual images to project during the scripture readings. For me, these kinds of juxtapositions are a form of Bible study that can break open the text in new ways. I searched for images to pair with Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Certainly there were many traditional paintings to choose from. One particularly jarring representation is Matthais Grunwald’s Crucifixion, which shows Christ with lacerated skin and lips already blue from asphyxiation.

However, I found myself drawn to a more recent time and place: Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where U.S. military personnel tortured and shamed prisoners in 2004. One of the most widely disseminated photographs from this ghastly chapter of the Iraq War is a fuzzy snapshot of a man with a pointed black hood, balancing on a box in a black cape. Wires attach to his extended palms and he has reportedly been told he will be electrocuted if he falls off the box.Could this man’s experience teach me something about the story at the center of my faith? Does Jesus’ crucifixion speak to what happened at Abu Ghraib?”

Read Jennifer Halteman Schrock’s full reflection here. This is a striking photograph, and one that belies an even more striking reality. It reminds me that the systems that crucified Jesus are still active in our day and age – and even in the name of our government. The moment the story of Jesus’ crucifixion becomes too unreal, we should try getting involved in the life of someone here and now who’s caught in a cycle of violence. We might discover Christ afresh.

In a similar vein, my friend Brian offers a three part reflection on ‘Three Crises of Peace.’ Here they are:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

If you pray or have quiet ‘centering’ time with God, please consider within this holding for a moment both your own pain and the pain of those around you before God. Let the love and ‘down & within’ power of Abba, Son & Spirit encircle you and embrace the pain & violence you’re taking the time to bring before God’s throne. Watch as God transfigures this energy, and gives you gifts of peace, as well as empowerment…in the form of an idea perhaps, of how you can be that change; an answer to your wordless prayer. It’s in this way that we can begin to bring healing to a wounded cosmos, emanating God’s victory here & now.

Selah!

Disaster & Interconnectivity, Action & Contemplation

What a week. First the mass-deadly Myanmar cyclone and their government’s bizarre response; now this: tens of thousands are feared dead in a China 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

I don’t know what to make of all this. Of course, nearly 150,000 people on this planet make the Great Transition daily; this in itself is nothing extraordinary. But suffering is different than ‘mere death;’ it is more, and it is right that it elicits a different – pained – response in us.

I don’t know what to make of all this. But I do know – no, sense is more accurate – a few things:

We are all interconnected – matter, energy, spirit & biosphere. Not one organism or object on this planet or in this galaxy can claim independence from everything else. Christians believe that in Christ–the risen, ascended, cosmic Christ-all things coinhere. God in Christ is the All in all. This idea – God’s integral permeation of all reality – is normally one of great beauty. But from one vantage point at least, it offers cold comfort when contemplating life’s shadow side – rape, murder, enslavement, torture, ecological degradation, ‘natural’ disaster.

Continue reading ‘Disaster & Interconnectivity, Action & Contemplation’


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