Friday, April 01, 2005

Prayer Life

Growing up on the edge of evangelical circles there was much talk about one's "prayer life". "Prayer life" was basicaly having the time set asside for one to be alone with God. It also probably included spending time in a prayer group from one's church, but the emphasis was always on that one on one time with God, known as the "quiet time". "Prayer life" was that life that was set asside from everything else so that you could meet with God get recharged for your day (or from your day). This sense of prayer as something seperated from life, as something one retreated to either by oneself or in groups came to seem to me to be wrong. And so in college I stoped having a prayer time stoped any and all rituals of prayer (except for going to church for Sunday worship). When I talked about my struggle with prayer and my particular difficulty with "quiet time" my parents and friends were very concerned. Even when I explained that I was seeking to know what Paul meant to pray without ceasing. As I saw it the prayer life of evangelical faith could not fulfill this goal of praying without ceasing because it saw prayer as withdrawl from life. If I need to withdraw from life to pray, how do I pray without ceasing. My more zealous evangelical friends tried to show how Paul really didn't mean that we should always be praying. I was always astonished at how literalist inerantists suddenly became textual critics the moment one presented them with a more litteral reading of scripture than theirs. Yet I must admit that their concern at least was warrented. My attempts to pray without ceasing to be ever mindful of God in every moment of every day failed miserably without the support of some formal prayer. What in fact happened is that I experienced the withdrawl of God. I found that I encountered our world without trace of God.
My conviction though was always that in some sense prayer should be connected to life and that in some sense life should be prayer.
Given this retreat from formal prayer even in its informality of the evangelical prayer life, I find it ironic that I have ended up praying the Daily Office. One might ask doesn't the Daily Office fall into the same problems of withdrawl from life? How does the Daily Office articulate prayer without ceasing? Certainly one could view the Daily Office as withdrawl from life, and when so doing the daily office does not end up being prayer without ceasing. However, I would say that the Daily Office of the Church's end is not withdrawl but prayer without ceasing, that is prayer as engagement. Where as the evengelical "prayer life" was concieved of in its form as withdrawl from life.
When I first began praying the Daily Office (even if intermitently) I viewed it as withdrawl from life, and as long as I viewed it as withdrawing from my daily activities it was a chore. Slowly though it has dawned on me that this is not in fact the meaning of the Daily Office. The marking of various hours in the day as times of formal prayer one is showing forth the true meaning of time and our work, that is as prayer. The daily office marks time and our activities in time as having their origin in God. Tthe Hours don't so much sanctify that which is profane as show how time is sacred (this is also the meaning of the Church Year). The daily office shows how time can be epiphany and theophany, thus showing us that which should be and is the source of our right use of time and talents. This is a subtle difference from how prayer was often used by many who taught me the faith when growing up. Time, work, daily activities are not things we enter into and become drained and then return to God to be re-energized for those things which are only tangentially related to the spiritual life, rather formal prayer sets in us an attitude to recognize God and the movement of the spirit in Time. By marking certain hours of the day I am reminded and oriented to this reality, that God is in time and in my activities, not simply a source of spiritual energy. Thus, though the Daily Office I am able to experience what Jesus told the woman at the well in the Gospel of John concerning living water and never being thirsty.
When one has a "prayer life", which seperates being with God from time and daily activities then prayer is like the Samaritan women going to the well at noon everyday, to dip into the water and get replenished by God. What my evengelical teachers failed to see was Christ sitting at the well offering the possibility that they would not need this withdrawl from life to be recharged and that in fact prayer was not about infusing oneself with God to be energized to live out one's Christian life that day. Prayer is the recognition that life, time, our endeavors can and do manifest God in the world if we orient ourselves toward God and Christ. In a fallen world we need reminders of the truth of time. I have found in the Daily Office that reminder that allows me to see God in time.

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