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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

He Stinks at Prayer

If the pastor of a huge megachurch can admit he stinks at prayer, I feel better about knowing that I have prayer issues, too. For me, prayer is work – worthwhile, valuable work that usually brings me a sense of peace and calmness – but work, nonetheless. That’s why I picked up prayer beads – a tool that I find helps ease the work.

The article that Pastor Pete links to is by Greg Boyd, a pastor I once interviewed for a story I was writing about his then new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. I found him an amazingly brave person who spoke truth to power from the pulpit and paid a price for it.

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eatpraylove.jpgMaybe I should start a blog called “Behind the Curve” because I am always the last one to read the book everyone else is reading. Partly this is because I have to do a lot of work-related reading (latest requirement: Jim Wallis‘s “Great Awakening”) and partly because I am a terrible book snob. I mean, if everyone is reading it, it can’t be that good, right? I came to this snobbishness after being burned – I read “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown only because I couldn’t, as a responsible religion reporter, hold out any longer, and I do not have the words to describe how foul I found it. What trash! Read like a screenplay – a bad screnplay. And I waited quite a while before reading “The Historian” (in a book about Dracula, shouldn’t he appear before the book is three-fourths gone?) by Elizabeth Kostova. I’ll never get back those hours wasted on rural Romanian folk customs that had NOTHING to do with the story. Sigh. Still, Brown and Kostova don’t need my endorsement. They and their bank accounts are doing just fine without me, thank you very much.

egilbert.jpgDitto Elizabeth Gilbert, whose spiritual memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” has topped the NY Times besteller list for more weeks than I have teeth. I’ve heard she was also on a little daytime talkshow called “Oprah.” But this time, I am happy to report, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not the least because of what she says about contemplative prayer, one of the subjects of this blog. It is also just a damn good read by a very fine writer. I have been thinking about it a lot since I finished reading it earlier this week. (For a summary of the book, click here.)

hindu-mala.jpgFirst, I was bound to like this book because its cover image includes a Hindu mala curled into the word “pray.” A mala is the Hindu form of prayer beads, consisting of 108 beads. In the introduction, Gilbert describes some of the symbolism of the mala – how its 108 beads have all sorts of hidden three’s – a very symbolic number in many religions. The number 108 can represent perfection because it is not only divisible by three, but its individual numbers add up to 9, which can be divided into three 3’s. I discuss the meaning and symbolism of the Hindu mala in the first chapter of “Bead One, Pray Too. “

The numbers are important to Gilbert, too. She describes her travels through the three countries of the subtitle in 108 sections, almost like dateless diary entries, charting her spiritual progress from a sobbing, depressed blob to a wiser woman who has learned perspective. Each section is marked by a black-and-white image of a mala bead. My favorite was number 58 for this depiction of the nature of prayer:

“Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I am aiming for, how will it ever occur? Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don’t have this, all your pleas and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift . . . Prayers can become stale and drone into the boring and familiar if you let your attention stagnate. In staying alert, I am assuming custodial responsibility for the maintenance of my soul.” (page 177)

This sent shivers down my back. In my own prayer practice, the biggest thing I battle is boredom. “It’s time to pray, so what do I pray? That again? Oy. ” But Gilbert reminded me that it isn’t enough to say the words, or even to sit in prayer. I have to be present in what I am asking for. If I don’t take it seriously, how can I expect God to?

Since I finished this book I have been trying to bring a new freshness and immediacy to my daily prayer bead session. I am not always successful, sometimes getting fidgety, sometimes finding my mind has wandered halfway around the world before I remember to call it back. And Gilbert tells us that is okay, too. Her own daily meditation is filled with frustration. But she sticks with it and comes out at the end a much more peaceful person. This was a GREAT read.

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Ron Sider’s Prayer

Ron SiderOne of the great joys of being a journalist is that you get to talk to all sorts of interesting and important people and ask them impertinent questions. Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Sider about his forthcoming book, “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World?” for a short piece for Publishers Weekly. Mr. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, is one of the founders of the progressive evangelical movement and a thoughtful Christian. He is the author of “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” a book that, when it appeared in 1977, sent shock waves through the Christian community and led to a major rethinking, in many circles, of what a truly Christian life should look like. We talked for about 30 minutes about the subject of his new book, what a biblically-balanced political philosophy for American evangelicals could and should look like (think more concern about poverty and justice and less about personal morality). At the end of the interview, I asked if I might ask him a totally unrelated question. Being the classy guy and gentleman that he is, he said certainly. “Do you, by any chance, use prayer beads in your personal prayer practice,” I asked. I knew this was a long shot, as most evangelicals would be suspicious of such a practice. Mr. Sider said he did not use prayer beads. Like any good journalist, I had a follow-up question: “May I ask you what is your favorite prayer?”

He was very quick with his response, perhaps because a good prayer is ever close at hand. “My favorite prayer comes from second Cornithians 3:18 where Paul says that with unveiled face we look directly into the face of Christ and reflect his glory as in a mirror and are day by day being transformed into the image of Christ.”

Here’s the scripture he’s referring to:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (NIV)
“So my prayer,” Mr. Sider continued, “which comes from that, is, ‘Lord, please make me more like you.'”

I like it. Short and simple, direct and strainghtfoward. Easy to remember, too. A good prayer for weeks or decades beads, or any other bead on any set of prayer beads you may come up with.

The same day I interviewed Mr. Sider, I also spoke with Jim Wallis, another titan of the progressive evangelical movement. I’ll write about his response to my question in a future post.

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