Hopefully Lost…

This is another paper I wrote for a class on personal transformation. It might be a little long….

Hopefully Lost

 

Let me lose myself and find it, Lord, in Thee.
May all self be slain, my friends see only Thee.
Though it costs me grief and pain, I will find my life again.
If I lose my self I’ll find it, Lord, in Thee.[1]

 

Christian transformation is the ongoing, lifelong process whereby the character, spirit, and behavior of Jesus Christ is uniquely expressed in and through the life of a person. The overwhelming value associated with Christian transformation is love. Love continually changes us into who we were originally created to be and makes us change agents in the world to facilitate similar transformation in the lives of others. The primary barrier to Christian transformation is fear. Mistrust of God, our self, and others leads us to react defensively in ways that lead to division and withdrawal. Our personal life devolves into self-absorbed consumption rather than one characterized by growth and humility. The spiritual leader’s role is to continually cultivate personal practices which promote their own healthy growth by responding to the activities of God in their own life, while encouraging others to do the same through interpersonal interactions and attempting to build healthy community. A commitment to communal growth confronts the current culture’s preoccupation with reactive division based on fear and defensiveness. In an affluent society, the physical environment can be designed to enhance division as it clings to the priority of personal privacy and comfort to the detriment of community. Healthy community often includes periods of close proximity between people and open, physical interaction. Without these qualities, the possibility of giving and receiving love to and from others is limited.

Home

I suppose all of us have an idealized vision for what “home” should be. A place where:

  • The best and worst of who we are is known and they celebrate the best and give grace in the worst…
  • We are valued and deeply loved…
  • We are understood and known from our earliest moments of life…
  • Feelings are validated and our pain is acknowledged…
  • Respect guides inter-familial relationships…
  • Forgiveness is given and received…
  • Provision is made for healthy growth…
  • We are loved and our love is received warmly…

 

This is our dream of a place called “home”. My own dream certainly would have a place, but what truly defines “home” for me, would be people and relationships. “Home” is where those you love and who love you are, no matter the location. Our relationships fundamentally influence us at the deepest levels of our being. Place is important as it enhances or detracts from relationship building. Place also carries the echoes of our most primal relationships, either for good or for bad.

The Christian faith has the dream of home at its beginning and end. Christianity could be described as a collective journey from home to home. Our journey began in the beautiful design of a garden where our most fundamental relationships were characterized by openness, generosity, and shared mission. Our primary relationship: with God, was a generative co-creative partnership in which we gave and received love, and within which we expressed our unique individuality and value. Our secondary relationship was based on mutual cooperation; allowing and enjoying the individual differences between each other. In fact, the fundamental differences between us brought the joy of the God-like capability of creating life.

However, as is true in the reality of our earthly homes and relationships, we got lost. Our relationships with God and each other became infused with fear and mistrust. The place within which we lived became a wilderness rather than a garden, and we began to believe that we were alone and would have to fight in order to survive. Yet everything within us sought to return to the home of our dreams. We still do. Christian transformation is the journey home.

“What happens to us over a lifetime of Christian practice and growth amounts to nothing more than becoming what we already are in Jesus Christ. We are a new creation. It is for that reason that we can become a new creation. Paul captures this paradox perfectly: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached my goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own’ (Phil. 3:12).[2]

In a very real sense, our personal experience of home, with its relationships and memories, can be a barrier to personal transformation. From the earliest moments of life, our brains are building emotional habits of feeling about the world.[3] “Trains” of aligned neurons are formed, and the couplings between cars of the train harden and are reinforced with each experience. This is especially true in the earliest days, weeks, months, and years of life.

“A child’s brain cannot develop normally with the coordination influence that limbic communication furnishes. The coos and burbles that infants and parents exchange, the cuddling, rocking, and joyous peering into each other’s faces look innocuous if not inane; one would not suspect a life-shaping process in the offing. But from their first encounter, parents guide the neurodevelopment of the baby they engage with. In his primal years, they mold a child’s inherited emotional brain into the neural core of the self.”[4]

In effect, we each develop an inner emotional map of the way the world works as we experience our earliest relationships with our primary caregiver. This map is fixed in the trains of neurons. We then relate to the world according to this map of internal expectations. Changing these expectations is extremely difficult… but it is possible. Love and our experience of it is the key.

The difficulty of changing our mental map is metaphorically exemplified in the following:

A sighted person lives in a room with furniture which is always in the same position. With each day, the person’s movements are governed by the position of each piece of furniture, until they develop an inner, visual map of the floor plan with such acuity that they could close their eyes and move about the room with only the occasional smack of their shin on the coffee table. Repeated practice of moving in this fashion removes even this intermittent brush with pain. Eventually, the person’s eyesight begins to dim until they go completely blind. As long as they stay in the same room, however, their mental map continues to guide them with very little pain. But living in one room is a very narrow life.

A loving friend, hoping to expand the world of the blind person, comes one night and moves all the furniture in the room. When the blind person awakes the next morning and begins their normal trek across the room, they immediately fall over a chair which isn’t supposed to be there, according to their trusted mental map. The friend of the blind person approaches the fallen person and offers to lead them through the room, acting as a sighted guide. The next choice of the blind person is both simple and complex: Do they choose to take the hand of their loving guide, or continue on their own, being injured by their old mental map which has been rendered obsolete by the changed environment?

Lost:

The experience of the blind person is that of getting unexpectedly lost. The biblical narrative includes many stories with characters in much the same situation. The bible is infused with people who get lost in order to go home:

  • From protected garden to the wild world: Adam and Eve
  • From resident to wanderer: Abraham
  • From preferred son to slave; from slave to prisoner; from prisoner to ruler: Joseph
  • From slavery to freedom: Children of Israel in the Exodus
  • From citizen to alien: Children of Israel into exile
  • From riches to poverty: Job
  • From heroic confrontation of evil to fearful running from evil: Elijah
  • From exile to rebuilding: Ezra
  • From wisdom to meaningless: Solomon
  • From heaven to earth: Jesus
  • From an ascetic (John the Baptist) to a partier (Jesus): The Jews
  • From home to a faraway country to home: The Prodigal son
  • From legalistic Judaism to Christian evangelist to the Gentiles: Paul

 

There are certainly other stories of how God lead people from a stable reality into instability. Becoming lost forces us to look around and find the new reality rather than “bend” the map of reality to fit our own past experience. So, sometimes getting lost can be a very good thing which leads us to re-engage the world in ways which are healthier for us. We “lose our self” and “find it, Lord in Thee”. We find ourselves in these stories, but the overwhelming message of scripture, is that we find ourselves in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the model of Christian transformation. At the end of his “normal” home life and the beginning of his journey of ministry towards the cross and home, Jesus entered the wilderness for a period of fasting and limbic/spiritual warfare with Satan.[5] This detour into the wilderness seems to be in scripture as a teaching story about how to get lost without getting lost. With each temptation, Satan attempts to seduce Jesus into acts which frame Jesus’ life in the context of fear and being a victim:

“Stone into bread”- Fear of suffering

“Throw yourself down”- Fear of death

“Worship me”- Fear of obscurity

The faithful, self-differentiated Jesus refused to fear the wilderness temptations, because he knew his Guide. His response affirmed his own responsibility to continue the mission and not allow his emotional map to be co-opted into anxious reaction to fear-inducing suggestions. His response also acts as a template upon which we can lay our lives and experiences when we are tempted to retreat into victimhood.

Getting lost can also be a bad thing. We are all fully capable of walking off the trail and into a wilderness of our own making.

“Being lost, then, is not a location; it is a transformation. It is a failure of the mind. It can happen in the woods or it can happen in life. People know that instinctively. A man leaves a perfectly good family for a woman half his age and makes a mess of it, and people say, he got off the path; he lost his way. If he doesn’t get back on, he’ll lose the self, too. A corporation can do the same thing.”[6]

 

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son[7]portrays a father love which is strong and respectful enough to allow his son to walk away and waste the blessing he has been given in consumption. Neither does the father attempt to rescue the son. However, the father’s love is gentle and deep enough to respond with joy when the son returns in repentance. Neither does the father hold the sojourn into “a faraway country” over the head of his son by treating him like a slave nor employee until the inheritance is repaid. He places the ring of family identity on his finger. You could say that the father gets his son lost in the father’s love by such unexpected behavior.

Another parable earlier in the same chapter tells of a lost sheep[8] which Jesus told in response to religious leaders angry at how much time Jesus spent with people who had no interest in religious activities. The shepherd knows a sheep is lost and acts in such a way as to esteem so much value in one sheep that he leaves the 99 in the fold and conducts a time consuming, exhausting search for the one who wandered away. I suppose this story isn’t that big of a deal for the sheep in the fold. They are safe and content. But for the sheep that is hurt, caught in a tangle, and hears the howls of the wolves nearby, knowing you were missed can be quite comforting… transforming, in fact.

Travelling Companions:

When I was a child, my father was an evangelist in the days when churches would schedule a series of spiritual renewal/evangelistic services twice a year. The services were called revivals.[9] Dad would schedule each meeting as close together as he could, both in time and distance. Many times, however, we would have to drive until late in the night, or even all night, in order to get to the next meeting. Typically, our trip would begin with loading all of the equipment into the car, hook up to the travel trailer we lived in at each destination, and begin driving. When we finally got out on the highway, Dad would say to my mother, “Pray for us, Momma…” My mom would then ask God to protect us as we drove. She invited God to travel with us. During all of the years of travelling…thousands of miles…our family never had an accident in which any of us were injured. Actually, I can’t remember any accidents of any sort, other than when a guy in Michigan ran a red light and plowed into the side of our car. Nobody was hurt, although I think the other driver was too medicated to feel any pain anyway. But I digress….

Prayer is a primary means of both recognizing and inviting God to travel with us in our journey from home to home. I have come to believe that one of the values of prayer in Christian transformation is that the connection with God changes us deeply. Prayer is limbic revision with God.

“The sine qua non of a neural network is its penchant for strengthening neuronal patterns in direct proportion to their use. The more often you do or think ore imagine a thing, the more probable it is that your mind will revisit its prior stopping point. When the circuits are sufficiently well worn such that thoughts fly down them with little friction or resistance, that mental path has become a part of you—it is now a habit of speech, thought, action, attitude. Ongoing exposure to one person’s Attractors does not merely activate neural patterns in another—it also strengthens them. Long-standing togetherness writes permanent changes into a brain’s open book.

 

In a relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural being is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.

 

Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.”[10]

 

The idea that prayer changes us isn’t new. However, the manner in which it has been articulated in the past infers that we are changed in what we think, and is an intellectual process. Limbic revision changes how we feel and who we are and will be.

How we view prayer is important. When we approach prayer as a part of our life, partitioned off from the rest of our activities, we lose the immediacy of its impact on our self. It then becomes easier to build internal walls which affect behavior and interactions with the world. However, when we see our entire life as prayer, the walls are dismantled, and we allow God to roam free within us. Our entire being becomes the home we long for. We take home with us, even when we are lost.

Christian transformation requires the presence of others in our life, as well. In the story of Eden, God intermittently calls the preceding work which was accomplished, “good”.[11] Then God made an individual, and the two of them shared life within the garden, but eventually, God finds something within creation which was “not good”: the individual who was alone, without another person.[12] So, once again God created another person, using the rib of the first person.

Each of us needs another person to come beside us and share the journey. The creation story infers that living with God alone isn’t sufficient to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Alone is not good…even when God is with us. We need each other in order to give and receive love. Giving ourselves to a loving community is imperative to our journey. The early monastics eventually seemed to find this to be true. In Water from a Deep Well, Sittser writes about people who sought a deeper faith by leaving the cities and moving into the desert in order to seek God, more fully.[13] However, I notice throughout the chapter and the book, that so many of the sayings of the Ammas and Abbas about growing in faith were part of a conversation they were having with a student… So… they left community to move out into the desert to know God more deeply, but community followed them… God’s grace brings others into our life when we are alone, no matter the purpose of our prolonged solitude. We need other people in our life. God speaks to us through the heart of another, and God speaks to another through our heart. Love changes us. Mutual love changes us both.

Not only does love change us individually, but a loving community benefits and changes the culture.[14] When we love each other… sacrificially love each other… our community is a living, communal witness to the love of Christ. When we do not love each other, but separate into ghettos of :

  • Race
  • Socioeconomic layers
  • Marital status
  • Ideology
  • Political persuasion
  • Sexual politics
  • Theological understanding

 

…we also are a witness to the “love” of Christ. The surrounding culture defines God by the behavior, attitudes, and approachability of those calling themselves by God’s name. How the church speaks and acts towards itself, and the people surrounding it, defines God. When the church exhibits “love” in exclusivity, defensive reactivity, and fear of differences in people; then God is that way.

Is that the message we want to portray?

Is that what we experience from God?

If we have experienced grace and love from God, then why are we so angry?

Do we know God at all?

When a Christian leader asks questions which the surrounding culture is asking, why is he labeled a heretic by other Christian leaders, when they haven’t even read his book?

Leading The Journey:

It could be said that our country is in crisis. A crisis of leadership. That statement isn’t a personal indictment of the intelligence, efficiency, or even creativity of the leaders in our culture. It is an observation of the depth of division within our culture, and the propensity for leaders to make decisions based on public opinion or self-interest. Edwin Friedman writes about the need for self-differentiated leaders:

“I want to stress that by well-differentiated leader(s) I do not mean an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny. Rather, I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing. It is not as though some leaders can do this and some cannot. No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity.”[15]

 

Personal differentiation, as a Christian construct, is a growing sense of friendship with God. Friendship with God involves two separate personalities who relate to each other honestly and openly. The relationship cultivates a growing understanding of our distinctiveness, and personal mission. Leaders must lead themselves first, by accepting their continuing responsibility for personal growth. They must also acknowledge the responsibility for the persons under their leadership to grow, and give opportunities for them to express their gifts and talents, with the understanding that these opportunities carry inherent responsibilities with them.

I think it is imperative that Christian leaders treat themselves and their families with respect by living a sustainable lifestyle. A spiritual leader’s lifestyle models to the faith community what God expects from them. One mark of self-differentiation by a pastor is to create room in his/her schedule and calendar for God, family, and themselves.  I would suggest that pastors err by attempting too much rather than too little. Allowing other people to be responsible for ministry is both effective and healthier for everyone involved. The CEO model of the pastor leads to dysfunction for everyone, in my view. I take Friedman’s point for a leader to be: “Grow, and allow others the space and responsibility to do the same.” Jesus modeled such a lifestyle, although his definition for family wasn’t always the same as ours might be.

Summation/Personal Response:

  • Most of the content of this class hit me between the eyes. I have been challenged by all the books, and most so by Friedman. Learning to remember and practice self-differentiation as a life skill takes practice. I believe there is freedom in personal responsibility, and I am trying to practice new mental habits of remembering that.

 

  • Influencer was also new material for me which impacted me so much that I want to read their other book. I especially personally resonate with influencing people by helping them get lost in a story. I have had an intuitive attachment with that idea. That has been why I have been so interested in writing stories to help people reconnect with spiritual concepts. I think Jesus used parables in much the same way.

 

  • We are in an explosive period of discovery surrounding the workings of the human brain. New technological techniques allow scientists to make rudimentary progress into observing how the brain works. A General Theory of Love helped me understand the importance of human relationships. I am trying to order my life and activities from what I learned.

 

  • I am a child of the church. Honestly, I don’t always like that. However, I have been able to maintain a love for the church. I saw so many lives change when my family was in evangelism, and I remember so many times after the final service of a revival when the pastor’s family and our family would sit down around a table, eat together, and then talk. I miss that community. My observation now is that people don’t make time for those interactions anymore. There is always something more to do or to prepare for. We have become entombed within our culture, and I am praying for resurrection. Sittser’s book helped me see how our historical experience of the church is both similar and radically different in terms of relationships with each other and culture.

 


[1] Let Me Lose Myself and Find it Lord, In Thee; Ross H. Minkler, Copyright: 1943

[2] Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries; Gerald L. Sittser; Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2007, Pg. 282

[3] A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153

[4] A General Theory of Love, Pg. 153

[5] Matthew 4:1-11.

[6] Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why,  Laurence Gonzales; New York, NY, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2003; Pg.166

[7] Luke 15:11-32

[8] Luke 15: 1-7

[9] If my explanation comes across as elementary, I apologize, but the practice and knowledge of it seems to have gone the way of rotary dialed telephones.

[10] A General Theory of Love, Pg.143-144.

[11] Genesis 1:1-25.

[12] Genesis 2:18

[13] Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 96-117.

[14] Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 62-63.

[15] A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin H. Friedman; New York, NY, Church Publishing, Inc; 1999, 2007; Pg. 14.

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An Extended Conversation…

The following is a paper I submitted in a class I recently took on Prayer:

 

“The teachers of the Egyptian desert understood in a particular way that prayer, our everyday lives, and Christian reflection are all of one piece.”[1]

 

Prayer is a conversation with God whose language is everything we are, do, and experience. A common expression regarding deeply spiritual people is that they live “a life of prayer.” I would suggest that life IS prayer. Everything we do is in the presence of God, whether we intend God’s presence, or realize it; God is here…

And God speaks…

And God acts…

We must learn how to hear, see, and interpret God’s communicative activity in the world. In fact, that is one side of prayer: Knowing God.

“One day a friend of mine was walking through a shopping mall with his two-year-old son. The child was in a particularly cantankerous mood, fussing and fuming. The frustrated father tried everything to quiet his son, but nothing seemed to help. The child simply would not obey. Then, under some special inspiration, the father scooped up his son and, holding him close to his chest, began singing an impromptu love song. None of the words rhymed. He sang off key. And yet, as best he could, this father began sharing his heart. ‘I love you,’ he sang. ‘I’m so glad you’re my boy. You make me happy. I like the way you laugh.’ On they went from one store to the next. Quietly the father continued singing off key and making up words that did not rhyme. The child relaxed and became still, listening to this strange and wonderful song. Finally, they finished shopping and went to the car. As the father opened the door and prepared to buckle his son into the car seat, the child lifted his head and said simply, ‘Sing it to me again, Daddy! Sing it to me again!’”[2]

 

Just like the song above, the bible is also a tool:

Words which sometimes rhyme and sometimes don’t…

The tune is sometimes harmonic and sometimes off key and dissonant…

But the words come from God’s heart and tell of God’s love for us. We learn of God’s values and priorities there, as well, but underlying it all is the voice of God. We learn to recognize the tone and timbre of God’s voice. We hear the beating of God’s heart as we are pulled close to God’s breast. What we learn of God in the bible helps us distinguish the voice of God in the midst of all the other voices in our hearts and lives.

We learn to hear…

We learn to see…

The other side of prayer is what we learn about ourselves. We learn to know and become honest about ourselves and our intentions. We also learn, as the little boy did that, sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of what we intend, God loves us. And the love of God changes us.

“A Buddhist monk once came to visit me and told me the following story:

 

–The Zen Master—

Many years ago, there was a young man who searched for truth, happiness, joy, and the right way of living. After many years of traveling, many diverse experiences, and many hardships, he realized that he had not found any answers for his questions and that he needed a teacher. One day he heard about a famous Zen Master. Immediately he went to him, threw himself at his feet, and said: ‘Please, Master, be my teacher.’

 

The Master listened to him, accepted his request, and made him his personal secretary. Wherever the Master went, his new secretary went with him. But although the Master spoke to many people who came to him for advice and counsel, he never spoke to his secretary. After three years, the young man was so disappointed and frustrated that he no longer could restrain himself. One day he burst out in anger, saying to his Master: ‘I have sacrificed everything, given away all I had, and followed you. Why haven’t you taught me?’ The Master looked at him with great compassion and said: ‘Don’t you understand that I have been teaching you during every moment you have been with me? When you bring me a cup of tea, don’t I drink it? When you bow down to me, don’t I bow down to you? When you clean my desk, don’t I say: ‘Thank you very much’?’

 

The young man could not grasp what his Master was saying and became very confused. Then suddenly the Master shouted at the top of his voice: ‘When you see, you see it direct.’ At that moment the young man received enlightenment.”[3]

 

As with the Zen student, we are invited to follow our Master: Jesus, as he travels through scripture and then to recognize the activity of Christ in the world around us. By so doing, we are changed into brothers and sisters of Christ, whose talents and specific actions may differ, but whose family resemblance is readily apparent.

Language:

 

The language of prayer is as follows:

Words/silence…

Community/solitude…

Nature/urban…

Sex/celibacy…

Work/leisure…

Feasting/fasting…

Simple/complex…

Intellect/emotions…

Giving/receiving…

Music/images…

Profanity….

Yes… there is profanity in prayer. Profanity is harsh language used to express intense emotion in a succinct manner. We experience pain as the profanity of God. However, the intense emotion pain is intended to express is love. Pain often deepens us and tends to draw us closer to God. And yet it is our response to pain which shows whether we are listening for God or not. If we respond to God’s profanity with profanity of our own, it is a counterintuitive statement that we, in fact, were listening. Pain is especially troubling because of the emotional dissonance it brings. Asking “why” at least infers that the conversation continues. Choosing to use blame as a response, ends the discussion, because it denies the power of personal responsibility, or “response-ability.”

 In our life prayer, we endeavor to learn the language of God. God understands the variety of languages we each individually communicate, be it emotionally, intellectually, physically, creatively, culturally, intuitively, and so forth. God knows our language innately as well as through the life and experience of Christ, from our human perspective. God even knows the language which emanates from the depths of each of us. Things even we don’t know. God knows our intentions, and the actions of which we are and are not capable. All of this language, God understands.

But the language of God… It takes a lifetime for us to begin to speak and understand the language of God. Pain is an introductory course in the language, character, and values of God. Grace leads God to speak our language most of the time. Pain, and God’s silence in the midst of it, invites us to trust in spite of our experience.

“Sometimes we feel so much fear and anxiety, and identify so closely with our suffering, that our pain masks the questions. Once pain or confusion is framed or articulated by a question, it must be lived rather than answered. The first task of seeking guidance then is to touch your own struggles, doubts, and insecurities—in short, to affirm your life as a quest. Your life, my life, is given graciously by God. Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide.”[4]

 

“It is hard for us to grasp the idea of redemptive suffering because our whole culture mitigates against any form of discomfort or inconvenience… But the entire life of Jesus shows us the compatibility of grace and suffering.”[5]

 

Obviously, pain isn’t the only manner in which God speaks. He certainly speaks through beauty, joy, and a multitude of other ways, but it is easy for us to stop looking for God in our pleasures, because at some level, we believe we deserve them. Pain… not so much.

Place:

 

The place for prayer is anywhere, because God is there. Our challenge regarding place, is to also be fully there. God can be all places at once, we cannot. Being fully present in a place… this place… of prayer is an adventure of creative observation in which we open our senses to the intricate beauty of God’s workmanship within a physical location. Our intention is also to recognize that we are part of this particular place in this particular time.

This semester, I took a personal, urban spiritual retreat in the urban core of Kansas City. Since I have an intense love for coffee shops, I spent time in three separate, independent coffee shops. They are my favorites in the urban core. I endeavored to speak only when spoken to, respond to the requests of others, while also reading and concentrate on being aware of how I was part of the environment. I took my camera, and tried to perceive and “capture” images of beauty in the urban environment. Urban life resonates with my soul. Vistas can be both harmonic and dissonant at the same time. There is both comedy and tragedy within feet of each other. Holy places and profane places, as well. A real place existing in tension. It is a reminder to me of the universe into which I was born.

Effects:

 

It has been said that prayer doesn’t change God; it changes us. But scripture teaches that prayer also changes God, even while it changes us. Not God’s essence, to be sure, but God’s mind and intentions. Roberta Bondi suggests that God changes due to our requests as a result of friendship. One mark of friendship which she surprisingly applies both to people and God is accountability:

“…judgment is an act of God’s friendship toward us as God daily holds us accountable to the friendship… Somehow, however, although we expect God to hold us accountable in our relationship with God, we believe that it is blasphemous or at least wrong to ask for accountability from God in return. But the real saints of the bible, the very ones whom the monastics took as their models for friendship with God, show us otherwise. When the Israelites made the golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, God responded by deciding to wipe out the whole tribe of Israel. Moses, however, argued with God, saying,

 

‘Why should your anger blaze at your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt by your great power and mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say ‘[God] brought them out with evil intention, to slaughter them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Give up your burning wrath; relent over this disaster intended for your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom you swore by your very self and made this promise: ‘I shall make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.’’[6]

[7]

 

In the above story of the Exodus, God relented and the Israelites were spared due to Moses’ prayerful intervention. God changed.

Richard Foster further suggests that God responds to our requests due to our relationship, but for another reason: we have changed.

“When we have immersed ourselves long enough in the way of Christ, we can smell Gospel. So we ask and do as we know we would ask and do. How do we know what Jesus would ask and do, you may ask? Well, how does a couple who has been married many loving years know what each other thinks and wants and feels? We know even as we are known. This is how we pray in Jesus’ name.”[8]

 

We, then ask for things God also wants, and then ask persistently. Life prayer establishes a relationship with God which is characterized by mutual giving and receiving. We become brothers/sisters of Christ through prayer where each is influenced by the other. However, before we are brothers/sisters of Christ, we must first become children of God.

Several nights ago, I was outside thinking about the spiritual concept of becoming the brother of Christ. I decided I would imagine the 33-year-old Jesus standing outside with me. Immediately, my imagination was co-opted by the image of young children where I work when I try to interact with them. Most of them are shy, and they go quickly to their mother and grab hold of her leg. They protect themselves by placing their mother between themselves and the big scary man. I readily understood the point. It was as if Jesus were saying to me,

“Larry, you are a shy child whom I must coax to myself. Once you come to me, you can place me between yourself and the scary world. Hide behind my robes. You must come to me as a child of my father before you are my brother.”

Having an “adult” relationship with God is preceded with a “child’s” relationship with God. Life prayer facilitates that growth.

Conclusion:

 

This semester has been a journey in itself. My experience of prayer has been stretched and broadened to include many activities that I would not have imagined before. I have also been warmed by the fires of distant Christian brothers and sisters, as the heat of their passion for Christ stretches through the centuries. Their thoughts have warmed my soul through Roberta Bondi’s book. Prayer, by Richard Foster, is now on my list as a classic. I will invariably use it for future small groups, as a resource for spiritual formation conversations, and to use in a book study with friends.

I must confess that although I have been a Christian for 34 years, I am just coming to know God, personally. God constantly surprises me by how he works. I look forward to drawing closer to him, and to learn how to live in a synergistic fashion. His love and care have been very near in the past several years, but have not smothered me. God has allowed me space to learn. I am learning that this is a habit of his. There is a back and forth to our relationship that has helped me learn and choose to trust him. I am finding prayer to be both a deep and shallow work. It encompasses all of my life in all its forms. This class has become a corner stone for who I will become. Thank you, MaryKate, Roberta, and Richard… and Cohort 10.

 


[1] Roberta C. Bondi, To Pray and to Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church; (Minneapolis, MN; Augsburg Fortress, 1991) Pg.10

[2] Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York, NY; Harper Collins, 1991) Pg. 3-4

[3] Henri J. M. Nouwen, with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith (New York, NY; Harper Collins, 2006) Pg. 3-4.

[4] Henri J. M. Nouwen, with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith (New York, NY; Harper Collins, 2006) Pg. 6.

[5] Foster, pg. 218.

[6] See Exodus 32:11-14.

[7] Bondi, Pg. 126.

[8] Foster, Pg. 195-196.