Tangible theology series part one: PrayerBy Tom Airey
This is part one of a series I’m calling “tangible theology.” It’s an attempt to reposition our bold-yet-humble thoughts about God where they belong — smack dab in the center of our everyday lives.
I am absolutely convinced that theology should always be a series of dialogues, never a system of pronouncements. I invite you to read and respond to these posts, which reflect honest conversations I’ve had with friends who have sincere questions and doubts about the trajectory of their faith and spirituality. On its best days, my spiritual journey has been about transformation, not information. An ever-changing life, not a head full of knowledge.
Prayer is a pilgrimage into the deepest recesses of our being. It is being attentive to God’s active presence both with us and within us. The 15th-century Indian contemplative Kabir wrote that “God is the breath inside the breath.” The Apostle Paul quoted the philosopher Epimenides as he sermonized the Athenians: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” God is that energy and power and inspiration that we draw upon to live and thrive.
Prayer is the intentional practice of actively marinating in the Love that holds the universe together. This Love is defined by the unique blend of divine compassion, forgiveness and suffering service, culminating on the cross of Jesus. This Love is at the very core of our being because that is where God resides. Prayer beckons this Love into our daily lives. Deep breaths in solitude and silence remind us that Love fills our lungs and our life, not only sustaining ourselves but exhaling into subversive acts of compassion, forgiveness and suffering service to others.
Prayer is visualizing a whole “new world” where greed, hatred and suffering no longer exist. This is what Jesus did when he woke up before dawn and left the house to find a solitary place (Mark 1:35), and it is what he did when he craved solitude to discern God’s will in the final hours before his arrest and execution (Mark 14:36). Nonviolent resistance requires clear vision and immense strength of purpose. Like the world-class athlete who stills her body and mind to proactively imagine the upcoming match, pioneers of the new world mindfully cultivate a strategic and creative game plan. In order to do ordinary things differently, we think through our upcoming day, infusing it with generosity, forgiveness and a disciplined simplicity that transcends corporate consumerism. The new world doesn’t just happen. It’s not about passively waiting for God’s miracle to come. It’s about pledging allegiance to the new world and living it into that reality.
Prayer is a pause to take inventory of the addictive patterns that autopilot us. My workaholism and achievement orientation keep me from breathing in the Love that fosters growth and nourishment. When I bind my anxiety and the chaos of life by over-functioning or caretaking or obsessing over the approval of mere acquaintances, I spiral into a netherworld of dehumanization. I become less than the man I was created to be. The pain and woundedness of my past are too haunting to face…so I repress them with a trip to the used bookstore or the gym. Prayer is a subversive tactic that allows me to sit with my (real) feelings and refuse to counterfeit myself with trifles.
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