Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is Intercessory Prayer?

Maybe intercessory prayer is a mystery too great to fathom. Nevertheless, I want to talk about it, to have a conversation, especially with people practicing contemplative prayer. You may be like me and need very little encouragement to practice silence and solitude, the clarity and courage that flow from these practices call me back to them. But "importunate prayer," is something else altogether.

The obvious, familiar difficulty is that God knows best what is needed and loves the people or persons for whom we are praying far more than we do. I can imagine that God would want to share with us the joy of loving his creation and that intercessory prayer is an act of love. But there are far more compelling and courageous ways to love and to pray. Even the act of deep attention given to another person or any part of creation appears more loving to me then asking God to change something. Additionally, I can think of dozens of hard circumstances that produced fruit in my life that would not have ripened if God had answered my prayer for reprieve. I feel more drawn to the prayer, "Thy will, not mine be done?"

I found this quote by Father Kenneth Leech in his book True Prayer: It speaks to something deep in me, but it looks so different than what has been modeled for me that I can hardly conceive of it as intercession.

"Intercessory prayer is not a technique for changing God's mind, but it is a releasing of God's power through placing ourselves in a relationship of co-operation with God. It is an act. Prayer and action should not be opposed to each other, for prayer is action. Intercession means literally to stand between, to become involved in the conflict."

Do you petition God? Does Father Leech's emphasis on co-operation and becoming involved in the conflict ring true for you? Do you see a fault in my questions about this form of prayer? I value your feedback. Through conversation we can expand each other's horizons.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Christ Bearers

For at least a year now I have been blessed with an acute awareness of my petty, resentful sins. I keep asking for forgiveness and offering it to anyone whose actions provoke my anger. I attempt to accept the circumstances that grate at my sense of justice or what I think of as simple courtesy. Nevertheless, the irritation keeps rising up in me.

I feel that God is asking me to let it be, to experience my powerlessness, to continue on my way without the resolution for which I pray. Thankfully, I can hold the resentment without dumping it onto others, but the holding of it, the experience of being filled up with bitterness is extremely distasteful. I'm beginning to wonder if it might feel better to be punished than forgiven.

I do feel forgiven by God and I am grateful for the grace that enables me to hold rather then express an anger that would change nothing and be hurtful to those upon whom I sometimes wish to unload. I feel that God has me in a deep process that requires continual confrontation of the parts of myself that need to be exposed and seen for what they are.

What are these sinful, immature, unfinished parts of my personality? And what is to be done with them? My sense is that God wants to reintegrate them, that he dreams of wholeness for me. But there is some kind of sorting out or reorganization that needs to take place, along with pruning, perhaps. One thing is clear, I alone can not accomplish this reformation.

I was surprised to find myself thinking that it might feel better to be punished than forgiven. Being punished has a finality about it. Being forgiven doesn't take away the consequence of being a sinner in a world of sinners. This has me thinking that while I do believe that forgiveness is free and that God is truly at peace with me, there is much more cross bearing required of us than I was led to believe. By that I mean the bearing of sin, my own and others. Not being punished for sin, but enduring its consequences.

We are at peace with God but we are still expected to share in Christ's suffering, to bear his cross, to return good for evil. I sometimes imagine that to follow Christ in this world is to become a filter of evil. To take in the anger and ill will that comes out of all the brokenhearted people who can not contain it. Even to welcome it because we are Christ bearers. God put eternity into our hearts. Maybe that means that there is enough space in our souls to bear the expressions of pain that we confront everyday, to hold it so that it can't bounce off the walls and hurt others.

A scene from the movie Gandhi comes to mind. A line of protesters walk up to a gate and one by one they receive blows from heavy wooden sticks wielded by guards who eventually see the awful futility of their violence and quit. The victory is won not by bringing force against force, but a willingness to bear injustice and by so doing reveal it for what it is.

David Norling

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why I did not go to church on Good Friday

I spent the majority of my growing-up years in churches where, if you loved Jesus, you showed up "every time the doors were open."  If there was a service, you were there with a smile pasted on your face and a Bible under your arm.  Let's just say: it was a policy aimed at quantity rather than quality.

Now that I'm Anglican, I've learned a whole new way to look at church.  Holy Week always trips me up though -- so many services, each beautiful in its own way.  Shouldn't I show just because it's a good thing to do?

Alas, good things are not always holy things, and finding God is no quadratic equation.

This year I found myself wondering about attending a Good Friday service.  You see, very cold temperatures (at least for Florida) early in the week had derailed my plans for planting my garden during spring break.  I still had many plants sitting meekly around my flower beds, waiting for their turns to be buried in the now-warm soil.

So it was a choice -- gardens or church?

And I thought, surely this is not really a choice.  If I love Jesus, won't I choose church?  (Old ways of thinking cling like dead leaves to bare branches.)

There was a whisper -- "Plant the garden."

So I did.  First time missing church on a Good Friday since I had Good Friday church to go to.

As I dug deep, pulling out old roots to make room for new ones to grow, I thought, "This is Good Friday."  Not all liturgy is words.  Holiness is not locked within four walls.

That is why I did not go to church on Good Friday.


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