Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saying our prayers

Prayers. Yes, not prayer, but prayers. We like to talk about prayer, but prayers, that is, written prayers that are read, or said, or offered ‘by rote’ we tend to play down. And for good reason, we want to have a real relationship with our living and true God, we want to speak to Him in our own words, we want to feel the intimacy which does not come from reading rote prayers. But are we actually praying, if we are not reading those written prayers?

We go to church. Yes, we attend the Divine Liturgy, we stand together, or sit, during the chanting of the petitions, we hear chanters, maybe the people, maybe even ourselves, singing the responses, ‘Lord, have mercy,’ and ‘Grant this, O Lord.’ Are we uniting ourselves to those liturgical prayers, are we standing ‘in the Presence’ silently agreeing with what is going on? Are we actually praying? And if we are, is this all of our prayer for the week?

People wonder why they are plagued with domestic discord, family members treating each other as if they were enemies, letting arguments drive deep wedges between siblings or between marital partners, allowing resentments to build up, even while they are church-goers. They may have started out as a praying family, the parents leading the children in daily prayers, yes, from the prayer book, even doing prostrations, even the kiss of peace.

Then, at some point, perhaps as the children grew older and became self-conscious, to pray with the family seemed embarrassing, or maybe the family’s gradually changing needs interfered with keeping a regular prayer rule and prayer time. And so, little by little, the common prayer of a family breaks down, and so slowly that it isn’t at first noticed, behaviors begin to change, to take on a worldly aspect, and soon it is unthinkable to pray together.

Unthinkable to pray together? Unfortunately, yes. Even to make the sign of the Cross before eating, let alone signing the Cross and audibly blessing the food and thanking God, becomes unthinkable. Reading prayers has already long disappeared and, if anyone is still praying, still talking to God, it is in frustrated tones, because it is tied to immediate problems, sometimes even in blaming tones, and instead of healing, such prayer only anesthetizes.

Many people, individuals and families, find themselves in this predicament. We have abandoned the traditional prayers that we learned as children. If we even remember them, maybe because we hear them in the services, we still avoid the bother of saying them at home. We don’t start the day, especially those dark, cold, winter mornings, by waking up, going to our prayer corner, lighting the lamp, and with no further ado, reading or reciting them.

The funny thing is, God already knows everything about us. Even if we didn’t articulate in our own words what it is we want to ask of Him, He knows, and He is more than willing to answer us. The traditional prayers, and the physical actions of standing, of bowing, of prostrating, of lighting the oil lamp, of burning a pinch of incense, none of these are needed by God. All of these things are His gift to us, to heal us, teach us, preserve us in this world.

Why is it that we are so afraid to yield to what is good for us and instead seek our own way? Young people who were brought up to pray with their siblings and their parents can no longer bring themselves to do so. They develop personal problems, are rent by resentments, languish in laziness, become addicted to intoxicants and narcotics, self-diagnose or wrongly entrust themselves to ‘professionals’ who lead them along instead of healing them.

But the best way is always God’s way, always the way of Christ, yes, even the way of the Cross. Yet it is not a bitter road that leads to life, as long as it is life that we really want. And can we want life, when we busy ourselves with every distraction we can find, rather than returning to God in the easy and satisfying way He has provided, by prayer? This has got to be the road we take, if we want wholeness, if we want peace, if we want health, bodily and mentally.

Back to written prayers, back to simple ceremonies that teach humility and love. ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are in all places and fill all things…’ and ‘Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, pardon our sins. Master, forgive our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy…’

And the reason, if we want to hear it, comes from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.’ If our way is troubled, if our lives are distracted, if we need to be set right, we know what to do, it’s as simple as saying our prayers.

Read also: On Prayer XIV: Family Prayer

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