Click here for the lesson on prayer.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this lesson?
2. How does your lifestyle influence your experience of prayer?
3. How does prayer influence your lifestyle?
4. How important do you think it is to take time for formal prayer? Please explain.
I know that no one can give me a definite answer, but I've been thinking about the whole idea of prayer for specific needs (our own and those of others). The essay in this section stresses the importance of prayer as taking time to be present to God and that makes sense to me.
What I'm struggling with is this whole notion of prayer for specific needs. Phil, you mentioned once, that there had been situations where the people on one wing in a hospital had people praying for them and and those people showed more improvement, even though they were not aware that they were being prayed for. OK, fine. But then, it almost sounds like a popularity contest (with prayers sort of counting like votes). Will God show favor over people who have more friends who are praying for them? If two people have the same illness, but one is young and beautiful and has small children and her case becomes high profile, with LOTS of people praying for her, then is God more apt to intervene in her case? Or, if one is alone, maybe older, with no family, living in a large city where she has few friends and not many people praying for her, will God be less apt to intervene? God certainly doesn't love the person with the low-profile case any less, does he?
So, then, what is the point in praying for either of them? (I know how awful that sounds and I really don't mean that we shouldn't pray for people.)
You told me once, Phil, that we can ask God for anything, but all we can expect of Him is to be with us through it all. (I hope I got that right.) So, when I pray for other people I ask God to be with them. Should I be asking for more?
Anne, our prayers of petition, to me, seem to reinforce a proper orientation of us as creaures toward our Creator and, whatever they may be about, are a fitting response to Jesus and the manner He taught us to pray. As our liturgies reveal, our petitionary prayers are both specific and general, individual and communal. This is true for prayers of praise and thanksgiving also. Somehow, I believe that all of our prayer is joined together as the prayer of the Church for, as it is said, we invoke because we have been convoked.
On one hand, we positively affirm the efficacy of petitionary prayer. On the other hand, we reject too facile an explanation of precisely how it works. I think there is some error involved in the preaching of the "prosperity Gospel" and that any notion that suggests we can force God's hands formulaically is misguided and disrespectful of God's sovereignity. At the same time, we are stewards of various forms of giftedness and it may well be that we can indeed direct and redirect subtle energy fields that play a role in healing, both through intentionality and laying on of hands or Reiki, etc.
I do know this, that our character and faith formation and our spiritual transformation is primary while our physical well being is secondary, not to deny holistic realities and the integral natures of our tripartite being but only to recognize that our will to love is always advanced in prayer even as these mortal bodies are slowly being cast off through aging and disease.
This is my insufficient answer to what remains immersed in mystery.
Here's an oldie but you can decide if it is a goodie
Posted by johnboy on September 21, 1999 at 16:33:44:
Subject: Finding the Answers to Our Prayers of Petition
Does God answer prayers of petition?
Yes. All of them. Without question. Foremost, He accomplishes the all important, over-riding unitive goals. He invariably does this and we do
experience it profoundly (although sometimes only after the passage of time).
In the attainment of such unitive goals: spirits are transformed, solidarity is felt, compassion ensues, wills are aligned, heart beats are synchronized,
tears are merged, laughter is shared, gazes are refocused on the Wholly and Holy Other, hands are tightly clasped and embraces abound. These unitive
goals are achieved in every prayer of petition and in every circumstance giving rise to same, whether in the midst of suffering or in the portals of joy.
Does God go beyond the spiritually unitive goals and provide for our temporal wants and needs?
Sometimes. Often even. When He does, this is what the cajuns would call "lagniappe". Not to say that we don't feel awfully impoverished when He says: "no lagniappe" to those prayers which are most deeply
felt, to those losses most painfully endured.
The answers and their patterns which we observe in response to our prayers of petition are especially obscure as regards temporal matters (e.g. life and
death, relationship issues, food and finances, etc).
However, those answers and their patterns which we observe in response to our prayers of petition regarding those matters eternal and/or unitive are as
emphatic as they are clear. Take a second glance next time you pray and inventory the unitive goals that are achieved. It'll make you pray more often! Don't forget to say thanks, too, for all the Lagniappe, for that is
our cajun God in disguise (though not obliquely, eh?).
So pray for every need you can conceive of, importunately and incessantly,
temporal or eternal.
Say one for me, too.
Here are some more oldies:
Rahner: "With a worldly shrewdness ..., we want our
'bird in the hand' as well as our 'birds in the bush' -
happiness here as well as hereafter- in fact, the best of both
worlds." ..."Christ has answered our questions by teaching us
how to pray. He has taught us to pray in words of direct
supplication, of holy confidence, of complete submission."
The above sentiment seems quite presumptuous ? That He would
condescend to interact with your every move ? that He would
counter your every thought, word or deed, your every sin or
error of omission or of commission ? that He (the White King),
in union with Mary (the White Queen) and all the other angels
and saints (the other white pieces), is continually and
intimately involved in the minutiae of your daily life ? that
God is stooping to an undignified meddling with the petty
affairs of your petty world (cf. Rahner 1946) ? that God is
adjusting and rearranging what was created as already adequate
in itself ?
excerpted from here
I think there is some error involved in the preaching of the "prosperity Gospel" and that any notion that suggests we can force God's hands formulaically is misguided and disrespectful of God's sovereignity. At the same time, we are stewards of various forms of giftedness and it may well be that we can indeed direct and redirect subtle energy fields that play a role in healing, both through intentionality and laying on of hands or Reiki, etc.
Yes, this makes sense to me. Thanks.
johnboy also wrote:
Does God answer prayers of petition?
Yes. All of them. Without question. Foremost, He accomplishes the all important, over-riding unitive goals. He invariably does this and we do
experience it profoundly (although sometimes only after the passage of time).
Thanks for that part, also.
Now, let's apply it to a situation. I have a friend who wasn't able to have any children. After many prayers by many people, she and her husband were able to adopt a little baby boy. The answer to the prayers, obviously. Still, I don't really believe that God didn't want her to have any children. There were biological problems that came into play. Perhaps enviromental conditions caused by human beings altered hormone levels which kept her body from working in the way needed to conceive a baby. So, do we say that it was God's will that she not have her own baby? I still don't think so. I think God wants her to be healthy and whole with a body that functions as it was designed. But, could her not having any children and adopting a baby boy be somehow part of a larger cosmic plan. In other words.....can something be a part of God's plan, but not necessarily be God's will?
I'm still having trouble with phrases like "God's will" and "it was meant to be" and "everything happens for a reason, etc."
Anne, I do recall our discussions about intercessory prayer, and I think you've summarized well some of the points I had been making.
JB has provided some good feedback, and it seems that you're answering a lot of your questions in your reflective posts, here.
I'll add a few points which might help, keeping in mind that there's much more to prayer than intercessory forms.
1. I'm convinced that some people are called by God to be "intercessors" . . . that God places in their hearts and minds burdens or concerns to pray about, sometimes in very specific ways. We might say that these people have a charism or gift of intercessory prayer; what they pray for usually comes to pass because God is the one who directed the intention from the beginning.
2. Nevertheless, we are all free to pray for whatever we wish, knowing that the answer might not be given as we would hope. Some things we may stand on as God's will--e.g., growing in faith, love, forgiveness, etc. Other things--like conceiving to have a child--aren't guarenteed in Scripture.
3. And so the issue of God's will, theodicy, etc. comes into play and is a troublesome aspect of intercessory prayer. What does it mean if a prayer like you mentioned (to conceive a child) isn't answered? Does it mean that it's God's will/intention that this couple not do so? The language we use to discuss these kinds of issues makes a big difference, for it reflects something about God--not always flattering. That's why I think theological reflection on some of the issues is very important.
4. No matter what one's intercessions, they ought to be expressed in a spirit of detachment. This helps to preserve the serenity which is a consequence of ongoing communion with God. Any conditions placed on that union--e.g., answer this prayer *or else*!!--end up destroying the real pearl of great price, which *is* our union with God and placing God in a position of being the One who exists to provide for our wishes. As we all know, that just doesn't work.
re: I'm still having trouble with phrases like "God's will" and "it was meant to be" and "everything happens for a reason, etc."
Two things come immediately to mind for me. First, the teachings on Divine Providence in the books Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre De Caussade and Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, SJ Blessed Claude de la Colombiere, SJ. Second, Romans 8.
Implicit in the idea that God makes all things work together for the good is the notion that all things ain't just right, that all of Creation is in one great act of giving birth. While the analogies that can spring forth from this metaphor might escape the attention of men, they can hardly escape the attention of mothers. Our transformative journeys, cosmically and individually, are painful. It may be that the sorrowful mysteries are outnumbered by the joyful, luminous and glorious mysteries in life, but they have their place nonetheless.
It is not that everything happens for a reason so much, therefore, but rather that everything which does happen can be redeemed and transformed and is. Why it happened in the first place is immersed in the mystery we know as suffering and, sometimes, it is almost cruel to speak of God's Will in rationalizing such natural evil as infertility or other illnesses or untimely death. It is within God's permissive will that anything can exist or happen but this concept requires so much theological reflection and heavy nuancing that it is best to stay away from it in attempts to console.
I think your intuitions are right on the mark.
<<The language we use to discuss these kinds of issues makes a big difference, for it reflects something about God--not always flattering.>>
Yes, we get into that blaming God/giving God credit debate. I read something which said that if we believe in a loving God, then we won't look to Him to place blame and assume His indifference, but we will look elsewhere for explanations (if indeed there are any to be found). The writer used the example of waiting for a friend who didn't show up. If I believe that my friend loves and cares about me, then I won't assume that he stood me up because he wants to cause me inconvenience or that he is inconsiderate of my feelings. I will look to other explanations such as flat tires, traffic, etc. This seems a rather simplistic way of looking at it all, but somehow it works for me.
<<It is not that everything happens for a reason so much, therefore, but rather that everything which does happen can be redeemed and transformed and is. Why it happened in the first place is immersed in the mystery.....>>
Yes, thank you, you said that just right.
<<I think your intuitions are right on the mark.>>
Thanks for both your feedback and encouragement.
Intercessory prayer is a topic that has filled my meditations and searches for a while. I believe, like Phil said, some are called to intercessory prayer. I have felt this calling for a while. But felt hesitant to talk about it because it does sound almost presumptious to think one is called to pray for others. It hasn't stopped me from doing it and trying to find out what 'it' is that I should be doing...the call to pray is that strong. I have come, long and tortuously, to another point Phil made (why didn't you just tell me that outright, Phil? )... the call has little to do with whether or not one considers oneself to be an effective pray-er (whatever 'effective' means). It is the recognition of the burden laid on the heart. The awareness, the burden , the NEED to pray for those given to me. That is the call.
A book that helped me a great deal is "Don't Just Stand There, Pray Something" by Robert Dunn. He talks of the intercessor identifying (in some manner) with the needs of the one being prayed for. To "stand in the gap" ( Ezekial 22:30) is to pray for someone and,faintly, imitate Jesus' intercession on the Cross. He definitely 'stood int he gap' for us.
Another piece to what goes on in intercessory prayer (thanks again, Phil) is in the psychic realm. This, to me, Anne is something of what goes on in the scenario you mentioned of praying for people in the hospital. Prayer adds an actual positive energy in the universe. When the positive energy is strong enough, or enough people pray, areas of focus are affected. It seems to work like any other system of balances. If you add enough water to the water wheel, it turns. In that way, it isn't God Who is deciding. He set up the rules, we need to follow them. This idea makes sense to me, but obviously doesn't answer everything.
In the end, I think intercessory prayer is a mystery, and definitely a matter of faith. God has asked us to pray for each other and our needs; yet we don't change His mind or convince Him of something or remind Him of a need, and He doesn't need us. Yet, somehow our prayers do affect things and, more importantly, He has told us to do this. So I do.
The two types of prayer, apophatic and kataphatic, you described are important points worth to look at in. Although it was a tradition at our home to pray every night and visit church at least one times a week in my childhood, I didn�t remember that I practise apophatic prayer in my adult age. I started my own of searching outside any organisations and disciplines. Suddenly in 1998 something unusual thing happened. It was mystical experience, which stay until today. After that period I became aware of my spiritual journey. In May 2004 I experienced the awakening of kundalini. Under this awakening process my spirit suddenly leads me to the image of Christ and Maria. What happened after this encounter is my spirituality deepens and become very rich. Every time I pray/meditate indescribable power emanates from the image of Christ. Unknowingly I embarked a life of contemplative prayer for a long time and suddenly I encounter the images of Christ and Maria. Important to note: the encounter with the images is not initiated by my mind. When my spirit leads me to the images it was a great surprise for me because I have never anticipated contacting God through image.
This precisely relate to the following description of yours. The only difference is I didn�t start my spiritual journey by practising kataphatic prayer.
"After awhile, the presence of God, which transcends all concepts and images, leads us to the general loving attentiveness of apophatic, contemplative prayer, which we might rest in for awhile, returning to kataphatic prayer a little later."
Grace, in several of your posts, you've alluded to a distinction in your experience between being led by your mind vs. being led by your spirit. Could you say a little more about this -- how being led by spirit is different from being led by mind, and what the experience of thought in like in both cases? Thanks.
The Spirit speaks in so many ways. I've met those with clairaudience or visions and other manifestations. Evelyn Underhill devotes an entire chapter of her classic Mysticism to these phenomenon.
I usually get a feeling accompanying certain thoughts or activities which verifies that I am on track. For instance, yesterday, for reasons unknown to me I had one of my mini-ecstacies listening to Ronald Reagan speak. I love to listen
to preachers and his voice had the same effect on me. I conclude that President #40 was a channeler
Now these feelings are sometimes subjective, so I check them out with someone I trust, and with the word of God. This is where bible study comes in handy. Guidance from the Source will NEVER contradict the Word.
I know you asked Grace but there is my $00.02
"Could you say a little more about this -- how being led by spirit is different from being led by mind, and what the experience of thought in like in both cases? Thanks."
You observed an important aspect in my spiritual life. I have waiting somebody will pick up this question and you did it. Good question, Phil. What I mean by mind in this post is the ordinary mind with full movemnts of thought.
Years ago when I started my searching it was not aimed to attain something. My only drive force was my curiosity. I was curious to know what lies beyond all refernces and images, I was curious to know what the unknown is by studying the known. This searching touch almost all fields: science, philosophy, politics, religion, literature etc.. Nevertheless, I have never thought to embark spiritual life. Obvilusly what I did was spiritual searching without knowing it. When I see my life in retrospect this searching without knowing has been pivotal in my spiritual life. After I had those mysterious experiences since 1998 I come to the notion that every thought calculated by mind regardless how genuine it is doesn't lead to anything if it focused to attain something. I think this curiousity to know the unknown without anticipating to attain something extraordinary has contributed a lot to the mysterious experience I have today. At the "end" of my searching when that mysterious light unfold infront of me I couldn't believe my eyes. I asked myself How could this happen to a man who has never applied spiritual practise? My close friends commented "You must be chosen". I couldn't accept this notion. Furthermore my question get clarity. In fact I was leading very spiritual life in its deapest meaning without being aware of it. In both East and West religions God is percieved as something beyond our mind. It is correct, however there are very few people who took this notion seriously. That God is beyond our mind is not enough to understand it intellectually.
My mind was not inclined to reach God. It was only concentrated to search the Truth with an open mind. What I mean to have an open mind is to don't cling to any idea, religious belief, political and non-political organisations. If the mind try all of this things in order to see God, that will never happen because the mind is altready attached to reach God, which is the image of the mind. Since I didn't have any special purpose in my searching I didn't know I was equipped by an open mind. I didn't know I was in a spiritual path. It is tricky.
At the edge of this searching God emerges with its powerful energy and welcomes that open mind. From that moment on the spirit or the energy activated by God do the rest of the job. What is my role? Simply cooaperate and observe the miracle work of the God. What is the state of my mind after 1998? The activity of the mind as usual continue, it is trying to find an answer to those miracles happened but it can't change the course of that energy or spirit. The mind is allowed to dance in its limited area but it has no power. What born out of this experience is FAITH. I understand why Christ emphasise a lot on Faith. Today I'm definitely sure I'm in the hands of God and I don't know where it will lead me. My Faith hinder the mind to be confused. Otherwise it will repeatidly ask where am I going? The mind asks: am I towards the unity of man and God which has been the ultimate goal of Christian mystics? This question is simply one thougt it rises and vanishes at the same moment but the power of the God sustain and continue its work in me. It is really fascinating to observe. My Faith in that marvelious power, God, helps me to get answer to some of the question the mind asked. My mind knows it is under attack and it surrender. Therfore it has no role in my spiritual development. I need my mind only when I want to do my day to day practical activity. Even during an intense meditation I see the movemnts of thought but they are paralyzed, they don't have influence in that power.
This is a little bit difficult topic to explain so I don't know if I'm clear. During the moment of meditation the mind is totally dominated by that power otherwise it can do its daily business quietly. I observed the quality of my ordinary mind is changed. It seems my mind is accustomed to be governed by the power of the God which is still unknown to the mind.
Phil I don't know if I answered your question. Welcome to other following questions.
Grace, thank you for sharing your response (what is your native language, btw? I know it must be hard to express some of this in English.). It seems that your pathway has been very apophatic, almost Buddhist or along the lines of Krishnamurti. There is a deep humility that comes through, along with a profound detachment and openness. . . a waiting for truth and mystery to manifest and tell its own story.
You mention that it is your faith that helps you find answers to questions asked by the mind, and you identify faith as your experience of God. Am I understanding you correctly? So you are saying that the answers do not come from the exercise of the mind apart from faith -- and I agree. But is there not also implied here a kind of relationship between the mind and faith--i.e., faith might actually seek what the mind is suggesting . . .
-- the mind's questions can have a role in stimulating the exercise of faith . .
and so forth. This would not collapse faith into an operation of mind, but it would affirm a relationship between the two, including an affirmation of theology as a way in which the mind translates the truths discovered in faith into a medium that incorporates the mind and its operations into the life of faith. Am I making sense, here?
Now, then, taking it another step, we can see that theologies borne of faith rather than mere rational speculation contain and even communicate something of this faith. IOW, good theology is not merely a conception trip, but a way of encountering faith at the level of mind. And because faith goes beyond the mind, good theology can awaken those spiritual sensitivities where faith operates most purely. This has been my experience, at least, and so I am not adverse to dogmas, doctrines, etc., as they are generally distillations of truth borne of faith experience and discerned in the lived experiences of the Christian community. There are times when it seems that faith needs to lean on these and be nourished by them to some extent. Faith is not synonymous with mere belief in the conceptual content of doctrines, but without such content, the mind struggles to find its place in the life of faith. Again, that is my experience, but it helps me to appreciate how these all relate in meaningful ways.
"It seems that your pathway has been very apophatic, almost Buddhist or along the lines of Krishnamurti."
Yes, it seems some of my experience is in line with the teachings of Krishnamurti. My encounter with Christ and Maria is significant for my spiritual experience and it is definitely diverted from the teachings of K. Previously you suggested my encounter with Christ has to do with my catholic background and baptism. Does this imply my encounter with Christ could never occurred if I had another background?
"But is there not also implied here a kind of relationship between the mind and faith--i.e., faith might actually seek what the mind is suggesting . . .
-- the mind's questions can have a role in stimulating the exercise of faith . . "
As a result of those mysterious experiences, faith established and consolidated in me. Mind continues its movement as usual but now it is in its proper place i.e. it knows it has limited power. God is still unknown for mind. It seems it will never know God through its limited power. When mind exhibited by that unknown power it asked a lot of questions. Usually I get knowledge unexpectedly and those answers (knowledge) I have got from that power can include some of the questions of mind but it has never initiated by mind. The knowledge of God is very expansive and limitless. This knowledge can't be initiated by very narrow and limited mind and God has never answered the particular question asked by mind. It is a process, which goes independently untouched by mind. God is Love and that love is full of knowledge. We gain knowledge from God regardless mind asks or not. Viewing from the perspective of that gained knowledge of God sometimes the questions of mind looks like very ridiculous. So, it is not my experience that mind can stimulate the exercise of faith.
"...we can see that theologies borne of faith rather than mere rational speculation contain and even communicate something of this faith."
The question is how can theology communicate the essence of that gained knowledge from God. Obviously it can communicate at intellectual level, but it is different to understand it intellectually and to see it as it is. I believe the essence of that gained knowledge is communicable to the one who has some kind of spiritual experience. You mention good theology can awaken those spiritual sensitivities where faith operates most purely. I think it demands very attentive mind to awaken those spiritual sensitivities. Ordinary mind can only understand it intellectually.
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