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Comprehensively
Speaking on
Prayer

         "From the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he has made. As a result, people have no excuse. They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God. Instead, their thoughts were total nonsense, and their misguided minds were plunged into darkness. While claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for statues that looked like mortal humans, birds, animals, and snakes" (Romans 1:20-23, GW).

        Paul is pointing out that even before the revelation of the Creator through the Scriptures and Christ, God was clearly evident through the observation of His creation. Thanks to the gifts of science and technology, our ability to observe creation has taken a quantum leap since Paul's day. One of those magnificent tools has been quantum physics.

        Until Isaac Newton, the world view was rich in the sense and reverence of mystery. In mystery there is wisdom, spirals and layers of it. "Mystery" was not regarded as a problem to be solved or a challenge to be controlled. Instead, it was celebrated in art, music, dance and ritual. Remnants of our attraction to mystery remain in our modern cultural consciousness, for there still is a universal love for being in the presence of misty mountain tops, the cadence of surf rolling on the beaches, the telling of ancient stories around a dancing campfire. At those precious moments, we certainly do not want a technocrat interrupting the magic with explanations of how the fire is "really" released energy from the breaking of molecular bonds through rapid oxidation producing carbon dioxide that contributes to planetary warming. Even so, try as he might, he would fail at explaining away the mystery: "While claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the immortal God for statues" or, today, for thought models and their very limited theories which are useful in technological applications.

        Newtonian physics was and still is useful. The western world embraced as reality that time was linear, that every effect had a cause that preceded it, that elements of nature and energy could be measured and quantified, and thus predicted. The universe was construed to be a machine operating by strict "laws." God may have made it, but He turned it on and just let it run. Prayer may supernaturally override these "natural laws," so an "explanation" of the miraculous was adopted. This is known as "deism." Much has been said of the US founders being men of God, but they were deists in their spiritual practice. They incorporated the new paradigm of the science of their time.

        The quantum physics of the mid-20th century turned Newtonian models upside down and inside out. Subatomic particles are now "energy bundles" or quanta which don't move linearly but in a time relative field, "disappearing" from one "place" and reappearing in another without going through distance, which could be in the next galaxy. So we speak of possibilities governed by the "uncertainty principle." Time itself no longer looks like a line with a past, present and future. Neutrinos from the sun come in ahead of themselves and effects can take place before their causes exist. As many ministers increasingly talk in the secular language of psychology and black-and-white, either/or principles, physicists are talking the language of mystics and mystery.

        Research centers such as PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University, NJ) are bringing human consciousness into the quantum physics realm, accumulating a wealth of data supporting the power of mental intention in influencing physical and mechanical events. Paul's previously quoted assertion, "God's invisible qualities, his eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he has made," becomes a greater gift today than for those of our ancestors as our ability to observe what God has made has increased thousands-fold. Our understanding of the nature and power of prayer is consequently enhanced.

         "Before they call, I will answer" (Isaiah 66:24b, GW). "Even before there is a single word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord"(Psalm 139:4, GW). These verses and others like them seem to imply God is looking into the future, that is if you believe time is linear. But consider that the book of Revelation says that "the Lamb [Christ] was slain before the foundation of the world." Then what about His crucifixion around 30 AD? Quantum physicists know that some events that appear to us in the future have determined the outcome of other events that already happened. In other terms, there is no future or past for God. Things that are happening to us now are influenced by what we will pray in our future. Personally, I can cite instances of what one would call divine providence or intervention that I found myself addressing in prayer after it happened. An example of this is getting an unexpected check in the mail the day after you pray that need. Obviously, the check was already on its way before you prayed.

        The reason the Scriptures so often stress prayers of thanks for blessings already received and needs already met may not be in order to avoid offending God with ingratitude, but rather because our prayers of thanks which, to us, come after the fulfillment, are heard by God before we think to say them. "Before they call, I will answer," or "I will do now what they are thanking me for later ."  We are taught to "give thanks in all things." Prayers of thanks aren't for the past, but, like all prayers, are outside of time, affecting past, present and future, and are thus very powerful.

        When Jesus instructed, "I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24, GW), He wasn't telling us to "psych" ourselves into believing the prayer answer is "in the mail," to help our faith. Jesus is affirming Isaiah 66:24 and Psalm 139:4  and the need to forego our notion of linear time. If we don't, then Jesus doesn't make sense. How can we have already received what we are praying for now, and not see that we have received it until a future time? Indeed, we must "live by faith, not by sight."

        Quantum physics also demonstrates time compression, "warping" and even suspension. So does Scripture. "Isn't this recorded in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and for nearly a day the sun was in no hurry to set" (Joshua 10:13b, GW). "Indeed, in your [God's] sight a thousand years are like a single day, like yesterday - already past - like an hour in the night" (Psalm 90:4, GW). Generally people have been too locked into notion of time to understand these verses other then thinking, "Well, if I lived for a zillion years, I also would see a thousand years like one day." Or, "If the sun stopped, then God must have stopped the earth from rotating and miraculously kept the 'law' of gravitation intact." This is very human thinking, for time is a "dimension" that can be compressed, stretched or escaped. Again, our prayers are timeless and have the power of infinity, for the Holy Spirit who receives them is infinite.

        The old question, "If a tree falls in a forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?" can lead to the question, "When God first said, 'Let there be light,' who  was He talking to?" If God "talked" to nothingness, who was listening and responded by coming into existence? Being stuck in linguistics can also lead to absurd notions about praying things into being or happening. "Everything came into existence through him [the Word or Logos]" (John 1:3a, GW). The Word or Logos isn't a language, but a Being. Our prayers are brought into existence through the Logos as well, which is the meaning of praying in "Christ's name."

        There is often a linguistic anxiety attached to prayer: "Am I doing it right? Am I using the right words? Is it better if I kneel or bow my head and close my eyes than walk and look around?" Thank goodness prayer isn't word-dependent! "From the mouths of little children and infants, you [God] have built a fortress against your opponents to silence the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2, GW). The babbles of babies are powerful prayers, exceeding the eloquence of the scholar who lacks poverty of spirit!

         "At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don't know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words" (Romans 8:26, GW). We can take great comfort in that we don't need to sound like a defense lawyer pleading our case before God. We are mere children before Him and our Advocate and Mediator is no less than our High Priest, the Christ, and His Holy Spirit. Our words of prayer are a poor translation of the needs and desires burning deep in our hearts. However, we need not fret over that.

        There are times when our souls want to sing many words of love and praise to our God. This brings us into His Heart if we abandon ourselves, not worry how we sound or if we're "doing it right," and lose ourselves in holy communion in Him. There are other times when such eloquence and many words get in the way. If a family is asleep in a burning house, eloquence will not spur action and movement like one single word would: "Fire!" After yelling that one word, nothing more needs to be said. Jesus related a story about this, glorifying the example of a contrite man who only kept saying, "Be merciful to me, a sinner." Often times a long, beautiful love poem to a loved one lifts the soul. More often though, a gaze of smiling eyes and a simple "I truly love you" pierces deeply into the heart. Sometimes a silent presence to another is the most eloquent and heart-felt. Words carry a meaning. When the meaning is incarnated and expressed in one's life, we don't need the words. That incarnated meaning is the Logos.

        Our loved ones and our God delight in all these expressions of prayer. Their power isn't in our feeble words, however. Prayer transcends time, distance, language and our understanding. It is a mystery in which to live reverently and unceasingly; a mystery that is the door keeper to the Holy of Holies, the very Presence of God. Therein rests its wondrous and resplendent power.

         The mornings are not full of promise, but rather promise fulfilled. The promise of prayerful communion with my beloved Father. Like the psalmist, I am so anxious for this time that "I wake up the sun." Like a thirsty deer following the gurgling of a cool stream, my spirit pants for my wondrous Creator.

        There are many types and forms of prayer, but I don't think about them anymore than I'm inclined to structure a relaxed exchange of words and silence with a loved one into categories. The best prayers have no planed ending time or conclusions. "Praying without ceasing" isn't a goal, but a way of life, a way of being.

        Often I feel like the opening of Psalm 130: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my pleadings." That's my call to prayer. Often I use the "we" form. "Out of the depths we cry to you, Lord; O Lord, hear our voices!" It is a call to the trees, animals, wind, and all creation to join me. At those times joy rises out of the depths. Other times a sadness grows out of the depths, because the "we" I say includes the burdens and pain of my suffering brothers and sisters, those I personally know and those I know about. Their voices join mine - this I feel in the depths where we join in His Holy Spirit. My heart swells with the voices of the afflicted, oppressed, hurting and unnoticed children of God scattered around the earth. My voice speaks for some too weak or distracted to plead for the Lord's mercy.

        I am never alone in prayer. I am in the midst of a great assembly of saints and hosts of angels. The wind of the Spirit penetrates my heart. The consuming flame of His heart burns in mine. He knows the multitude of voices reverberating in my depths better than I do. He knows each by name. He already knows what each of us are going to say, collectively and individually. But as loving human parents do, who know what their children will say, He waits in loving patience for our feeble stammering because we need to speak out of the depths and He needs us to commune in Him. It's all about our love for each other.

        Of course my body changes. My mind steps aside to respect my spirit's time and place with the Almighty and the All-Humble God of my heart. How could my breathing and billions of neurons not alter my senses? "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" is not a poetic metaphor. I am not "myself" anymore. Why would I be myself when, instead, I could be His self? I'm His. Surrender…rest…let go…fall into His depths with self-abandonment.

        Now I am reminded of Psalm 131: "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a resting child with its mother, like a resting child is my soul within me." This is the Holy of Holies of prayer, accessible to all through the Incarnated Word, the Christ, torn open by the flaming power of His Holy Spirit, the same Spirit now resting as the Christ child in my heart. So my heart cannot be proud. My eyes cannot be haughty. These things are too great and wonderful for my concern. My soul must be still and quiet. I must be attentive, listening.

        In attentive listening I learn much in prayer. Wisdom and Light radiates from the Presence in the Holy of Holies. "Be still and know…" I accomplish nothing. I earn nothing. I reach nothing. Christ emptied Himself for me. I empty myself for Him. Only now can I, in attentive stillness, be that cup that He fills and overflows. Of course my cup overflows. How can I contain Him? The overflow saturates me with loving grace. It's all grace. Unmerited, but joyfully welcomed.

        Typically the physical eyes flow with tears. The tears speak varying words to the Father. They often have a voice of their own at this point, for the self is standing aside in worshipful homage to Yahweh. The psalmist says our God carries the tears in a jar. In those tears are the depths of thankfulness and wonder, of pleadings for merciful help and deliverance, for healing and sanctification, for the desires of the heart. Not just for me. The tears of my brothers and sisters mingle with mine. I invite them in prayer. The tears of my Jesus are in there too. Our prayers move Him. He promised us they would. In attentive stillness, we need not believe in His promise - we can feel Him move in response. He loves forgiving our flaws; He loves nurturing us; He loves making us more like Him; He loves responding to us; He loves us.

        In the Holy of Holies, a day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day. Can't tell how long we've been in prayer. The height of the sun or a watch can tell us. Scripture tells us we can clothe ourselves in Christ. That is so good. Then we can walk on into the day or climb into our beds to sleep for the night, in unceasing prayer. It continues until we break the attentive stillness of our souls. But we can catch ourselves when we do, and stop to enter prayer again, many times a day, perhaps every hour, perhaps every minute. Such is the marital bond between the Lamb of God and His Church. Constantly whispering to each other, "I love you," with deeds, words and silence.

        Watching people watch television is very interesting. Sometimes you find a TV watcher who appears to have fallen asleep. You switch the channel or turn the TV off. The person immediately opens his eyes, remarking "Hey, I was watching that !" You incredulously respond that he was sleeping. Actually, he wasn't and he's right. His brain was indeed engaged in the mesmerism of the TV.

        Sometimes you'll observe a person staring at a TV screen showing something totally irrelevant to the person's interest. That doesn't matter, as long as the TV is on. In many households, the TV is turned on immediately upon waking up and stays on in the background even if no one is watching it. Shut it off and within minutes members of the household sense something is missing, and the emptiness is disturbing. They discover the "problem" and soon the TV is back on.

        How many times have you entered a home and found all the furniture oriented to the TV? How often do you sit to converse and eyes keep shifting to the TV, regardless of the program? TV has attained the notoriety of being the great babysitter. Children sit quite still in front of it (the closer the better, you may have noted). Their breathing slows down. Their eyes blink less frequently and more slowly. They are quiet. They are not immediately responsive to the call of their names. Attach electrodes to their scalp and the EEG monitor will show alpha brain waves. They are literally in a hypnotic state of consciousness. Two or four hours of TV feel like ten minutes. Many Americans and Europeans stare at TV for eight hours a day. So powerful is this electronic drug that most American homes, even of those living below the poverty line, have more than one TV. Many homes have one in every room. (In the US, 96% of households have indoor toilets while 98% have at least one TV.)

        In a strange but poignant way, TV is a witness to the praise and power of prayer.  Although mesmerization or altered states of conscious has been associated with something evil in some Christian circles, biblical literature speaks frequently and positively of them. The visions of the prophets are given in altered consciousness. St. Peter spoke of being in prayer leading to a trance state when he received the vision while on his roof and St. Paul couldn't say whether he was in the body or not when he glimpsed the marvels of the third heaven, and also wrote of prayer trances. St. John was "in the Spirit" when he received the great apocalyptic revelation. First martyr Stephen was in a state of ecstasy, gazing into the open heavens, while being stone to death.

        Altered consciousness is vital and powerful. Its content may be from God or from the secular media through the TV screen and that's the critical difference. When we rest in the loving presence of a family member or friend, a truly ego-crucified holy person, or in the sacred milieu of God's creation by the ocean surf or on a misty mountain, if our state of mind or consciousness doesn't change, we are self-absorbed, disengaged from the other. That's not good. That's not communion.

        Taking all this further, if our consciousness state doesn't shift out of self-awareness or self-absorption when we are in prayerful communion with the Lord and Creator of all, then something is profoundly wrong. Yes, God hears everything we utter or think, but everything we say or think does not constitute prayer. That's why Jesus' apostles, who knew by memory the hundreds of prayers used in the Jewish worship liturgies, learned they were not really praying. They realized that after watching Jesus closely. So they asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray."

        At the risk of offending sensibilities, please consider whether quick recitals over meals are truly conscious-altering prayers; whether the customary introduction to a sermon is truly prayer, and whether the customary conclusion to a sermon, more often than not really is a continuation of the sermon that summarizes its major points, is prayer.

        Jesus instructed us to pray in His name, as we must do all things, but He didn't say to end each prayer with the words, "In Jesus name." If someone omits that formal ending, many feel something is missing, that the prayer has not been somehow "legitimized." The sons of Sciva attempted an exorcism in the name of Jesus the Christ, and were mocked and beaten by the entities they were addressing. When someone is praying or giving another a drink of water in Jesus name, we know it, we feel it, for His name is power. Not to be misunderstood, I end my prayers with the name of Christ on my lips and in my heart. But I also know that just adding "in His name" doesn't make what I said a prayer.

        Interesting how Jesus didn't systemize His spiritual practices. We humans love to systemize and label. Consequently we have prayers of petition, supplication, thanksgiving, contemplation, centering, contrition, and others. Also interesting is that we don't structure our conversations with loved ones in categories and stages, but we often do with our Beloved Father. Admittedly, structure is needed for liturgical prayers in community. However, when we go alone into our prayer "closet," as Jesus put it, it's time and the place for total self-abandonment in profound, consciousness changing intimacy in the infinite depths of the Heart of our God, in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies!

        Ah, it is there where we live in God's time, where ten hours feels like a minute and a minute like hours. It is there where we are shrouded in God's glory, like the holy wind that blows right through us which Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit. Our cheeks may drip with cathartic tears, our tongues and thoughts frozen in awe.

        God's glory is indeed hypnotic and overwhelming, a Presence intoxicating body, soul and spirit. We are in the treasure storeroom of the sanctuary and Wisdom doesn't speak as much as it saturates. This is not the time to figure it out. That will come later, when we give form to the Wisdom God imparts in prayer with words and thoughts, bit by bit.

        In such a state of prayer, the trivial whinings of ego-based complaints and wants are evaporated in the intense Light of Christ. The same Light exposes the wretchedness of our sins. We look upon them with the same pain with which God beholds them. How could we permit ourselves to grieve our sacrificial Father who is Love itself? Out of this mutual pain, repentance and contriteness of heart spring forth quickly, grateful for the healing balm of forgiveness and a renewed heart.

        We feel the strength and assurance of being in the very center of our Father's will, for His will is precisely this being in prayer, in selfless communion, in adoration, in intimacy. We peer out from that center and receive a knowing of His will for many areas of our lives. In this holy communion of prayer, Christ's frequent promise of "Ask what you will and it will be given" loses the status of a self-serving promise, transforming into a blessed certainty that whatever we ask of our Father has already been anticipated and done…for we are so absorbed in Him that whatever we think, feel, desire is of Him, rooted in the greatest commandments of loving Him and others, and therefore in His will and pleasure.

        In the Father's resplendent presence, the desires of our hearts which He says will be granted to those who delight in Him, cannot be anything but the desires of His heart also, for spirits in mystical union, spirits abiding in one another, share the same desires and their wills converge. One is the Christ and the other is conformed to Him, is like Him. Thus there is an agreement of wills, an agreement invested with the power and intention of the very One whose Word spoke all things into being.

        Within the Holy of Holies of prayer, we feel a paradoxical mix of trembling fear in the glory of such power and love and a supreme longing of wanting to remain forever in such a state of grace, loving attention and communion. We want to keep saying with the Psalmist, "Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name!" (103:1)…"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere" (84:1-2, 10a, NIV).

        Returning to the consciousness altering power of TV, that analogy is limited but useful. TV and its screen players have been idolized, and idolatry is a grievous sin. Many people approach the TV god ready to pay homage for a specific time length, 2 hours, 4 hours, an entire afternoon or evening or even day. They come prepared with their sacraments of snacks and drinks. They are committed to the TV for the specified time and are sure to make arrangements to minimize or eliminate distractions. They know they cannot hurry the TV broadcasts, so there is no such thing as watching TV in a hurry to make time for something else, any more than someone would listen to favorite music at triple speed so he would save more time for praying.

        The prayer communion described requires much more devotion and attention than one's TV or hobby or other pastime. It needs a committed time length that cannot be hurried, and entered with preparation and soul-hungry anticipation, as one would approach a dinner feast. Our Father is so patient, humble and loving. He will listen to our cries, questions, pain, joys, requests and words of gratitude and worshipful adoration. Our Father also wants to speak to us, for us to be still and listen to His wisdom, consolations, directions, loving whispers and His own pain and burdens He takes upon Himself for our sakes. His powerful glory infuses our spirits and bodies. The inner sanctuary of prayer fills with His Light, piercing the core of our being. After many solitudes in communion, we find ourselves becoming increasingly prayer itself, living, walking, talking prayers - as our bodies become the living sacrifices Paul speaks about. We grow into more Christlikeness. And that, delightfully, is God's will - and ours.

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