Sunday, May 20, 2007

Prayer is an extension of our reality.

Sermon from May 20, 2007
Easter 7, Year C

Some prayers come from our heads. Can you imagine it with me? Think of the list of people you know who are sick, or going through a rough time, or who are in some sort of life transition (most of which are good in theory, but end up being really stressful in reality). This list you’ve just compiled could qualify for the designation, “prayer list”. It’s a list for prayer born of compassion, yes, but the prime component sometimes ends up being memory. And so it is a prayer that comes from our head.

Some prayers come from our hearts. Think of any one person on that list you’ve just made – just one, though it doesn’t matter who. Now, think of that person’s situation. Whether it’s cancer or a new job or a new baby, think of that one person – everything you know about that person: how wonderful they are, what they’re like when they’re full of joy, and too, how they struggle. A prayer for that person that they can live to their full potential, be comforted in their suffering, and have their joy and peace multiplied, this is a prayer that dwells in compassion. It is a prayer that comes from our heart.

Some prayers come from our gut. They are the reactions that proceed everything else, (especially thought) when we are in moments that provoke fast reactions – like the moment before we get into a car crash, or the moment after we narrowly avoid one. They don’t even have to have words – not spoken words, and not thought-out words, though that sometimes happens. Some prayers are a gut reaction.

Some prayers come from our hands. When we are in our studio, or our shop, sitting at our sewing table, standing at our band saw – when we are creating or recreating something, connecting to our own Creator in some way that we can easily explain, or not, we are praying with our hands. When we are washing the baby, or the dog, serving out stew to our family, or to a group of homeless men, connecting to our own Provider in some way that we can easily explain, or not, we are praying with our hands.

Some prayers come from our feet. When we stand up for something we believe in, and proclaim in the presence of God and everyone around us that this is what matters to us, this is what we will spend our time and our money to do, to be, to achieve, to fashion, to break – whether we’re standing up to be married, or standing up at a political rally – it is a prayer that is made with our feet.

Some prayers come from our silence. When we give the gift of silent presence to someone who is dying, when we give the gift of silent listening to a friend who is upset, when we give ourselves the space to be silent without worrying about the past or the future, this gift of silence is a prayer.

Some prayers come from the very way we live our lives – in fact, all prayers do, whether or not we acknowledge it. Wise people from every religious tradition in the world agree on this point, though they talk about it in a slightly different manner, one from another.

In the Muslim tradition, the mystic poet Hafiz points out several times that everything we do is sacred. In our present context we can understand this to mean that our connection to God is far greater – way deeper and significantly wider – then we usually give it credit for being, so much so that everything, everything we do participates in this connection to God, in this prayer, in this sacredness.

In the Hindu tradition, the social reformer and sage Gandhi points out that we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. Again, in our present context we can understand this to mean that our prayers for a different world must be more than just a few moments in church a few times a month, or even a few moments daily on our knees, whispering the words that tear at our gut sometimes, and that sometimes feel rote and empty. We can take this to mean that our prayers for a different world must be lived out in our own lives, that we must live to the standards that we hold for others, that we must be the first ones to change, and that that living out of our prayers is in itself a powerful prayer for change, a powerful and inspirational example for others to follow.

And in our own tradition, we have Jesus. The selection we heard from the Gospel according to John was a short part of a much longer prayer that Jesus was praying for his disciples, in front of his disciples. Though this part of the prayer contains a lot of rhetoric that was probably added to the essence of the words by the editor John and his own disciples, and that rhetoric can be sometimes challenging to wade through, Jesus makes three really salient points in his prayer, which is a prayer he’d been living out for at least the three years previous, if not longer. He’d been living out this prayer – being the change he wished to see in the world, acknowledging everything he did as sacred – and now, for the benefit of his friends’ own understanding, he was attempting to explain this living out prayer. Being Jesus, he explained it in the context of another prayer, one we might call, a prayer from the mind.

And this is what he said:

First of all: this misguided, yet popular notion that what one person does, what one person thinks doesn’t affect someone else – it’s wrong. We are one. We have only one heart. We have only one mind. It is the heart we share with You. It is the mind we share with You. Please, God, let them realize that this is what I was trying to do, to show them. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

Secondly: they think I’m hot stuff, that I’ve got all this confidence and wisdom, this spiritual power to heal and to save, this deep connection to peace and to joy, but I’ve been trying to tell them that this is from You, and You give it to everyone. Please, God, let them realize that this isn’t some secret, unattainable thing – this is what all those religious people have been calling “The Glory of God” for centuries and centuries. Please, God, let them understand that the Glory they see in me is just a reflection of You, and that they can ask for and receive that exact same Glory. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

Third and last: Love. The purpose of all of this is love. I have done what I have done so that people may know that You love them, just as I know You love me. Please, God, let them understand that You have nothing but love for us – you have never had anything else, and you never will. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

That is the prayer that Jesus lived out in his own life – a prayer for oneness, a prayer to live out in our own lives this glory from God, and a prayer for love – and this prayer was for the benefit both of his disciples, and for the whole world.

When we consider that everything we do is prayer, everything we do is part of our connection to God, it’s easier to imagine, I think, that we are all on this Spiritual Journey together, each at our own place on the path.

[edit: it was pointed out that i missed at least two types of prayer: laughter and tears. I agree.]

2 comments:

Progressive Pragmatist said...

I was thinking about your suggestions for being in the moment, being one with the present experience. I was thinking about it in the massage chair at the shampoo station at my hair salon.... does that count?

Sare said...

That totally counts, pragmatist. That totally counts.