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Prayer life

by davesandel on May 20th, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:16-17

Jesus prayed, “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”

            David Benner titles the next-to-last chapter of his book Opening to God, “Life as Prayer, Prayer as Life.”  Jesus invites his loved ones to live into the world, leading with the love he has shown them by giving himself to them.  They can love this way day after day, suffering after suffering, because they are “consecrated” – set apart, made holy, made pure and true.  They are consecrated by God’s “word.”  And God’s word is truth.

Benner’s book describes a classic devotional method of reading the Bible called “lectio divina.”  For example, begin with the first three verses of Psalm 23 in your favorite translation.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (NKJV).  Read it slowly, read it aloud.  Read it four times:

The first time (in Latin, lectio), just listen.  Pay attention.  Use your senses to anchor yourself in the moment.  “Suspend your thoughts and allow awareness to develop.”  Benner calls this the “Prayer of Attending.”

Read it again (in Latin, meditatio).  Now think reflectively, weighing the words.  What word or phrase especially rings out for you?  Listen for meaning, measure your emotion, use your imagination.  This “Prayer of Pondering” is more “wordy” than the prayer of attending. My thinking mind has a chance to do what it does best.

But what goes on inside my head is not the end-all-be-all.  Read the three verses for a third time (in Latin, oratio).  Benner calls this the “Prayer of Response.”  What does this word call out of me?  How is God inviting me out of my circling thoughts?  What shall I DO?  (Or perhaps, stop doing.)  I might draw a picture, or write a poem, or make cookies for our neighbor, or take a few deep breaths, slow down and take a nap.  I might ride my bike to a nearby flowing stream and sit awhile.  Perhaps there is a new pattern God wants me to see, something to cut through habit or laziness of spirit and arouse my heart.  He’ll show me how.

All these three ways of prayer might be what St. John of the Cross calls “leaning in toward God.”  They are very active, they depend on my energy and will, and consequently I am still the doer, the controller, the subject.  Yet, I want to give up this position to God.  I want to echo Mary’s prayer, “Lord, let it be done unto me …”

So I am not finished yet.  My prayer as attending and pondering and responding help me “intend” to be led by my shepherd.  Now read the verses one more time (in Latin, contemplatio), and surrender to the “Prayer of Being.”  With all the work you’ve done behind you, just rest.  Sit.  Repeat a word or two to clear your mind if it clutters up again.  Wait.  Be still.

As your mind quiets, then God’s word, finally best heard in silence, becomes clearly true.

My soul blesses you, O Lord; bless your holy name.  Remind me always of your “benefits.”  Let me forget nothing, and when I do, remind me again.  You are true.  My mere “notions” are surrounded and loved into submission by your truth.  Sweet Jesus.


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