In almost all spiritual traditions there are three primary practices that stand out: prayer, fasting, and giving of alms. The universality of these three spiritual practices means that they have to be considered in any exploration of spirituality. For that reason, this post is the first in a series of three about these central spiritual practices—and how they need to evolve if they are to be useful in an evolving, evolutionary spirituality.
“We need to pray and hear what God is telling us about the way forward for our church!” Everyone in the room nodded knowingly in response to the senior minister’s impassioned call. Characteristically, I still had questions.
“Will we be meeting again to pull all our insights together?” I asked. “No,” was the short reply. “How will we know what God is saying then?” I pressed. “We will pray,” said the senior minister. The conversation never moved beyond this point.
Over the years I have found this approach to prayer increasingly unhelpful. Now, as never before, the global pandemic is revealing the weakness in our prayer practice. Healing evangelists who have claimed in the past that anything can be healed by prayer have been conspicuous by their silence. Hundreds of pastors and believers claim that the only remedy we need against COVID-19 is prayer and faith, even as believers die from the disease.
This is why I believe it is time for prayer to evolve. Which raises some important questions:
WHO ARE WE PRAYING TO?
Our understanding of God shapes our prayer practice and vice versa. That’s why we need to reconsider our ideas about God. The old interventionist, theist God of traditional religion is unsustainable in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The following posts offer some alternative views of God that are consistent with an evolving, evolutionary faith.
WHAT IS PRAYER REALLY?
What does prayer mean if God is not an interventionist Being who lives outside of the physical universe? What are we doing when we pray, and what do we expect prayer to do for us? What does it mean for prayer to “work”?
These questions are at the heart of all spirituality, and they shape not just how we practice our faith, but how we live in the world and impact those around us.
Gretta Vosper in her book, Amen: What Prayer Can Mean In A World Beyond Belief (affiliate link), suggests that prayer can be meaningful and transforming even without belief in a deity. She explains that “whatever label we put on it, we need to continue expressing awe, gratitude, and need, and deal with guilt.”
As Mother Teresa said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” Anne Lammot calls Help, Thanks, Wow (affiliate link) (referring to supplication, thanksgiving, and praise) the three essential prayers. Vosper would add a fourth: Sorry, referring to confession. Each of these prayers expresses a human experience and invites us to learn how to process these experiences in healthy and creative ways.
When we let go of the interventionist view of God and prayer, we open the door for prayer to teach us to be more aware and mindful of what is happening within us and around us. We begin to reflect more deeply on our human condition, and on the contribution we can make in the world. And then prayer drives us to respond to what we see in compassionate, liberating, life-giving action.
Such prayer does not sit back and wait for some deity to swoop in like a super hero and save us while we remain passive and unchanged. Rather, prayer like this leads us to a deeper engagement with ourselves, others, our world, and with a Reality that is bigger than us, whether we think of that Reality as God or not.
- What would it mean for you to intentionally consider this kind of evolution in your own prayer life?
- What benefits would such prayer bring to you? What would you struggle with?
Let’s continue the conversation in the comments.
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