Thursday, October 23, 2008

Our Prayer, Not My Prayer (a WIDS excerpt)

As promised and somewhat belatedly, a bit of spiritual nourishment. Chew on it and see whether it feeds you.

An excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 15 of When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life by Jane Redmont (Sorin Books, 2008).

“I am,” the African proverb says, “because we are.” One cannot be a Christian away in a corner. Even hermits pray as members of the universal church. We are always linked in prayer with those who share our faith and our tradition, across geography and through history. We speak their words. We speak their names. We draw from their strength.

“How can I find God?” The question came to Jim Martin, a young Jesuit writer and editor, from a close friend who had “lost touch with her church. Like many contemporary Americans, while she viewed herself as ‘nonreligious,’ she admired friends who lived lives of faith, and desired that faith for herself. Still, she was essentially a skeptical woman---intelligent and well-educated---living in a secular culture…. I did the best I could, and then decided to ask other people of faith what they might tell my friend.” Like many of the people Jim Martin consulted, and whose answers he later published, I offered the caution that it is more naturally God who finds us. Remembering Jesus’ invitation, “Come and see” to the would-be disciples, I also offered a pragmatic approach. Don’t think too much about finding God: do something, and the finding will follow. Do it on two levels. Find what speaks to your deepest heart. Go to that intimate place where you are infinitely sad, or ecstatic, or creative and talented, or bereft, or deeply engaged, and there you will find God, if you enter into that place and ask what it means for you and for the rest of the world that you are there. The other level may be even more important because you have asked, “How can I find God?” To “find God,” I suggested, “go find yourself a ‘we’.” I would have answered in much the same way if she had asked: “How can I learn to pray?”

Go find yourself a “we,” I insisted. A community, any community. A Christian community, if the path into which you were born or are drawn is Christian; a Jewish one, if you are a Jew by birth or by choice; a Muslim one if that is your path. I would say the same of the great religious paths that do not have a “God,” such as Buddhism---where one “takes refuge in the Buddha, the dharma (Buddhist teaching and practice), and the sangha (the community).” Find yourself a community of practice and of faith---one that meets your standards of intellectual honesty, lack of hypocrisy, sincere concern for others, non-coercive welcome of the stranger. If the community is Christian, the “we” might be a parish, where worship may be noisy or quiet, structured or chaotic. The “we” might well also be a prayer group---contemplative, charismatic, or other---or a Bible study group, a women’s liturgical gathering, a Catholic Worker community, a team that cares and prays for people with AIDS, or an adult education class with some soul and some teeth. You may have to look around, and you may have to try a few different communities, I wrote Jim’s friend. Given them a chance. “Come and see.” Then stay for a while. See what happens.

I know. Groups are difficult. Common life is messy. Institutional religion may have wounded you, I wrote---hence my listing of several forms of community, in the hope that one might serve as a gateway into the common life that is faith. God alone can answer the lonely yearning inside that heart of yours which is like no other heart. But God without the “we” experience is not the God of whom the Jewish and Christian Scriptures speak, nor the God whose message the Prophet Mohammed carried to the people who became followers of the path of Islam. God---“I will be who I will be”---is involved in history, in our history. In this history, we meet companions. In their friendship, we find God, and God finds us.

(c) Jane Redmont, 1999, 2008

1 comment:

Fran said...

Jane - this is wonderful.

Thanks for sharing this- can't wait to see more.