How is your prayer life? A question which gets very different answers. How is your prayer life, is a complicated question because it’s both personal and corporate, while being at times ethereal. It’s a disarming question, one that when I was first asked by a priest years ago, I looked like a deer in headlights because I didn't know how to answer. I don't think I even knew what a prayer life was, so it was no surprise that when asked I said to my priest “that’s why we have you. You do that work, I’m just watching.” Prayer is hard, and weird, because unlike conversations we have with friends and family- sometimes it feels like we are talking to ourselves, or just totally alone. How do we even know it’s God, and not just ourselves speaking. Sometimes prayer is fully alive in life and sometimes the silence is deafening. Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta had a rich and abundant prayer life that led her into monastic orders, and she often recounted how the moment she took her vows-- God, in prayer, stopped talking. So she spent the rest of her life searching for the God of prayer again and again in the souls of the streets, a search that frustrated her often. Prayer can feel transactional, full of words, and sometimes pointless when we are told time and time again that God knows our deepest desires before we even speak it. So why should we even pray? Because in prayer, the kingdom of God comes alive and our role in that life becomes clearer -- even if only dimly so.
The gospel of luke opens with familiar words, words we pray every week before we receive the Eucharist. This is Luke's version of the Lord's prayer, that ancient and great petition for life, health, food, and the kingdom. We could just hear it as a need to pray for what we get, what we want, and to remember the others who don't and move on -- but it is also so much more than just a petition, its an opening to a way of life. Prayer brings us to a place of divine intimacy, you know, the same kind of intimacy we experience with our loved ones, closest friends, where we can say and tell them everything we are thinking and know we aren't being judged. This divine intimacy which we encounter in prayer, is as much speaking as it is listening, a process which opens us up to hearing and seeing the world as an active creation of God's abiding love, rather than our dominion to conquer, rule, and use. So, indeed, we are to pray for ourselves and things which we receive, however if we listen closely we hear that the unwieldy Spirit of God comes and shakes us awake to a new sense of the world -- to God's sense of the world.
There is a persistence in this gospel, which asks of us if prayer is just a constant rattling off of petitions, or is it a way of seeing life. A favorite image of what prayer must feel like comes from a cartoon of Mary and the toddler Jesus captioned “the first rosary” where Jesus is tugging at Mary’s robs saying “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” and the look on Mary’s face is not one of pleasure- like any parent with kids might look. Prayer which nags is not life, and is not life giving. The gift of prayer is the ability to see and know, over time, the places in which we are being called to act-serve-listen-and abide- in the world. Prayer lead us to ordain women into leadership in the church. To remove our prayers for the conversion of the Jews in the book of common prayer, and pray for our reconciliation instead. Prayer led us to stand up for the rights of indigenous nations to self-determine their lives. Prayer led us to authorize marriage equality for all people. Prayer led us to feed, honour, befriend, and house our neighbours on the street. Prayer led us to the edge of the font for baptism, to the altar for Eucharist, and many more. The connecting grace within all of these acts of prayer is the animating force of the Spirit moving us into an active integrated life of faith.
The animating force of the Spirit is that place, push, nudge into action, in which we begin to see the world differently because of what we have experienced in prayer. The Spirit is what helped us see the gifts of women all over this church, whose leadership makes us stronger. The Spirit is what helped us see that the Jewish nation are our elder siblings in faith. The Spirit is what helped us see indigenous people, as people, not objects to be controlled and made into our image, and homeless people as worthy of love, rather than just another thing we walk past. The Spirit places on our heart, through prayer, the vision for the kingdom where all are welcome, honoured, loved, and valued, which is what -- when we pray as our saviour taught us to pray, we are praying for. We are praying to see the vision of the kingdom in our midst and our role in bringing it to reality in our midst. So how do we do this work?
Some of us will be called to be the Theresa’s of this world. Some of us will be called to be bishops, priests, and deacons of this world. Some of us will be called to be parents, married, single, students, teachers, professionals, trades people, and many more. The title we occupy does not matter, what matters is our willingness to pray and act. When we pray, as our saviour taught us, we are moving beyond the gentle and mild, and into the radical discipleship of Christ which is action based. Are we really ready as a parish to make reconciliation with all nations of this country, province and city a priority? Are we really ready as a parish to grow disciples in the name of Jesus? Are we really ready as a parish to speak truth in love to the powers of this world about the environmental degradation we are allowing for the sake of human profit? God's desire is for us to be fully alive, as St. Irenaeus said, which is about being totally free in the love and power of the kingdom. Are we really ready to embrace that freedom in and for all people?
Faith without action is just good intentions, a limiting sense of freedom where who we are is still conditional. God doesn’t create conditional, God creates us to live a life fully alive, in the freedom of an active faith that transforms this world into God's kingdom every single day. The world is aching for the freedom of the kingdom all around us, a kingdom of justice and joy where we are enough, have enough, and work together to be better at what this life is all about. Prayer is about hearing and seeing the places we are called to act with our lives to stand with the kingdom of God. The world stands divided and afraid, with people who do not know the saving name of Jesus. So church, where are you being called to act, and how can we pray for that this week?