Thursday, February 25, 2010

Prayer and Practicing Resurrection

Eugene Peterson has just published the fifth volume in his "conversations in spiritual theology" series. Practicing Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ is, like the other volumes in the series, a mix of close biblical exegesis (in this case, an extended commentary on Ephesians), a work of semi-systematic theology, and a devotional work. All five books are worth time and attention, but this one, together with the first and fourth volumes, have been my favorites.

Midway into the book, Peterson has this to say about prayer:

We pray when we are meditatively quiet before God with Psalm 118 open before us; we pray while taking out the garbage; we pray when we are losing our grip and then ask God for help; we pray when we are weeding the garden; we pray when we are asking God to help a friend who is at the end of her rope; we pray when we are writing a letter; we pray when we are in conversation with our cynical and bullying boss; we pray with our friends in church; we pray walking down main street in the company of strangers.

I am not saying that everything we do is prayer, but that everything we do and say and think can be prayer. It seems to have been that way with Paul. I am also saying that many of us pray far more than we are aware that we are praying. We pray when we are not in a conventional place of prayer. We pray when we are not using the conventional language of prayer. I am saying that "always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1 KJV) happens a lot, unnoticed and unremarked.

As a Christian and pastor, I strive to designate formal and set times for prayer, and make use of the traditional language of prayer when I do so--at meals, in the daily prayer office, etc. However, I praise God whenever somebody reminds me of how broad a thing prayer can be, all the way out to prayer as "the total experience of the Christian man or woman" (Martin Thornton, Pastoral Theology, 1965).

Examples include a friend who told me he considers listening to John Coltrane and Art Blakey as some of his best prayer time; friends who pray when they wash dishes; my own prayers while I run or exercise; the impromptu brief prayers we do with the kids; prayer as simply breathing.

So take a deep breath some time today, maybe even fifteen of them, and imagine them as prayer. Or simply let yourself trust that in some ways even beyond your imagining, you are praying in the Spirit because God in the Spirit has promised to do that for you. Everything we do and say and think can be prayer.

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