Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Finding the True Voice of Prayer

Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime praying and writing about prayer. He was a Catholic priest and taught theology at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. Then for the last season of his life, he was the pastor at l’Arch Daybreak in Toronto, Canada which was a community where the mentally disabled shared life with those who cared for them. In one of his last publications before his death, he stated,

“Prayer, then, is listening to that voice—to the One who calls you the Beloved. It is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. Although there is nothing wrong with success, there is nothing wrong with popularity, there is nothing wrong with being powerful, finally my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.”

Those who knew this man viewed him as a giant among the prayer giants. And after a life of seeking God, he viewed prayer as hearing God’s words “My Beloved.” He saw prayer as returning to hear that he is loved of God. This is the same message that the newest of Christians needs to hear. This is the basic message that the worst of the worst sinners needs. No one outgrows this. Not the Pope. Not the greatest preacher. Not even saints like Mother Teresa.

True prayer brings us back to the place of hearing this tru voice about our core identity. This is the message that we will not hear from the daily grind of the world. There we learn about how we need to perform for our self-image. We try to find life by seeking power, prestige and possessions, what one spiritual writer calls the three great obsessions of our culture.

The false voice of power tells us that we can get life as we gain control over our situations and others. We look for ways to advance in authority and power to hold sway. Those with the most authority have greater value. But the Bible points out that God sees things a bit differently. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” not “Blessed are the strong and powerful.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

Those who pray in a way that connects with God have found a path of giving up the need for power. They have found a path that gives them permission to be weak instead of trying to cover up the reality of weakness with power. On that path we hear the tru voice saying, “My beloved, you are accepted just as you are.”

The false voice of prestige whispers that we need to be someone worthy of other’s attention. The people that matter have the public eye, or at least that seems to be the case. But the search for prestige is only a limp replacement for what we long for in the depths of our being. I love how The Message translates the verses by Paul quoted above:

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Those who pray in a way that connects with God have found a path of love that frees them to seek and see God. There they hear the tru voice, “My beloved, you are loved with a love that cannot be greater.”

The false voice of possessions also challenges this path of connecting with God. Our culture tells us in more ways than one that those who die with the most toys do actually win somehow. We buy, we collect and when we cannot buy and collect we wish we could. More is never enough because we are told that those who have the most matter the most.

Go back and read Paul’s words again about weakness, being nobodies, and being chosen by God to receive his love.

Those who pray in a way that connects with God are learning to let go and find treasures in another place than in possessions. They hear the tru voice, My beloved, you don’t need more. You don’t need to attain more. You don’t need to press more. I will take care of you.”

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