Good Prayer/Bad Prayer

Sunday, 8 November 2009

I came across a blog post about centering prayer recently where the writer was roundly condemning it as a tool of the devil. Which quite befuddled me for a few seconds while I got my bearings on how he was viewing it. Everybody has their own worldview and everybody is informed by that. I left a comment detailing my experiences, hoping to be able to have some sort of a conversation, but the problem often is that Christians are encouraged not so much to love their enemies but that interacting with them will taint us somehow. "Love your enemies," Jesus said but we prefer to retreat into safe notions of black and white because we are fearful of being deceived. Such a vital element of the human condition, that when someone is in error, we want to send them scapegoated out into the wilderness, keep ourselves pure. And so therefore this man did not respond to my blog comment. This is common enough behaviour in blogland, but it still pisses me off.

I have been thinking so much recently about what prayer is. Even if he did not want to enter into a conversation with a heretical being, the mental dialogues (arguments) I had with him in my own head were quite edifying anyway, to help me identify to myself what I think prayer is. Because the longer I go on doing it, the more mysterious it becomes to me. And I think in some ways too I am still trying to differentiate between meditation and prayer. Meditation feels like preparation for prayer in some ways while it also feels like prayer at the same time (and I am using the words "meditation" and "centreing prayer" interchangeably here, just to muddy the waters further.)

I think it is that severe differentiation between prayer and meditation, Western and Eastern concepts, and the fears that come along with those differentiations that cause many Christians to fear the idea of using a "mantra" as a scary, demonic thing. The man on the blog I commented on said that using a mantra is the same as the "repetitively babbling" we are admonished to not employ as our method of prayer. He also said that this sort of prayer is found nowhere in the Bible, and to that I concur. Not found in a six step methodology. But neither are millions of other things. As far as Bible verses go, the "be still and know that I am God" is the very foundation from where I do these practices, and it is also prayer in its most basic form to me. Jesus said "When you pray, do it like this," but is that where it ends? Is prayer the rote repetition of "Our father in heaven?" Does that not bring us full circle back to the "repetitious babbling" I was just talking about?

And anyway, as far as I am seeing it right now, my use of a mantra is purely as a box to put my monkey mind in. The real effect of using a mantra is actually silence in the end. Those verses that talked about repetitive babbling seem to me to really be talking about not praying in a way where you feel you are not being heard, or in an egotistical sort of a fashion that involves big grand prayers to be heard by God. That is part of what those verses mean to me. Using a mantra is not so much something I am doing to God as it is a way for me to harness my anxious mind so that I am free to enter into being still and knowing that he is God. But I understand why he thinks the way he does about it, I really do. I'm not critical of his observations, but I do think that he perhaps misunderstands the differences. But I could be wrong. I suppose I often am.

How delightful it is to see the Bible in a place where I am still allowed to have my own thoughts and come to my own conclusions. It is something like having the law being begun to be written on your heart instead of it sitting inside a tome I must consult outside myself. More scary, more room for error, sure. And so much more real.

I understand why that man would consider using mantras and repetitive babbling to be much the same as the other, and I also understand from him thinking that that he has no real experience or understanding at all of what he condemns except for what Apprising Ministries has informed him is the evil thing.

What gets me about Christians also is that our thinking is the outrcrop of a childish black and white view of things, our segregating things up into neatly packaged little sections with "Christian" over here and "evil" over there, and "prayer" being the reciting of words in our head (without ceasing? Goodness me, how exhausting then, if that's what it is. I like this version better).

When we have that idea, about being a pure unblemished people set apart from the evil in the world, we are unable and unwilling to see our faith centred in his historical space, nor to see the common heritage it shares with other cultures and other religions. Looking at things in this way, we think that, for example, if we practice yoga asanas that therefore we are practising something "Hindu." We think that meditation is something those Buddhists do, so they've already claimed it and it can't be something that Christians also do, because if we do, then that is just the one world religion. I understand the fear of people who do not want to be led astray and deceived, who want to be faithful to God. To each his own apprising of his conscience, you know? All those verses speaking of not eating meat sacrificed to idols are necessary for us to heed because Western 21st century Christians have the most soft and spongy consciences.

But some of us are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. As far as I see it these days, yoga practice is a philosophy of the body that was learnt by a bunch of people in a particular time and place that had stacks of knowledge about how our bodies work. They happened to have as their religion the Hindu one. I'm more interested in the people these days. Whatever religion they happen to be is of secondary importance to me. I do not think that God is centred within all religions. I do however think he is centred within Humanity. I think all people have access to God if they so desire to.

And so this man on this blog could look at the methods of centreing prayer and say that they were wrong because they were "Eastern". And Eastern gets equated with Buddhism and other religions which everyone knows have nothing of value to benefit us poor Christians cut adrift from our heritage in so many ways (which reminds me, I still haven't written about my thoughts on the Passover meal. Such a beautiful thing! The history of the Jews' wilderness wanderings, played out ... in food! God is so embodied! Like playing dress-ups. Makes the modern thimble of grape juice and bit of Salada so uncreative in comparison).

And so we are taught that we can't let the worldviews gleaned from any other religion inform us and teach us because that is indulging in false gods. Well, I say that when you get to a certain point of faith in God you become free to eat the meat that is sacrificed to idols and there is nothing in there that can taint you. And yet there's a wisdom that comes too. I do not know why but several years ago I desired to return to practicing yoga but for me it felt wrong. At that time it did feel like I was doing something that was somehow wrong to me at that particular time. To have indulged in it would have been stupid, even if only for the fact that I would have felt guilty, and guiltily practising asanas brings all sorts of physical problems when you're contorted up on your mat. Just no need to go there.

But no need now not to go there.

Eastern religions have plenty to inform me about the inklings I have, the things that I feel I am learning from living within this Matrix, to learn to see in the ways God is teaching me to learn to see, to move forward within my own faith, because my faith has its roots in Eastern thinking. Because so many people are looking to the affairs of the world and seeing antichrist brewings and one world religions festering (I do not criticise that; I see many of those sorts of things myself) they automatically presume, the same mistake made over again and again, that to keep our religion pure and unblemished, to remain undeceived, is to retreat into our own camp of "Christianity" and to do "Christian" things and see life in from a "Christian" worldview.

To live out of fear. I do not want to live out of fear. I would rather sin boldly in my pursuit of life and the Father rather than to fear with that horrible Pentecostal fear that takes all of the evils of the world - the one world governments and evil politicians and systemic crushings - and makes it the centre of everything.

God is the centre of everything. That shit is happening in the world. I refuse to let "Christianity" teach me to lose my focus. I trust God to help me maintain that. And he does.


  1. It's so weird, Sue, how this idea of 'right' and 'wrong' prayer is even an issue. But it is, and that's so much a symptom of all that's awry with our thought-world. Prayer flows from the very centre of us, where God is, and is, at its most basic, God communing with God through the medium of his amazing Creation.

    It's when our sense of - non-existent - separation gets in the way that everything goes tail-up.

    Let's keep Centred:)

  2. Thanks for the link, Sue! That Stringfellow passage is so good...

    You know, when I first put up The Mercy Site, something like eight years ago, I fully expected to be attacked from all sides. It never happened. Maybe there are nasty remarks about The Mercy Site, or The Mercy Blog, out there somewhere, but I've never seen any. God is merciful!

    This "repetitive babbling" thing (Matthew 6:7) is easily solved with a little NT Greek. Battalogeo means babbling, going on and on. Battalos, "the Gabbler," was a nickname for Demosthenes, the great orator, given him by his rivals. You could as easily apply the term to wordy charismatic/evangelical prayers that are as much sermons as prayers!

    Jesus, though, seems by choosing this very Greek expression to have been getting at pagan prayers rather than Jewish - hence the NIV translation, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." The very literal and accurate ESV has, "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words." Only the old King James version has this "vain repetition" phrase that gets people like your blogger so worked up!

    You are so right to refuse to live in (out of) fear. As Jesus' mate wrote, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)

  3. You know, I get so sick of "it's not in the bible..." As you say, millions of things are not in the unless a person is completely literal, they are violating it one way or another. The internet is not in the bible. Neither is electric guitar. Nor chocolate. Nor television. Nor cars.

    You can't judge something by omission.

    Anyhow, love this post, love reading your experiences and such. Wish I cared enough about any kind of prayer at all to practice the things you talk about...but I'm rather apathetic right now. But it sounds just lovely.


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