The Process of offering ourselves

  Reading chapter 14

What are we doing when we pray?

Wherever human beings are found, we find someone praying. Through words, meditation, movement, offerings, renunciations, charity, good deeds, protest, dance, incense, and a host of other practices, people from remote antiquity to the present day have cried out to the Oneness, the Cosmos, the Divine, the Mystery – always seeking connection to something all-embracing.

Even in these days of skepticism and unbelief, we still cry out, we plead, we negotiate.  Of course, after the moment has passed, the cry released, the thanks expressed, we are left to wonder: What was I doing?

Our ideas about prayer can complicate our acts of prayer.

We pray better than we theologize.

Most praying people hope that their prayers make a difference.  They want to believe that God desires prayers, and that praying contributes to a different (and better) outcome.

But most people have also been taught to think of God as unchanging, all-knowing, and in complete control.  If this is what we think about prayer, our acts of prayer will be affected:

If God is unchanging, that means God is unaffected by our prayers. So why pray?

If God is all-knowing, then God knows what we’re going to say before we say it, knows the situation we feel impelled to pray about, and knows the future before it becomes real in the present.  So why pray?

If God is in complete control, then whatever will be will be, and God already knows whatever will be, whether or not we pray.  So why pray?

But, even with their old theology, when real people pray they feel that God actually cares about them.  Their hearts already intuit what their old theology obscures.

Perhaps the problem, then, is not with our practice, but with our theology.

What are we doing when we pray?

Prayer is recentering ourselves, with God at our core.

Process Theology looks at God and prayer through a different lens than traditional theology.  Process Theology offers a new understanding of God:

Relationships: God is the One who makes all relationships possible.

The future: God is the One who generates all the options the future offers.

Our choices: God is the One who empowers each and every one of us (just as we are, wherever we are), to make the best choice for the future.

Our reality:  At every instant God knows us (and every event in creation) not theoretically, but as we actually are – each of us, all of us.

God’s invitations – God’s lures – will always be tailored to our reality – to our current context and our distinctive individuality.

Through God’s lures, God empowers us – and all creation – to reach for the optimal next step available. That means that in every moment God gives us the opportunity to make the best choice; it also means that we are always free to embrace God’s offer or reject it.

Because God works with the world as it is, when we transform ourselves we are also transforming the world by precisely that amount, giving God another opening to work with us, through us, and for us.

Process Theology teaches that God is persistently, tirelessly luring creation toward greater love, greater justice, greater engagement.   As Marjorie Suchocki says, “God works with the world as it is in order to bring it to where it can be.” (See “In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer”.)

So what are we doing when we pray?  At the simplest level, we are re-centering ourselves with God at our core.  A magnet attracts the iron filings in the earth, and those filings align themselves with the magnet as it passes by them; with God as our magnet, prayer allows us to orient ourselves around the core of Love, Justice, and Compassion.

Prayer as reminder, prayer as script

The only prayer many people encounter is through liturgical reading from a book:

“Please rise. Please be seated.  Please rise. Please be seated…”

Often the book is very old.  Wouldn’t we make a better connection with God better if we prayed spontaneously and from the heart?

There is much to be said for the spontaneous outpouring of the heart, which is honored in the Biblical tradition. For instance,

The distraught mother Hagar, seeing her infant Ishmael about to die in the desert, cries out to God – and God answers her not with a supernatural intervention but by helping her see water that was there all along.  In good Process form, God’s lure gives Hagar the choice to move from where she is to where she is capable of going.  With no breaking of natural law, God offers a life-affirming choice. (Genesis 21:8-21)

But our choice isn’t limited to spontaneous outpouring or scripted liturgy.  In fact, we are best prepared for spontaneous prayer if we also engage in regularly scheduled prayer.

Liturgical prayer in community is like reading a script shared by a group of actors.  But the script now in our hands has been passed on to us by the generations who prayed before us.  The best of actors throw themselves completely into their roles, putting hearts and souls into the script, and into their own words and actions.

And just so, when we come together in liturgical prayer we actually become the questing souls portrayed in the prayer book.  We are turning ourselves into vessels – to be filled with the values, aspirations, and memories provided by the prayer book.

Process Theology and prayer of the possible

When we pray for someone else, what are we doing?   (Especially since we’re abandoning the notion of God as magician – and prayer as insurance policy.)

Process Theology teaches us that we live in interdependent relationship with each other, and with the world around us.  We may look (and sometimes feel) as if we are solitary and independent, but we are actually relating patterns of energy, and we are always inter-weaving our lives with others. Our interactions with others become woven into the very fabric of our becoming – making us dynamic composites of everyone we’ve known, every place we’ve been, in expanding circles of family, community, species, and planet.

We feel the need to do something, to speak hope and determination in the face of our own and others’ suffering.  We want to strengthen our connections with others and with God.  And Process Theology tells us that God is working in, with and through us.  As we lift up others in our prayers, as we focus our attention and energy on them, we are offering God (and the world around us) our own new level of focus, to be used as a tool for renewed connection and integration.

Davar: What we’re doing when we pray

The Hebrew word davar means both ‘deed’ and ‘word’, and the davar of prayer is a worded action and a doing speech.   This kind of prayer offers God the gifts of our intentions, our energies, and our hopes – to be used in creating deeper belonging, greater engagement, and richer connection.

Our prayers for healing take us to depths where we become more conscious of God, others, and the world around us.  So in our acts/words/davar of prayer we are affirming

that God knows each of us as we are;

that we can meet each other in God,

that we can strengthen the links connecting us to loved ones and to those far away.

Prayer makes it possible for us to meet people in God, and mobilize untapped resources on their behalf – connecting them to our resources, to their own resources, and to the resources of the God of Becoming and Relationship.

The Praying Community


Reflections on the reading – chapter 9

A second simplicity

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need a ‘second naiveté’ –  we need to return to the joy of our first naïveté, but now with totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking.     Paul Recoeur

Richard Rohr believes that a kind of second simplicity, a ‘second naiveté’, is the goal of mature adulthood and mature religion:

“The first naïveté may be the best way to begin the journey, but a ‘second naïveté’ is the easiest way to continue that journey without becoming angry or alienated…”

During our ‘first naiveté’ we all think we are the very center of the universe.  The very meaning of the word universe is to “turn around one thing”.  But none of us is at the center of this universe; we are all a part of the Big Picture.

Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else.  But many of us get stopped and fixated in our ‘first naiveté’, which gives us a comfortable (but false) certainty about the universe and our place in it.

Anxiety and doubt

Creative doubt keeps us with a perpetual ‘beginner’s mind’, which is a wonderful way to stay humble and keep growing. Yet this uncertainty, this quiet inner unfolding of things, seems to create the most doubt and anxiety for many believers.

The only price we pay for living in the Big Picture is to hold a bit of doubt and anxiety about the exact how, if, when, where and who of it all.  Unfortunately, most Christians are not well trained in holding opposites for very long; they haven’t learned to live with what could be very creative tension.

But basic religious belief is a trust in some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction in the universe.  Faith in any religion is always somehow saying that God is One and God is good, and if so, then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too.

But in the face of our daily reality, holding onto this belief requires us to stretch our minds. So the the Jewish people made it their creed, wrote it on their hearts, and inscribed it on their doorways (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), so that they could not and would not forget it.

Some ‘true believers’ cannot carry any doubt or anxiety at all.   It is probably necessary to eliminate most doubt when we are young  –  it’s a good survival technique.  But such worldviews are not true – and they are not wisdom.   The wise learn to live happily with mystery, doubt, and ‘unknowing,’ and living in this way helps them live with the mystery.

Finding a deeper happiness

In the second half of life, we are no longer demanding our American constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness; rather, simple meaning now suffices, and that becomes in itself a much deeper happiness.

This new coherence, our ability to hold the paradoxes together, is precisely what a second-half-of-life person develops over time.  This new coherence can even feel like a return to simplicity, after we have learned from the complexities of our lives.

The great irony is that we must go through a necessary complexity (perhaps another word for necessary suffering) to return to any second simplicity.  There is no nonstop flight from first to ‘second naïveté’.   (see Falling Upward, p. 114)

Reflections on the reading – chapter 8

‘Amnesia’ and the big picture

When we’re beginning our spiritual journeys, we really don’t know ourselves. Richard Rohr calls this situation amnesia – we have forgotten who we are and whose we are.   The spiritual journey will call us to find our True Self again – the Self who was created to live in union with God.

Most of us depend on religion to guide us on our journey to our True Self, but religions often turn the journey into a worthiness contest of sorts. Religion, too, can encourage us to climb up the ‘ladder of success’, just as our culture pushes us to ‘succeed’.

(We are all proud of the achievements that mark our progress in life – whether it’s a trophy from our first soccer team when we were seven years old, or a year-end bonus from our boss when we’re 40.  Yet we have to learn not to confuse these achievements with signs of our spiritual growth.)

When we turn back to Scripture, we are reminded that God invites us “to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  The early church called this divinization – that is, God has invited us to take on divinity, to become like God.  What Peter and the other early Christians were discovering is that divinization actually becomes possible through God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.

What ‘good news’ this Gospel is!  But for people who live in a future-oriented, product-oriented, win-lose world, this good news seems just too good to be true.

‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’

Spiritual growth is much more about unlearning old attitudes than learning new things.  For instance, we have to learn again about ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’.  In Scripture, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ come near to us in this life;  as he begins his ministry, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15).  Drawing near to God has been called ‘heaven’ by most traditions – and falling away from God has been called ‘hell.’   But through our ‘amnesia’ – forgetting that God invites us into union now, in this life – most of today’s Christians believe that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are still waiting for them in a future life.

Rohr says, “If you have been taught to believe in a God who punishes  – or even eternally tortures – those who don’t love him, then you are living in an absurd universe, where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!”  The true Gospel (the one we hear, read, and see in Jesus) is telling us that God doesn’t want to exclude anyone from union.  God does allow us the freedom to exclude ourselves; that means no one is in hell unless they themselves have chosen to be finally alone and separated.

Think it through for yourself:  Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become totally conditional after death?

God’s ‘economy’

Our human ego clearly prefers an economy of merit – where we can divide the world into winners and losers, workers and idlers – to any economy of grace, where merit or effort or worthiness loses all meaning.

But remember Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard: the laborers who only worked for an hour were paid the same as those who worked hard all day. (Matthew 20:1-16)  What kind of economy is Jesus describing?

Vineyard Harvest Celebration
Everyone is invited!