Today was our Quiet Day and was led by the Rev. Michael Battle. His meditations were good, if a little ironic. He encouraged us to concieve of prayer as the inter-communion of the Trinity into which we are invited. Our tasks are to remove obstacles so that we can accept the invitation, to listen, and to watch for ordinary ways and places and people in which such listening can take place. The result is a very broad conception of prayer–it is always ongoing all around us, we need merely to attune ourselves to it.
This, I confess, struck me as ironic given that the setting for the meditations was in All Saints’ Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral, a site at which some form of the daily office has been said for 1400 years. Of course, we have been drawn fully into this practice, with Matins and Holy Communion every morning and Evensong every afternoon. Our days begin and end in prayer of the rather formal variety. And I quite like it.
Anyway, the irony left me thinking about the Incredibles. Yes, the movie. One of the best lines comes when Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) refuses to attend Dash’s graduation. This leads to a discussion with Mrs. Parr (Elastigirl) which consludes with the sentence, “If everyone is special, no one is.” If prayer is an always already ongoing conversation to which we can become constantly attuned, what is the need for formal worship? We Northern Anglicans seem to have developed an entire theology and spirituality that has made attendance at fomal worship a dispensible add-on to the Christian life and now, 40 years on, wonder why no one wants to come to church. Answer: they and their parents listened well, learned what we taught them, and stayed at home to do in their solitude what previous generations of Christians believed could only or at least uniquely be done as the community of faith gathered at worship.
Rev. Battle also seems particularly harsh on petitionary prayer, calling it immature. I expect–hope?–he meant that many forms of petitionary prayer are immature. On that point he is absolutely right. But what he actually said was bolder and balder than that, at least as I recall. Again, the point I heard being made struck me as out of step with where we were and what we have been doing since the pilgrimage started last Thursday morning. After all, every day, we pray the Lord’s Prayer three times. And if we take the petitions (give us, forgive us, save and deliver us) out of that prayer, well, it’s a fine prayer still, but it’s not the Lord’s Prayer anymore and it’s a good deal shorter.
If the Lord is unembarrassed about petitions–petitions that the Father knows about, petitions that are inadequately related to what we really need, petitions that need the Spirit’s intercession to be sanctified and completed–then why are we? Of course, petitionary prayer can become a laundry list to the Cosmic Santa Claus. But the solution, it seems to me, is not to dispense with petitionary prayer. Rather, it is to sift our petitions through the petitions of the prayer Jesus’ taught us. Give us what we need to live for today and help us recognize that You are the source of all bounty. Forgive us our sins and help us to be forgiving people. Save us from the time of trial, and when the time does come, deliver us. Seems to me these are petitions that are to be prayed all the time, straightforwardly and without blushing. It may be that we should blush about the petitions that don’t pass through the sifting, but that’s not the same thing as dispensing with petitions altogether.
I just re-read this post. It sounds to me far harsher than I intend. So, I’ll end on a positive note. I do believe that worship–which, I think, is the word I would use to name what Rev. Battle called prayer in his talks–is primarily a divine activity. It is the eternal offering of love by the Son for the Father in the Spirit. And it is an activity into which we are continually called and to which, in the long journey of sanctification, we ought to become attuned.
But the community gathered to open the book and break the bread is the place where we return as frequently as we can that our eyes might be opened and our ears unstopped.