Posted by: Dan | June 28, 2006

Prayer-Shaped Reflections

Because I have been carrying a rosary for some time now, and because of the liturgy I have developed to use around the rosary, I find myself praying the Lord's Prayer and praying through the Beatitudes at least once a day. A few thoughts came to my mind today while I was praying.

First of all, I was struck by how a people who pray the Lord's prayer should be incapable of singing any national anthem. This thought struck me while I was meditating upon the phrase, “deliver us from the evil one.” I prefer this translation because it is more concrete. It suggests that evil is not just an abstract force “out there somewhere,” but is something embodied — not that this means that certain people are pure evil, but this suggests that evil always has a concrete expression in actions or structures.

As I was praying I was trying to think about how the Lord's Prayer would sound if prayed by a liberation theologian today. This is an interesting exercise, by the way. Try praying the Lord's prayer in the language of a third-world liberation theologian, then try praying it as someone longing for liberation within your own country. Can't think of much to pray? Then maybe there's a problem.

Anyway, as I was praying in this manner, I was struck by the fact that for so many people in the world “the evil one” refers to Canada, the United States, Germany, Britain, and much of the Western world. Maybe people today are praying that God would free them from our nations. “Odd,” I thought. “How can I — as a person committed to the kingdom of God and as a person who has brothers and sisters defined by their citizenship in that kingdom and not by their citizenship in contemporary nation-states which have been created arbitrarily through violence — pray that God would deliver us (yes, that really means us and not just me) from evil, while simultaneously singing a song that commits me to aligning myself with, and supporting, evil?” Well, simply put, I can't. It really does come down to aligning ourselves with one or the other.

The national anthem is part of a liturgy that is an anti-liturgy to the Christian liturgy. We sing songs of worship to God so that we can be formed into the sort of people who are capable of developing habits that resist structures evil. Over against this form of Christian worship, the nation-state attempts to gather a people who will sing songs that support structures of evil. (Jord, if you happen to read this, I really hope you decided to continue to refuse to fly the flag at the Christian camp where you work. Gathering at a barren flagpole is a highly symbolic act of Christian commitment to the Lordship of Jesus. Gathering at a flagpole that flies the flag of any nation is an act that reveals capitulation to lords who attempt to be what only Jesus is.)

The second thought that I had while praying today is that the Beatitudes are beginning to make sense in a new way. I mean, if you really stop to think about it, praying the Beatitudes feels really strange (try it sometime, you'll see what I mean). When I pray the Beatitudes I first pray that I would be characterised by the trait described in the first half of the verse (i.e. that I would be poor in spirit, that I would mourn, etc.) and then I pray that I would receive the blessing promised in the second half of the verse (i.e. that I would have the kingdom of heaven, that I would be comforted, etc.). Of course, it should be noted that the Beatitudes should be prayed not only for oneself. One should pray that the Beatitudes become the identity markers of the people of God so that the world can be made new. Thus, my becoming shaped by the Beatitudes must fit into this larger narrative.

Anyway, praying some parts of the Beatitudes felt exceedingly odd. Lord, let me inherit the earth?! Lord, let me be persecuted for the sake of righteousness?! Yikes. Asking for the earth sounds horribly triumphalistic and vain; asking to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness sounds masochistic and, well, insane. However, I've been forcing myself not to leave anything out and it's been interesting how this has begun to impact my life. To begin with I'm realising a thing or two about the blessings God promises his people. There really is a power, a joy, a strength found in following Jesus. Yet I'm also beginning to realise how much ongoing suffering should be a part of the experience of God's people. Suddenly I'm finding myself able to persevere more easily, I'm finding myself not afraid to move into places of hurt, of stress, and of sorrow — going there just makes sense. Somehow through praying the Beatitudes I'm discovering a new-found strength in my daily life. Furthermore, I'm realising how much the two of these things go together. Those with the kingdom of heaven are those who suffer; those who inherit the earth are those who's experiences are like the prophets before us. The embrace of suffering prevents our embrace of God's blessings to turn into triumphalism or hubris, and the embrace of God's blessings prevents our embrace of suffering from turning into masochism or insanity.

What is also intriguing about all this is that it's not as though I've realised this and now I'm going to implement it. This reflection comes after prayer had already begun to change my life in these ways. This seems to add further weight to the thesis proposed by liberation theology that argues that theology is reflection upon ecclesial (and, therefore, prayer-ful) praxis.

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