Molong cloudset, NSW 2011

The Scientist Prays

Week of Sunday July 28 - Pentecost 10
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come. 
3   Give us each day our daily bread.
4   And forgive us our sins,
     for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

 5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

 9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

I was asked for assistance by a friend who was pretty sure I would not be able to help. I have the strange feeling that although the help, had it been possible, would have been much appreciated, and my inability to help left them in a quandary, the really important thing was being able to ask! How else is it that someone thanks me when I'm not able to do anything concrete? They were not being polite; this was a thanks for hallowing them; a thanks for dignifying and valuing them by listening.

I have another friend who relates the current frustrations of their life to me each time we meet. You could say they are quite shameless (Luke's word in 118) about this. We barely finish the pleasantries of "Good Morning," and the litany begins. It is not rancorous. It is not self pitying. It asks nothing of me but that rare intimacy of valuing by listening. I do not do such listening very well; I am a problem-solving 'fix-it' kind of person. My friend's obvious appreciation of my poor listening suggests people who simply listen are very 'thin on the ground!'

What I value in prayer most of all, is that God listens. God cares. God is Abba, the caring and loving father who "reflects the kind of intimacy one might expect in a family." There have been times in history when it seemed plain that God affected physical changes like the healing of disease, and much struggle with the fact that, often, God did not; witness the book of Job. Today we know that sort of physical intervention into the world does not happen. Physical healing is coincidental with prayer, not the cause of it.

Prayer, which brings much comfort when we have need, even need in extemis, is the act of relating to the God who listens; "the great Father in Heaven and creator" of all things who, Jesus teaches us, is our intimate, even profligately listening friend. (See The Parable of the Profligate Father)  A friend who actually listens, rather than simply pushing the 'fix-it' buttons of the universe, is all the more valued. I greatly value my doctor but I am in awe of my counsellor, who has enabled healing more significant as the doctor's prescriptions!

Jesus tells us to hallow this father-friend, which means to treat God with respect. We do not take God for granted. In praying for God's realm to come we hallow to the point of worship. We acknowledge that God's goodness is our only hope of life. We hallow God not only in word, but through the prayer-act of living the kingdom out as we are able, even now. And we ask for our daily bread, acknowledging our frailty and our dependence on so much around us.

In his weekly First Thoughts, which I am printing for the parish Bible study this week, Bill Loader deals with the ambiguity of the word father, and the ambiguity of the notion of hallowing. Both words can reflect human behaviours which are deeply abusive, un-Godly, and traumatising. In a culture where 30% of women experience sexual abuse or domestic violence at some point in their lives, fathers are very high on the list of abusers; whether biological or clerical. For some of these women "the image of father is almost irrecoverably destructive." I suspect this is also true for many more men than we realise, and I suspect the percentages may be even higher in church!

It is not enough to say Jesus subverts this abuse, or that the 'Real Father' judges human fathers. The familiar, intimate friend who is profligate in the breadth and depth of their love for us, understands when someone has destroyed the efficacy and power of one of our names for Him. She desires us to use another, to be shameless in our rage and grief, to shout at the hills or cry out to the very stars if these are the only names we have left for Her.

You see that I keep using the word shameless. Many translations interpret Jesus' parable about the man who is short of bread as teaching us to be persistent in our praying. The Greek word is shameless. For shame, you would not let down a friend who was in the predicament of having no food for an unexpected guest.

We are a culture which in many ways has lost the sense of shame. But to fail in one's social and hospitality obligations in Jesus' time was to be utterly shamed. Such shaming was, and is in many cultures still, an enormous humiliation. God is like that!! God does not want to be shamed!

For shame, God will not fail the obligation to value and listen, even to those things we demean ourselves by calling trivial. Even in the middle of the night when She has locked the gates, tucked in the children, and finally gotten them to sleep, for shame, God will turn on the lights and listen to you!

Even you know how to be good. Do you think God doesn't!? Be shameless! Talk to God!

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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Listening
Jim Winn 25-07-2013
Andrew, What use is a God who "listens" but doesn't do anything, doesn't intervene? In fact, how do you know that God "listens" when God does not even say anything? In my view, we stand before a mystery that we cannot comprehend, a mystery that does not even speak to us. When we come to terms with that reality, we start to realise that we are part of that mystery. Surely that's the real point behind Christian talk about incarnation? In this context faith is having the courage to live by the values which call out to us in the silence of mystery. Jesus (our cultural hero) echoes those values in ways which make a claim of radical obedience upon us. So we invest him with divinity. Other religious heroes (Moses, Gautama Buddha, Mohammed, etc., etc.) do likewise for other people. I think a few things follow from this. (1) Science is about living honestly before the mystery of being. (2) Prayer is about bringing our passions before God and listening for what unfathomable mystery says to us rather than consoling ourselves with the thought that there is an empathetic listener "out there"! The relational experience of prayer is the experience of coming into relationship with other persons and, thereby, being "at home", perhaps in a rather edgy way, with mystery or, as it has been described elsewhere, Creative Insecurity. (3) The Residual to which you refer would, in my view be better descibed as an epiphenomenon (I think there is a better word than epiphenomenon but I can't think of what it is!) of freedom. If we grasp the revolutionary if not seditious nature of freedom we cannot but be compelled to see that goodness and evil, as well as arguments about right and wrong, are intrinsic to living/being. There is no external arbiter of good/evil, right/wrong and, therefore, no heavenly consolation for those who suffered injustice or evil in this life. The harsh fact is that those who suffer injustice or evil have been betrayed by their peers. That is how the God of mystery calls us to live. Andrew, thanks for a very provocative couple of postings. Much appreciated, Jim

re Listening
Andrew 25-07-2013
Fair questions, Jim! I use "listening" as an attempt to describe my experience-- or is it only my suspicion, and more wishful than an experience!-- that the Mystery is not merely silent, or rather, unhearing and unmoved. There is a sense of some worth in my praying; I am not merely talking to myself. This is what I am struggling for in the first article when I talk about the gaining of intimacy. It's another aspect of your phrase "listening to what unfathomable mystery says to us." Perhaps you take me too literally when you hear me saying God is "out there!" The language of another "being" is hard to avoid if we wish to witness to something other than an impassive and completely unknowable mystery as opposed to unfathomable mystery.

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