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Pope,G - A Prayer Shaped Life

Pope,G - A Prayer Shaped Life

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Crescent Hill Baptist ChurchLouisville, Kentucky
Pentecost 22October 12, 2008W. Gregory Pope
SERIES: The New Monasticism
A PRAYER-SHAPED LIFE
Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23;Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14Anybody here searching for some peace?These are anxiety-ridden days. I know what Paul said in our text for today, but it is difficult to refrainfrom anxiety and to keep our minds only on what is excellent and honorable and good and true. It helps toknow that Paul was no stranger to hard economic times and difficult life-situations. We may not alwayslike what Paul has to say, but someone who lived a life like his, full of incredible hardship, we at leastmust listen to what he has to say, because they are not words spoken from an ivory pain-free palace, butwords forged from the fire of a deep faith in God.And as we continue our reflections on monastic spirituality, we also want to ask what we can learn fromthe monastery in relation to this text.Bill Johnson and I were talking just a few days ago about how in these dark economic days the monasterywas looking better all the time. To be a monk or a nun might make it a bit easier not to be anxious aboutanything. But even monks and nuns have worries. Far from being removed from the world, they carry theworld in their hearts constantly in prayer.As we try to discern a path to peace for our own lives, it is the witness of scripture and the church,including especially monasteries, that the journey toward peace is marked by a life that is shaped byprayer.Don’t be anxious about anything, says Paul, but in everything with prayers and petitions make yourrequests known to God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts andminds.Paul is not speaking of a life that simply includes a prayer in the morning or at meals or in moments of crisis. This is a life immersed in prayer for the purpose of living in peace, no matter how difficult thecircumstances.And it is important I think to notice the thoughts of a prayer-shaped life. Notice Paul did not say, “Think about what is comfortable or secure or prosperous.” Which is what we usually seek in order to havepeace. But rather he says to think on what is excellent and true and just.Many of us carry doubts about prayer and whether or not it changes things. We pray and pray and prayfor something good and it doesn’t happen, and so we wonder, “Why pray? What good is prayer? Does itreally make any difference?” These are legitimate questions we have and we must continually ask them aswe search the mysteries of prayer.As we look to monasticism and some of the great writers on prayer throughout the history of the church,we find that prayer is not so much about changing the circumstances around us as it is about the change
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that takes place within us in spite of or because of the circumstances around us.Writer and nun Joan Chittister says we pray “so that our minds and our hearts, our ideas and our lives,come to be in sync, so that we are what we say we are, so that the prayers that pass our lips change ourlives, so that God’s presence becomes palpable to us. Prayer brings us to burn off the dross of what clingsto our souls like mildew and sets us free for deeper, richer, truer lives in which we become what we seek.”[1]Elizabeth Canham adds, “Prayer is work. Prayer is the context in which we confront our fears, recognizeresistance, let go of demands for immediate solutions to life’s dilemmas, and learn to wait.” [2]One monk writes: “Prayer is God’s abiding presence made real.” [3]Monasteries have much to teach us about God’s abiding presence made real. They are governed by a ruleof life centered in prayer and worship. They teach us that prayer is not meant to be an attachment to thelife that we live; it is meant to be the center of the life that we live, permeating all that we do, consideringour every activity, our every breath as prayer.Prayer lies at the very heart of the Christian life; it holds everything together, it sustains every otheractivity . . . Praying can never be set apart from the rest of life, it is the life itself. St. Benedict did not ask his monks to take a vow to pray, for he expected prayer to be central in their lives, permeating whateverelse they were doing. [4]
 Devote yourself often to prayer 
, he writes. Prayer in the Rule of Benedict is appropriately discussed inchapter 8 immediately after the chapter on humility. Prayer is the natural response of people who knowtheir place in the universe. [5]The great purpose of monastic life and for every Christian life is to pray constantly, keeping the memoryof God alive in your heart at every moment of the day and night; seeing God in everything and to beaware of God at all times.
Two Ways of Praying
How do we do that? As we consider a prayer-shaped life, I want to offer two ways of praying that mayhelp us experience a continual awareness of God.
The Daily Office / Liturgy of the Hours
The first is called by many different names: The Daily Office, The Liturgy of the Hours,
The Opus Dei
,Daily Prayer, or Fixed Hour Prayer. It is the call to pray several different times each day so as to framethe day in prayer with praise and thanksgiving. It serves to make the worship of God the center of our life.The heart of the prayer life proscribed by the Rule of Benedict is called the Opus Dei - the Work of God.It is the work we are to do for God and the work that God does in us.The psalmist says, “Seven times a day I will rise to praise your name.” And so the early Hebrew faithfuland the early Christians did just that. Some monastic communities still pray seven times a day. Others fouror five times.In the sixth century, Benedict scheduled prayer times during the day to coincide with the times of thechanging of the Roman imperial guard. When the world was revering its secular rulers Benedict taught usto give our homage to God, the divine ruler of heaven and earth.6Thousands of years before Christ, the people of God . . . made it their practice to rise up in the night orstop in their daily rounds to praise the name of Yahweh, to give thanks, to acknowledge God’s presence,
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to seek God’s blessing, and to offer themselves to God for God’s work here on earth. [7]Praying the Hours is a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tradition. Faithful Muslims stop four times a day - atwork, at home, while traveling - and pray toward Mecca. There are Jews and Christians outsidemonasteries who do the same. This is a counter-cultural practice. To stop commerce, travel, conversation,even ministry for a short time in order to make a prayer offering to God. Our culture does not rewardthose of us who stop three of four times a day. But God does. God rewards the One who practices regularprayer with peace and with an intimacy of relationship that truly is the meaning of life. [8]To make such offerings each day - morning, noon, evening, and night, or by whatever pattern that onefollows - is to live inside the frame of the day that the Lord has made. It is a chance to recognize and to begrateful for the fact that, as least as far as you are concerned, God has indeed acted, and the world isindeed a new and fresh creation in which you can live and love and work and rest. [9]The saying of the offices seven times is so that each stage of the day’s work may be appropriately offeredto God. [10]
 Each of the day hours
(or times of prayer)
begins with the verse, “O God, come to my assistance: O God,make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2)
Benedict instructs his communities . . . during the day, to recite brief, simple, scriptural prayers at regularintervals, easy enough to be recited and prayed even in the workplace, to wrench their minds from themundane to the mystical, away from concentration on life’s petty particulars to attention on itstranscendent meaning. [11]Merton speaks of being attentive to the times of the day: when the birds begins to sing, and the deercomes out of the morning fog, and the sun comes up. The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling thatwe have to keep moving. This is a real sickness. [12] And it will not bring peace.The Daily Office allows prayer to permeate everything we do. Returning to prayer throughout the dayreminds us that attending to one’s spiritual life is as essential as the habit of eating meals. [13]Monasteries have a bell that calls them to prayer. I love the sound of church bells that ring across a town.Thomas Merton says, “The bells break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass awayand our preoccupations are not important. The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the towers of great Churches. We have spoken to the saints, your fathers and mothers, in their land. We called them, aswe call you, to sanctity.” The bells are calling us all, and that echo we hear within is the sound of ourlonging to be with God. [14]Ron Rolheiser suggests that we consider the alarm clock as a monastic bell calling us to prayer. Arevolutionary way to think of the alarm clock. Not quite the beauty of church bells, but we can set ouralarms to sacred music.To give you an idea of what praying the daily office might be like, I want to share with you portions of prayers from a prayer book I sometimes use written by Robert Benson. [15]Imagine rising in the morning with the words:
God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.This very day the Lord has acted. May God’s name be praised. Deliver us, Almighty God, from the service of self alone,that we may do the work You have given us to do,in truth and beauty, and for the common good. In your tender compassion, the morning sun has risen upon us,
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