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Living Religion 3rd Edition 80 81 Chapter 3 christianity

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Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who
loves is born of God and knows God…God’s love was revealed among us
in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live
through him…
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his
love is perfected in us…
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in
them.
1 Jn 4:7–12, 17.
Jesus builds on understandings of ‘love’ in the Jewish Scriptures. The
most characteristic word for ‘love’ in these Scriptures is the Hebrew ‘aha-
bah, which refers to a quality or state of personal attachment. It is marked
by constant fidelity, such as that between husband and wife or, more
importantly, the ‘steadfast love’ required between God and Israel through
the covenant (Deut 6:5; cf. Is 54:5).
In the Christian Scriptures, this is translated into the Greek agape, and
refers to the boundless love of God (Jn 3:16) who is the source and eternal
presence of love (see 1 Jn 4 quote above). Jesus preaches a God who is
the source and model of love for Jesus and his disciples (Mt 5:48). Jesus
proclaims a love that is to bind and distinguish the Christian community
(1 Cor 12–13) and compared to which the individual ultimately will be
judged (Mt 25:31–46).
In the final analysis, Jesus’ command to love means that the Christian
expresses their longing for God and constantly seeks the good of their
neighbour. In the synoptic gospels in particular, ‘love’ is connected with the
preaching of God’s Reign that arrives in the person of Jesus, and also with
the greatest commandment (Mt 22:34– 40). This type of love unavoidably
involves suffering (Lk 6:22 ff.) and the Christian is asked to follow in
Jesus’ footsteps to the cross (Mt 10:3–7 ff.), and beyond to the Risen
Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Research
Locate and analyse a recent publication on ethics such as How Ethical is Australia?
Evaluate its content based on the ethical principles outlined above.
Activities
1 Define the term ‘ethics’.
2 What is the ‘Decalogue’?
3 What does it mean to say ‘the Decalogue is like a set of ten boundary markers’?
4 Identify two major guidelines for Christian ethics.
5 Outline the principal ethical teachings that underpin two of the following—the Ten
Commandments, the Beatitude discourse and Jesus’ command to love.
6 Describe the importance of Christian ethics and morality in the everyday lives of believers—
especially in relation to the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and Jesus’ commandment
to love.
7 Compare and contrast the meanings of ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’. Present your conclusions in
the form of a Venn diagram.
8 Imagine two worlds—one where there are no ethical guidelines and the other where there
are many moral laws. Compare and contrast these two worlds. Predict how someone would
think and act if they were living in each of these worlds.
3.5 PERSONAL
DEVOTION
Glossary
devotion(s) Used in the singular, ‘devotion’ is the profound dedication or ready will to serve
God. The plural term ‘devotions’ refers to religious observances and forms of
prayer or worship.
meditation From the Greek melete meaning ‘care, study, exercise’, implying preparation and
practice in this form of prayer. Meditation in the Christian tradition is understood
as a spiritual practice that serves as preparation for ‘pure prayer’ or ‘prayer of the
heart’ (contemplative and mystical prayer).
prayer Prayer is both a verb and a noun. Firstly, it describes the act by which one enters
into conscious, loving communion with God. Secondly, it describes various
forms of direct address to or conversation with God, especially in the form of
lament, petition, praise and thanksgiving.
ritual A prescribed, repetitive form of action, sometimes accompanied by words,
which forms part of an act of worship.
worship Often used interchangeably with ‘liturgy’, although ‘worship’ is the preferred
term in the Reformed Churches. Both refer in general to celebrations or
gatherings of the faithful for prayer and sacraments. In their specific senses,
both refer to the Eucharist.
Figure 3.12
Christian meditation is a popular
contemporary prayer style and
has taken on many different
forms.
Living Religion 3rd Edition 82 83 Chapter 3 christianity
Personal devotions (including prayer) refer to various types of religious
observances, whether public or private. They are usually characterised by
strong attachment or affection towards a set of beliefs, and by religious
zeal and piety. In some Churches (for example, Catholic, Anglican,
Orthodox) they can also refer to non-liturgical prayer forms such as chants
or mantras, and more affective (emotional) attitudes to faith. For many
Christians, ‘devotions’ are thought to foster ‘devotion’, true faith and
spirituality.
Generally speaking, the Church has supported three different yet
overlapping approaches to prayer and devotional practice, whether public
or private. These are: private, communal and liturgical prayer/worship.
Christian corporate worship (especially the Eucharist) refers to worship
that is a public, communal and liturgical ritual.
Private Christian worship is either private or communal or both. Strictly
speaking, worship or liturgy refers to adoration and reverence directed
only towards God (refer to Ex 20:1), and as such is to be distinguished
from other similar activities—such as the honour or veneration given to the
saints in the Catholic Church, and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
in the Uniting Church. Christians believe that God should be worshipped
‘in spirit and in truth’ (Jn 4:24), the outward expression of which is in the
rites and ceremonies of liturgy. In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions
especially, liturgy refers to the official public worship of the Church. That
is, it is authorised by, and in communion with, the local bishop and other
authorities; it is the activity of an assembly of believers, and it is prayer.
Prayer as personal devotion
Prayer is an important way in which the Christian acknowledges the
existence of a relationship between God and humanity and, more
importantly, that God relates to each human being and all creation with
ongoing compassion and goodness. In other words, a divine person
interacts with human persons who in turn reach out to the One who
sustains all creation. When Christians pray to the mother of Christ or to
a saintly intercessor, the one prayed to is viewed as linked with God and
therefore having the power to answer prayers.
Some phrases from the Scriptures used to describe prayer include—‘to
call upon’, ‘intercede with’, ‘meditate upon’, ‘consult’, ‘cry out to’, ‘draw
near to’, ‘rejoice in’ and ‘seek the face of [God]’. Each of these expressions
is obviously linked to various situations that prompt people to pray
personally to God—from needing advice to sheer anguish and desperation.
Prayer has also been described in many ways by the great teachers of
the Christian tradition. These include:
raising the mind and heart to God (John Damascene)
conversation and discussion with God (Gregory of Nyssa)
affectionate directing of the mind to God (Augustine of Hippo)
intimate sharing between friends (Teresa of Avila), and
loving attentiveness to God (John of the Cross).
The personal prayer life of Jesus
Jesus is described as praying privately, silently or in solitude at various
times during his ministry—after his baptism by John the Baptist (Lk 3:21–
22); during the temptations and fasting in the desert (Lk 4:1–13); when
seeking relief from his busy ministry (Lk 5:16); and as a matter of course
early in the morning before dawn (Mk 1:35). He is described as often
spending the whole night in prayer, particularly before important decisions
(Lk 6:12; Mk 14:26–42); after key sermons (Jn 6:15); and in times of
distress (Jn 12:27–28), including during the crucifixion (Mt 27:46).
Different types of personal prayer
There are many different prayer practices and styles Christians use in their
everyday lives. For believers prayer brings them into contact with the
mysteries of their faith. Prayer provides them with tangible ways in which
these mysteries can be brought to life to provide individual and communal
meaning.
Practices such as vocal, mental and contemplative prayer, and
meditation and going on retreat, focus the Christian for his/her
involvement with the world. Each of these prayer practices strengthens and
directs the Christian so that they can interact in a more Christ-like way
with others in the world. The practices give them direction when they feel
alone, a sense of community when they feel lost, and a sense of joy when
they are successful in spreading ‘the Good News’. Prayer infuses the life of
the Christian because it is understood as an important way of experiencing
‘life with the living God’. What follows are some of the main forms of
prayer for Christians.
Vocal prayer uses words that are recited, spoken or sung. It may draw
on traditional prayers with a long history such as—the Lord’s Prayer, the
Hail Mary, liturgical texts and litanies. Vocal prayer can also be original,
spontaneous and based on one’s personal experience, the Psalms, the
Gospels and other sources (for example, ‘O Lord, when I look at your
heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have
established…how majestic is your name in all the earth’—Ps 8:1–3).
Mental prayer refers to a process of reflection that involves the mind,
the imagination and the will. During mental prayer, the Christian asks
for God’s help to still the wandering mind and, eventually, to move
the heart, to convert it to the ways of God. Traditional mental prayer
appeared around the fifteenth century and includes affections, petitions
and resolutions (to change one’s life). More contemporary forms of mental
prayer include imaging, creative visualisation, journalling and other
narrative techniques.
Monastic approaches to mental prayer include lectio divina or
‘sacred reading’. Originating around the twelfth century, lectio involves
the phases of: reading as seeking the sweetness of God’s word in the
Scriptures, meditation as finding this sweetness, prayer as asking for it and
contemplation as tasting it.
Christian mental prayer also includes meditation (see below) and
centring or mantra prayer. Examples of the latter are The Jesus Prayer,
or Prayer of the Heart, from the Christian Eastern monastic tradition
(see below). Christian mantras differ from their non-Christian, Asian
Did you know?
The oldest Christian prayer
known to us is found in
1 Cor 16:22 (cf. Rev 22:20)—
’Maranatha’—Come, Lord
[Jesus], Come.
Figure 3.14
Icons are an aid to prayer.
Did you know?
The English word ‘prayer’
literally means a ‘petition’
or ‘request’. It derives from
the Latin precari meaning ‘to
entreat or beg’. For Christians,
prayer is the most important
and fundamental form of
personal address to God.
Figure 3.13
Many Christians read the Bible as a form
of prayer.
Living Religion 3rd Edition 84 85 Chapter 3 christianity
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counterparts in that they not only stress mindfulness and the emptying of
self, but contain references to Christian theology, Scripture or the Christian
mysteries.
Contemplative prayer is very difficult to explain using words alone. It is
often experienced as a simple prayer of quiet, where the heart is held still
in passive recollection of God, but the mind and the imagination are free to
wander. In the Christian tradition, contemplative prayer is understood as
the pure gift (grace) of God and wholly beyond the power of human effort
to achieve. It is also referred to as the mystical encounter with God as the
divine Beloved.
Contemplative prayer is focused on a perception of God’s living
presence; an experience of inner simplicity and quietness; and of love, joy
and blessedness.
Meditation is generally understood as the exercising of one’s spiritual
memory based on repetition of words and phrases, usually pronounced
aloud, and accompanied by vocal and bodily rhythm. A good example is
the Orthodox Christian ‘Jesus Prayer’: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on
me, a sinner’.
Each of these different prayer practices and styles influences the
everyday life of believers by bringing them into contact with the mysteries
of their faith, and by providing them with tangible ways in which these
mysteries can be brought to life to provide individual and communal
meaning.
Activities
1 What do Christians mean by prayer?
2 Describe the different specific types of personal prayer and examine their
importance in the life of a Christian.
3 Compare and contrast the main characteristics of the four main types of
Christian prayer referred to in this section.
4 Investigate and assess key features of Jesus’ personal prayer life. Refer to
possible ways in which his prayer life might influence the everyday practices of
Christians.
Figure 3.15
Prayer can be time alone in a church.
Research
1 Log on to one of these meditation web pages—‘John Main’s Meditation’ or
‘Awaken to Prayer’—and investigate why is it that meditation is linked almost
exclusively to Eastern practices.
2 Do you think meditation should be an important part of Christian prayer
practices and why?
3 If it is important, suggest some ways of redressing this imbalance and revitalising
Western meditation practices?
Research
Investigate the growth and development of personal devotions in two specific
Christian Churches in Australia. In your answer, refer to their origins and historical
expressions.
Conclusion
Perhaps due to its long and complex history, it is easy to forget that
Christianity is based on a simple belief—that human beings exist in a
state of alienation in
this world, from God
and each other, and
that this state has been
healed through the life,
death and resurrection
of one person, Jesus of
Nazareth. Therefore,
Christianity has at its
heart not an idea but a
person. Christians gain
access to this person
through a combination of
historical understanding
of Christianity, and by
incorporating its key
features into their daily
lives—principal beliefs,
sacred texts and writings,
core ethical teachings and
personal devotion.
Figure 3.16
Taizé, in the south of Burgundy, France, is the home of an international community made up of over a
hundred brothers from many different Christian backgrounds and from more than twenty-five nations. The
brothers are committed for their whole life to material and spiritual sharing, to celibacy and great simplicity
of life. Each year many thousands of young adults from many countries come to Taizé to take part in weekly
meetings of prayer and reflection.