Thursday, June 26, 2008

Prayer, Place and the Poor

In the newest Christian Century (July 1, 2008) there is a wonderful article by Sarah Coakley--a professor at Cambridge after having taught at Harvard, and an associate rector in Anglican parishes in Massachusetts and Littlemore, Oxfordshire--called "The Vicar at Prayer." It is directed primarily to English Anglican priests--"pastors to the nation"--but there is much ecumenical wisdom and urgency as regards "the disciplined long-haul life of prayer, of ongoing personal and often painful transformation."

Coakley contends that while prayer is the work of all God's people, the pastor must lead in this work, "the clergy putting this task first in their hierarchy of 'business.'" She quotes Evenlyn Underhill, a letter to Archbishop Lang on the eve of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, that "the greatest and most necessary work (Lambeth) could do at the present time for the spiritual renewal of the Anglican Church would be to call the clergy as a whole, solemnly and insistently, to a greater interiority and cultivation of the personal life of prayer...God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice and love can, by his own spirit of adoring worship, help us to apprehend him."

Without the "daily public witness of a clergy engaged, manifestly and accountably, alongside their people" in this work, "the church at large runs the danger of losing its fundamental direction and meaning." In sum, "The loss of disciplined clerical prayer in a busy age is fatal: for the priest herself, for her people, for ecumenical relations and even for national life. Its absence is--quietly but corrosively--devastating."

It is in prayer, Coakley says, we truly discover who the poor are--and not as a theoretical discernment from the position of privilege. And through prayer we are invested--in that we invest ourselves and, I suppose, God invests us--in our various places of service. The North American penchant to mobility (evidenced not only in parishioners but also in clergy, either by self-promotion or as a result of systemic expectation) deadens our commitment to our places of service and the people who dwell there. There is a deep truth there I think that needs to be sounded: that only prayer unites us to a place. Only prayer unites us to a people. Not program, not stuff, but prayer, and that because prayer unites us to the One who is creator of every place and God of every heart.

These are dark days for me in many ways. But even this week I have seen the clouds part a little, by the grace of disciplined prayer. God's well is deep, but I have too much in my hands to take up my bucket and draw. For long months now I have been parched of spirit and have turned only to the dried and rusty taps of institution and old aggrievement. Prayer, manifest and accountable, is the uncorroded bucket which allows me to come again to the fountain of living water instead of to a mere memory of moisture in the broken cisterns of my own spirit.

God, grant me the grace, the zeal and faith, to pray with my people in this place. Nothing but this "greatest and most necessary work" has power to at the present time to renew the spirit of the United Methodist Church and its clergy, or at least let me say this United Methodist church and its clergy.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you seem a distinguished sort of fellow. Not done yet, I would say. Plenty to do, to be. What does God say to your heart. Surely He is not through with you, though your circumstances and mindset may dicatate otherwise. You touched my spirit, compassion for you emerged, conviction that there is more, you, just have'nt tapped into it yet. Please, if I may, say, just stop, sit. Quite the bemoanings of the spirit within, (ours), I know how that is, by the way. Now, let yourself go, think of God, on Him, Jesus, His love for YOU, His presense, coming to you, it is not foolish. Ask Him for more, more of Him in you, upon you, on your life. How much do you want Him present, really present. He awaits you. You profile is wrong, in some respects, remember there is the power of life and death in our words. By His spirit He will lead you, in His peace, with joy. I ask Jesus to stir within you Joy untold, peace that will run like a river within you and overtake the pain, disappointments, hurt, or unfairness of expectations, people, church. I will be praying in the spirit for you, the gift given by God to pray perfectly for you. You are blessed and loved! C

Tom Steagald said...

I am sure I am not very distinguished, but I do have a long way to go. I confess that often I do not meditate on Jesus's love for me, but only on my sense of his distance and disappointment. I am sure he loves others, and proclaim that with vigor, but am not so sure that his grace for others is available to me.

Psalm 31 is my life Psalm, I have concluded, a proper lamentation of my life. Of melancholy temperament anyway, I find it incredibly cheering that the Psalmist, like Jeremiah (which I am studying right now), are willing to voice their complaint to God, their sense of God's abandoment--I have passed out of mind like one who is dead, the Psalmist says; Truly you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. And so I have felt for a season or more.

But the very fact of their iteration has been like cool waters dipped on the parched tongue of my soul. Their lament serves to raise me up, a bit.

Thank you so much for your willingness to write me and offer both prayer and promise. I will do my best to read your offering as some part of God's word for me and even now, as I pray today and read again the words of Jeremiah 16-20, I will ask to be reminded of God's care for the faithful, and to ask for God's grace to make me so.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, I do understand the readings of Psalms. The ones that cry out to God, or voice their complaint to Him....Yet they do end with His faithfulness, to who He is and His love to us, for us. I believe you have given and given in your what has been your lifes work. It is normal, and sorry to say, human to feel drained, discouraged. You with your call, of course have alot of "head" knowledge. I think that gets us in trouble sometimes. We think, analyze, and go over in our minds too much when God is God, soverign. Period. We are to take Him and His word at that. Yes we need Him to show us..what are you saying to ME, showing Me. You I feel have done this for others. Now you need it. And God has you right where He wants you, to hear afresh, anew, to rise up and let all that you know, all that you have experienced come together with His Holy Spirit leading you to now move and bring you into this next season. He still has plans for you, it's just not the same, not what you have known, think of it has a new adventure, one with new sights and vistas to capture not just with your mind, but with your spirit. He will lead you and put a new passion within you to finish the race with gusto, victory! The words that come are you are LOOSED, and you are HEALED!! and WHOLE, be joyed my friend, your talents are a blessing to Him, your writings are a pouring out of the soul and are as healing waters. Thank you for taking words from someone who loves and serves the Lord in her humble artistic surroundings, who laments also, with, by the way, words not so eloquent has yours, and excuse any spelling errors. I only move as the spirit leads...bless you tonight with dreams and visions from His holy throne room, for I feel He still wants to use you and fill you and it will and is above and beyond what you could ask or think....blessing..and I will keep praying.....C