Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thinking about Prayer

Ordinary Time

Saturday's Herald-Leader carried an article by Terry Lee Goodrich on Baylor's recent survey on how people pray. I was surprised to find that a very small percentage (5%) of their respondents prayed to Jesus as opposed to "sometimes" to Jesus, but primarily to "God."

Given the wording, I wonder just what the survey asked?

Of course, 9% said "no one special."

Poor Jesus, I guess he's not as popular as he used to be?

A friend once told me about a seminary class in which the professor took a survey of who prayed to God the Father, and who prayed to God the Son.

"Most of you are closet Arians," the professor concluded. The prof was probably kidding around (otherwise that would be more than a little harsh!), but it's an interesting observation.

I know it's normal piety to pray to "God in Jesus' name," but that always sounded kind of weird to me. When I pray, it's primarily to Jesus by name. It's not a way of being spiritually fastidious - I'm not worried particularly about praying like an Arian - it's just what I do. My other usual invocation would be to the Trinity, especially; that is a question of being picky about theology. Occasionally I will invoke the other persons of the Trinity alone, but usually it's "Jesus" or the "Trinitarian God."

But I never pray to "God."

I guess I'm kind of henotheist, and I want to be really clear about which god.


To whom do you pray?

Oh, and Paul Prather had this really neat column, too: "Being a liberal isn't so bad - but I'm not one."

Which reminds me, if you've not read this, you should. I consider it a public service: "Why 'Liberal' Really Is a 'Dirty' Word."

(Yeah, I do think highly of myself.)

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Richard from Chico said...

I most often pray to "God", but said deity is identified by appropriating the form of a collect of my prayers, wherein the invocation of God is joined with a verbal recounting of God's character or his action in history and salvation, often employing language of the scripture reading that day. This certainly locates God within the biblical narrative, and, I would more boldly suggest, makes that prayer inherently trinitarian.

I got this from a friend who years ago as a new Episcopalian set out to memorize all the collects in the Prayer Book. When I asked him why, it was because he wanted to so internalize the collect form of prayer that when he prayed himself it would be a collect.

As for praying directly to Jesus apart from praying in his name, I do that less often. I do, however, find myself praying to the "Lord" and wondering in the midst of this who I am praying to. Fortunately, the whole homoousia thing sorts it out for me nicely.

Chris T. said...

I think your friend's professor might not have any idea what he's/she's talking about. :-)

In the Missale Romanum (and probably the Anglican Missal, though I don't know it well enough to say categorically), practically every prayer in the book (especially the propers -- Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion) is addressed to "God" or "Lord", "Through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever".

I guess I would push for judging prayer practices by their fruits. I find the Anglican Missal rather gnostic -- when I read it, I keep getting caught on what I see as an unhealthy body/soul distinction that isn't orthodox. But for the most part, Anglicans I know who use it in worship are not gnostics. (Many evangelicals, who have no missals, are!) So I conclude that while the Anglican Missal might not be to my liturgical tastes, it's probably not gnostic.

To answer your question, instead of just pontificating, I'll say that when I pray extemporaneously, it's usually to "Loving God" or "Eternal God", closing with "Through..."

Garrett said...

Obviously Kyle hates people who aren't trinitarian enough... *snicker*

Anonymous said...

I was going to mention that prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours too, as Christ mentioned similarly - are to God the Father, through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit (not exactly how it goes) and ends with "one God, forever and ever." So that's pretty dang Trinitarian.

Biblically speaking there are all manner of "forms" I suppose. Jesus Himself spoke of us later asking "the Father" for things "in His Name."

Although Jesus is a part of the unified Godhead, He is a distinct Person - and ulike the other two Persons because He took on an actual Human Body and with it, a history in time. And we know from Scripture too that He actually prays FOR us, to whom? The Father I would assume.

Generally I pray to my Father and call Him that. Now I may get all Psalmodic sometimes and say "O God..." But I know whom that is. "Lord" is in there too at times. I do also pray specifically to the Holy Spirit - probably when I'm asking Him to do something that is associated with the action of God the Holy Spirit.

Interesting stuff.

Tom Mohan said...

I was interested to learn from my Liturgy class that most of the prayers at Mass are directed to God the Father, and that this is a reflection of the reality that we as the Body of Christ are entering into that great communion between the Son and the Father at Mass from the position of the Son. When the Trinitarian formula is used often it is to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit (or in the power of the Holy Spirit).

I most frequently pray to Jesus when struggling with issues surronding my humanity, including temptations.

Anonymous said...

Great insight Tom. Our mystical incorporation into the Body of Christ, being wrapped up inside the eternal identity of Jesus, seems to be key. And it does seem as well that is God the Holy Spirit who is binding us together as He inhabits us.

the jesse said...

I like Tom's observations as well, and I certainly sympathize with Kyle for being a little nervous that certain Christians pray only to God the Father, with little or no mention to or of the other Persons of the Trinity. I guess when Jesus is only a lifeboat, a means to an end (which is how I think some people see Him) and not the Lord of Creation, it becomes easier to omit Him from our prayers and sermons.

Has anybody ever heard a Christian sermon with little-to-no reference to Christ?

Richard from Chico said...

A sermon with little or no reference to Christ? Yes, two years ago from the Episcopal Bishop of Nevada at our Diocesan Convention in Northern California. She gave us a lot of Spirit language, but I think maybe one or two references to Jesus. Max.

She is, by the way, no longer the Bishop of Nevada.

Anonymous said...

The whole "liberal versus conservative" thing is a false dichotomy. One might as well talk about the breast stroke versus polarised light.

The opposite of "liberal" is not "conservative" but "authoritarian".

The opposite of "condervative" is not "liberal" but "radical".

Orthodox prayers are generally addressed to the Father or the Son. There is only one addressed to the Holy Spirit (O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth), which is not prayed between Pascha and Pentecost.

Most of the Resurrectional Troparia are addressed to the Son: "When Thou didst descend to death O life Immortal, Thou didst slay hell with the slendour of Thy Godhead", "By Thy Cross, Thou didst destroy death!" and so on.

Kyle said...

Hehe. Be more trinitarian!

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, folks, it's helpful stuff to sit with and think about.

I think I spoke too soon about my prayer practices; lest I forget, whatever is in the Liturgy of the Hours, I certainly do pray that way. But, interestingly enough, my extemporaneous prayers (and yes, there are those) are just dressed a little differently.

I like Chris' comment on considering the fruits of prayer practices.

Richard, what's Murphy's Law about being promoted to one's level of incompetence?

Was that mean? ;-)

Rob Leacock said...

This is an interesting post. It reminded me immediately of a class I took during my last year at seminary. It was called "Praying What We Believe," and the general scope of the course was to discuss how what we say in the Nicene Creed is reflected in our liturgy and worship (everything from how do we commemorate the Virgin Mary to the season of Advent to a funeral service). It was one of the more interesting classes I took, and as one might imagine, there was much discussion about our Trinitarian beliefs as they are expressed in our prayers and in our worship.

One subject we kept revisitng in the class was already raised previously by Alan and others, who indicated that often prayers (particularly one's we find in written liturgies "are to God the Father, through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit" or with some similar formula. Our professor, whom I believe to have a secure hold on trinitarian doctrine, often raised the issue that if this was the ONLY formula by which we prayed, was there a danger of somehow making subordinate the Son and the Holy Spirit to the Father? In other words, does a prayer need this trinitarian formula to be expressly trinitarian? I don't know that we ever came to any definitive answer to that issue, but we did spend a goodly amount of time talking about this very subject of to whom do we address our prayers. Like some of the other commentators, we discussed how and when we might or do actually pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Father AND how not using one formula for prayer exclusively still upholds our trinitarian faith.

I also recall one day we discussed how we address God in prayer (this was sort of in the context of inclusive language...) and our professor said that, while it was probably ok to refer to God as "God" while praying, we should consider that "God" is, or can be at any rate, abstract, distant, nebulous and cold. The God in whom we profess our faith, rather, is real, near to us, distinct and personal (not so much in a generic evangelical sort of way). Our professor said that in our praying we ought to consider God not as some concept, but remember that God is a "person" with a Name. Then we had a really great discussion about the various ways in which we refer to or address God.

I'm not sure if there was any specific point in all of that; I'll just stop typing now.

Anonymous said...

Re trinitarian prayers - I would have thought that 'normal' (though not exclusive) would be to the Father (rather than a generic God, if you're concerned about being a henotheist rather than a monotheist), through the Spirit, in (and with) the Son. There are occasional NT prayers to Jesus (Rev 22.20, 1 Cor 16.22 (both very short), and perhaps Stephen's as he dies - though this is while having a vision), and not being Arian means praying to Jesus (and the Spirit) can have their place, but if we follow Jesus as our high priest in worship, then there is a Father-ward focus and goal. The great blessing of the gospel is access to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit (Eph 2.18).