Sunday, January 10, 2010

Article: Why Pray?

An excerpt from Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey, pages 29, 42-43 (source link here).

Why pray? I have asked this question almost every day of my life, especially when God's presence seems far away and I wonder if prayer is a pious form of talking to myself. I have asked it when I read theology, wondering what use there may be in repeating what God must surely know. Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world and of me, through the eyes of God.

In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is me. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I or any of us play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God's point of view.

It occurred to me one day that though I often worry about whether or not I sense the presence of God, I give little thought to whether God senses the presence of me. When I come to God in prayer, do I bare the deepest, most hidden parts of myself? Only when I do so will I discover myself as I truly am, for nothing short of God's light can reveal that. I feel stripped before that light, seeing a person far different from the image I cultivate for myself and for everyone around me.

God alone knows the selfish motives behind my every act, the vipers' tangle of lust and ambition, the unhealed wounds that paradoxically drive me to appear whole. Prayer invites me to bring my whole life into God's presence for cleansing and restoration. Self-exposure is never easy, but when I do it, I learn that underneath the layers of grime lies a damaged work of art that God longs to repair.

"We cannot make him visible to us, but we can make ourselves visible to him," said Abraham Joshua Heschel. I make the attempt with hesitation, shame, and fear, but when I do so I feel those constraints dissolving. My fear of rejection yields to God's embrace. Somehow in a way I can only trust and not understand, presenting to God the intimate details of my life gives God pleasure.

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Isaiah 49:15

I think of the way mothers dote on their infants who offer so little in return. Every sneeze, every turn of the head and dart of the eyes, every whimper and smile the mother scrutinizes as if studying for a test on infantile behavior. If a human mother responds with such absorbing love, how much more so God?

We humans represent the only species on earth with whom God can hold a conversation. Only we can articulate praise or lament. Only we can form words in response to the miracle and also the tragedy of life. We dare not devalue this our unique role in the cosmos, to give words to existence, words addressed to our creator. God eagerly bends an ear toward those words.

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