Prayer in a postmodern world: Persona DivinaWhere's the Faith? Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
Psychiatrist Gerald May begins his book Addiction and Grace with a bold statement, “I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God”. Although many of us live with such hope, many people don’t have that experience – at least they’re not aware of it until they are in crisis or at a major crossroads in life. Then, we cry out to God – for that which we’re all longing for – that love, acceptance, forgiveness!
The intensity of our desire for a relationship with God is manifested in our prayer life. Prayer is our human response to the awareness of God. The disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray resonates with our own passion for prayer. We thirst for the same relationship with God. Jesus’ prayer encourages his disciples to think of God metaphorically. When you pray, Jesus said, address God as you would your parent.
Developing a meaningful image of God is crucial. Prayer begins with our image of God and moves through some of the challenges postmodern people encounter in our relationship to God.
Jesus’ investment in prayer was both personal and private. Luke shows Jesus praying a lot, and almost always in isolated places. Matthew introduces the Savior’s Prayer with instructions from Jesus to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to God who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
Our image of prayer from scripture and church history is that prayer is personal and private. In the postmodern church, the model for prayer remains the contemplative life, a life somewhat sheltered from cultural influences. Prayer is seen many times as going against culture.
Look around today, and you’ll see our church culture brings together several generations, each of us with different perspectives and different expectations. The collision of these generations creates several postmodern cultural challenges to a healthy prayer life.
Since 9/11 our world has changed. The tragedy of 9/11 has drawn America into a world of chaos. Safety and security are tenuous and fear is used to manipulate things from politics to Wall Street. Our sense of identity has also changed. We no longer see ourselves as primarily from European ancestry, nor are we isolated. The world has come to live as our neighbor.
In a postmodern world, we live in an instant culture with satellite communications, iPads and smart phones. We even follow our wars instantly on television. Fast food and credit are ways of our fast-paced life. We are an impatient people.
Our prayer life is affected by this cultural impact of a perceived smaller world, instant gratification, trust in human ingenuity through technology, and relationships grounded in personal gratification. In an instant society, we expect prayer to produce instant results.
Prayer, however, runs against our society. Prayer is about our relationship to God and other people. “…hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:2, 4). Prayer is about a covenant relationship with God and with all of God’s creation.
Our high-tech culture approaches prayer with skepticism. In this fast-pace, crazy world, human resourcefulness offers more hope than “a god” who has created this mess. Yet Gerald May is right, there is still part of our soul that believes God is the ultimate answer.
The biblical story is about translating the mysterious universal God into an intimate friend. Our creation stories in Genesis personalize God, making the creator walk the garden with Adam and Eve. Moses tried to personalize the God of the burning bush.
Jesus is God’s response, the incarnation of God and the reflection of the divine persona. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen God”. In Christ, the image of God and relationship with God became concrete. If we relate to God through human characteristics, it becomes possible for us to imagine God as a friend. But if our experience lacks positive relationships, it may be difficult to develop a trusting relationship with God through prayer. How can one imagine a loving God when life has offered mainly abuse, trauma and isolation in relationships?
The most common prayer, the Savior’s Prayer, is an intimate communication with a friend, which can be difficult for postmodern people. How can we use intimate language as toward a parent when we have no model of parental love? How can we pray that we will forgive others when our personal needs have not been met? God’s created world sometimes seems more chaotic than peaceful. How can such a God be trusted more than human ingenuity?
I have people ask me why we pray “Our Creator” at MCC rather than “Our Father” – and the answer to that is God is so much more than Father – or Mother. Jesus showed us how important it is to find an intimate attachment to the Persona Divina. The use of Creator is a big umbrella for the wonderful diversity in which we all uniquely approach God. A major postmodern obstacle to our response to the awareness of God is our image of God. To imagine God as a divine person – as a friend – narrows the gap between the divine and the human. With a divine friend a trusting relationship in prayer is possible and our soul’s sincere desire satisfied.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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