Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Live a Prayer

Yesterday, I commented on how I felt like I was achieving what a dear old friend (who is no longer with us) once said about my living a prayer.  When she first used that phrase, it took me a while to wrap my brain around.  Some Catholic prayers, e.g. the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, are mostly statements of fact.  They suggest action only inasmuch as belief involves action.  Some prayers, like the Hail Mary, ask for action from another—in this case asking for intercession on our behalf. 

However, now that I have come to grips with what “living a prayer” might mean in my own life, I have been giving some thought to how standard prayers could be associated with living a prayer.  In other words, how I could have realized this concept long ago.

As I commented yesterday, I’ve been living out a very personal prayer.  My personal daily prayer, almost a mantra to be repeated, to be focused on, and to be mediated on, is “Thank you, God, for all those things with which you have blessed me and help me to continue to realize how your will can be manifested in the way I think and act.”   That involves doing things to show thanks, and making sure that what I understand God to want for me shows up in what I do with my family, with my colleagues, with my students, with my running partners, and with anyone else with whom I associate.

What “standard” prayers suggest actions that can be lived?  As I think about that question, the Lord’s Prayer comes to mind.  “Thy will be done.”  That is not just a random phrase.  Making sure that God’s will is done takes quite a bit of action.  Also “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us,” is a very active phrase.  We have to forgive others if we someday expect the same from God. 

In the Serenity Prayer (which may not fall under the category of standard Christian prayers but is very familiar in today’s culture) the simple phrases “grant me the strength to change what I can change,” “grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change,” and “grant me the wisdom to know the difference” all imply some type of action.  Serenity and wisdom suggest mostly mental or interpersonal action rather than physical action, but it is action nevertheless.

The Ten Commandments are not a prayer per se but are all about how we live out our lives.  The Beatitudes could be put in a similar category.  The “Act of Contrition” involves a resolution, and even the name of the prayer includes “Act” implying action.

I would also consider part of the Prayer of St. Francis to be action oriented.  “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive.  It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.” Each of those phrases involves doing something—consoling, or perhaps more generally being there, there others.  Understanding others.  Loving and showing our love for others.  Giving.  Pardoning.  And dying—at least have our own desires die and be replaced by those of the Eternally alive God.

So, the idea of the taking the actions suggested by a prayer, in other words living a prayer, is really not such a strange idea.  Living the actions suggested by standard prayers is fine.  Finding the words our own hearts and souls are yearning to fulfill and living those out can be even more powerful.

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