Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lent day 6

In the mid twentieth century the faithful were urged to pray for the needs of the world with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Nowadays broadcasters bombard us with global news, and a running commentary on it, all day every day. So many stories, so many summaries of stories, so many images, so much statistical data about every subject imaginable.

How hard it is to digest what is of most concern to us, to our world and its future. We struggle to live with the shadow of being overwhelmed by more information than we can ever cope with. How much there is to bring to God in prayer! Where do we start? What can we say?

When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer, he stressed the importance of persistence, waiting, trust and simplicity. The memorable words he gave them and us to recall, he handed down to us distilled into the most simple of sentences containing what most needs to be said, in the Lord's Prayer.

"In your prayer do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard." (Matt 6:7)  

'Babble' here translates from the original Greek as 'stammer' or 'repeat idly', utterances that make no sense or have little purpose. Magical, ritual incantations are meant to derive their power from the sound of words used, without ultimate concern for their real meaning. It may sound impressive and obscurely eloquent to hearers, but reaching others does not mean being heard by God.

For prayer to avoid being mere babble, to have real meaning, minds and hearts open to the world and its needs are challenged to focus and concentrate many thoughts and concerns to attach to, or to fill like a container words we need to say in prayer. It calls for preparation, the practice of silence and the desire to share with God our experience of life in all its fullness.

Echoing Jesus' teaching, St Benedict five centuries later advised: "First let your prayer be brief and pure." Prayer that reaches to God emerges from us as a fresh fruit of awareness of the joy and sorrows, needs and sufferings that make life what it is from wherever we stand. Often we are unsure when we have said our prayers that it was as we'd hoped and intended it to be. But we don't pray to feel good or better. We pray to express our love to God for his world and its need to be more like God intended it, and make ourselves part of his loving purpose. "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven."

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