Unlikely Thoughts on Prayer

Still at it. Still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of prayer (yes, confession: still trying to write my next chapter). Not that I haven't prayed for a lifetime already. Not that I don't know the basics. Not...

Well, that's just it. I'm stuck this morning, in a trembling state... on what it is I can not say about prayer. And by that, I don't mean that I have nothing to say. I mean that what I have to say might cause someone to choke on her morning coffee.

Here's the thing. It's. I'm. Okay, out with it... I'm thinking about prayer as sex (not sex as prayer, which could also be argued I suppose). I'm thinking about how so much of our prayer and instruction on prayer is like (don't choke, okay, I'm warning you up front) porn. I don't mention that word to be graphic or sensational and definitely not to be condemning for those who've developed a habit in that direction (there's enough of all three in the world to go 'round, it's just not my way, and it's not my point).

In other words, prayer is too often Insert Tab A into Slot B for Response C. It probably works on some level. It's definitely a reach for connection. And it's a little like painting by number. We put the hot-red paint on the number 1's and the passion-blue paint on the number 5's, and so on. And in the end we've got our velvet Elvis. There he is, charmer on black. Flat and fuzz-muted. No one can argue that we haven't captured him at least in some small way. It's a matter of spectrum.

And now I'm gulping about the task ahead of me this morning. I'm going to take the plunge and try to write this chapter using this angle. It's going to mean an unorthodox dip into Song of Songs. I'm not too pleased about it, to be honest with you. Except that I think it's the way to go. This is the call of the writer: to follow the trail set before him/her. God, give me courage and sensitivity and the will to go all the way.

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Blogger Joy said...

for what it's worth, I totally "got" what you were trying to say in paragraph 2. Prayer= formulaic, often enough. The p!rn reference too, makes perfect sense to me...often we settle for the image (the fake airbrushed supposed reality) instead of the amazing, soul-filling, actual-factual thing (or action of prayer, in this case) that is so above and beyond the flat image on the page that we've decided is 'enough'.

Love the choice of words you used too.

I'll pray this morning as you work...that God would lead you where He wants you to go and that He would bless the time. :)

Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Joy, thank you so much for your encouragements. Much needed on this Saturday morning.

I usually don't interact here in the comment box, but I'm finding the need to think out loud about this stuff a little.

Here is what I fear (among other things!). I fear that I might simplify things too much, make it seem like either/or. Fixate on the far sides of the spectrum, lauding one and denigrating the other. To be sure, we see the difference; we know that one is richer, the other flatter.

But there's a risk of becoming superior-minded along the way. I fear that. There's also the risk of not seeing the flat side as a reaching-towards, which I believe it is. (Maybe this is why God can extend grace when we can't? Maybe God always sees even the flattest and vainest and harshest of things as a reaching-towards Him? And He reaches back in Love, to where we're at?)

I don't know where the chapter will eventually go or if I'll include this section. I have to deal with other questions that will necessarily arise: Is formula bad? Is it flat? What about the place of Liturgy? You see my dilemmas. All analogies do break down. And the writer sits 'round trying to figure out how to still bring something whole to the reader, something not reductive.

Okay, so I cherish your prayers.

Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Still thinking out loud.

There are any number of reasons why we reach towards the ineffable in the ways we do. Maybe the experience doesn't feel so flat to us; we're actually okay with the velvet Elvis (people have different ideas of what is beautiful).

Maybe we've never tasted another possibility.

Maybe we can't reach in certain ways because we've never learned those ways, or there are things we need to unlearn, or maybe we can't see another path at all, or perhaps it's not open to us (I think of the p..rn analogy I used here. I think how some people have no one real to touch or they're in a situation where a real person is within reach but things aren't working out so well.)

Do we write off the one who is reaching, simply because of how he is reaching? Do we write ourselves off because we can't seem to "do spiritual practice" the "right" way?

More complications in discussing these things. Writing makes me tired. :)

Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Okay, it is good to think out loud. You hear what you're thinking. You sift, you sort, you turn. You decide that something made a good blog post but you probably won't put it in your book. Most likely. (Of course, being the writer, you can change your mind at any moment and that's just the way it goes.)

Blogger Joy said...

Coming from an eclectic prayer background (used liturgy, free-prayer)..."thinking out loud" with you here...

I think when I first responded, what stood out to me is that in prayer, we often settle for little pieces. Or we view God like a machine- put this prayer in, get this result out, etc. We *could* have a vibrant, rich prayer life (whether that uses the divine offices and liturgy, our own poetry, thoughts, etc.) but (at least in my case) I rarely take the time to actually focus on prayer that much. I could be talking to the Lord every minute of the day (as Paul says "pray unceasingly") but I hardly ever do. Except for maybe in a deep crisis.

To go back to the whole p!rn reference, it's almost like I expect some great orgasmic experience, soul-filling, (that only comes from the actual act with another person) but in reality, I am staring at the airbrushed picture, and I'm not even talking to it that much? SO why in the world do I expect such great results?

I could see where the pitfalls might be in this chapter with the whole "formulaic" thing.

The lines that really stood out to me? "Maybe we've never tasted another possibility. " and this one: "Do we write off the one who is reaching, simply because of how he is reaching? Do we write ourselves off because we can't seem to "do spiritual practice" the "right" way?"

What about, even if you didn't use the p!rn analogy or whatever, you perhaps used a sort of food/feast/famine analogy? Then different flavors (liturgy, etc.) wouldn't be so hard to surmount, and you can talk about not settling for bland and tasteless? (which I think is what you are really sort of getting at, isn't it? that we settle when we could have so much more.)

HMmmm....I can only imagine what this can be like at times. Sometimes just composing for the blog is enough brain gymnastics for me, so a whole chapter or a whole book could be incredibly draining at times!

Whatever the chapter turns into, I know God had a hand in it, and that I will enjoy it. :) Hope my rambling helped, all parenthetical thoughts and bad grammar aside.

Blogger Joelle said...

L.L., liking your continued conversation here, too. And I can't wait to read the chapter! Your mention of both "velvet Elvis" and sex reminded me of Rob Bell's books: Velvet Elvis and Sex God. Good stuff. And I love where you're headed with this, risque though it may seem. I'm actually (wow--getting a little personal) a virgin, so I can't speak from experience, but your analogy seems right on. Prayer is all about lived experience, active and authentic intimacy with a Living Being, not masturbation or eye candy. And ideally prayer is union, oneness with God. As you prayed at the end of your post, may you go all the way, both in your writing and your own lived prayer with your Lover.

Blogger Bought as is said...

I like your thinking out loud in the comment box, as much as the post. I'd love to comment... but I need to think of what to say [& how to say it]. Joelle's comment is wonderful. I also like Rob Bell. I'm trying to pray/ enter into something he said on Skin [a Nooma video]. Another wrinkle [not that you need one] is that ...well, in my own spiritual journey at least, even just comparing me to myself, I tend to "recreate" something if it works. Use the same prayer, pray in the same place, same posture. Even within LW's Labyrinth, I go in expecting to meet with God the same way each time. God is an artist. ...God doesn't do re-prints! So, no 2 of us really connect with Him the same way, or use the same methods. While there is one way TO God, there are infinite ways to know, "hang with", have/do relationship with Him. I need unique ways, partly due to the fact that my life has things in it that I hope to God your life does not. I have a playlist for my mp3 player, for example. Many people may find one or more songs down right offensive. The playlist is for God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, & me... you don't really HAVE to understand it. Because it's between me & Him. [I'm way off point here] To come back to prayer, my prayers are easier when no one else hears them. Because I can be brutally honest with Him. So some are really long, some are the words of others, sometimes I just lay on the floor & say: "God... it hurts to be alive." or "don't leave me alone".
We [God & I] both know when it's honest & when it's going through the motions. We both feel the difference. which I could lead back to sex. [I have many thoughts on "God & sex" -don't know if they should be shared or not...] I have so much more that this stirs up for me, but this is a comment -not a book.

Blogger Laure said...

the poetry of prayer is sacred and its voice is diverse, its language many tongued.

my Lover and i ... we behold each other ... prayer ... we touch each other ... prayer ... we receive each other ... prayer ... we speak to each other ... prayer ...we listen to each other ... prayer ... we taste each other ... prayer ... we enter each other ... prayer ... we hold silence together ... prayer ... we dwell together ... prayer......

yes, l.l., give yourself *time* to enter and be entered ... to go all the way. enjoy the foreplay. then the song will submerge you. then you will sing it.

Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Joy, I found a way. And it didn't include any of this. But I'm happy with the chapter. Thanks so much for your thoughts. (I did manage, however, to include something fun about a spinning lampshade prayer night light! :)

Joelle, thank you for your tender, open comment. Prayer is union... and that can mean simply coming in vulnerability. Which I think we can all relate to, though perhaps through different analogies.

Brian, I think you expressed what I meant by formula (or not-formula). Prayer can use liturgy, or silence, or tears, or whatever... the key is to be open to the possibilities and not assume that what "worked" yesterday is the fare of today. There's a rhythm, one hopes. A listening.

Laure, your comment is a poem, a gift. Of course. Yes. Thanks you.

Blogger Dr. Roger D. Butner said...

What a powerful and refreshingly honest post! I am thankful to have recently discovered your blog, and I look forward to the honest dialogue on the journey of growing in Christlikeness.

I "got" the porn metaphor, too, and had never thought of it that way. Thanks.


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