Prayer Michael Morwood
Prayer is sometimes described as “the raising of the mind and heart to God”. This description is likely to stand the test of time because it allows for wide interpretation and understanding. It also allows for many variations in practice. It invites – and always will invite – reflection on “God” and where and how “God” is to be found or experienced.
This description of prayer allows for metaphor, and in this vein has been a source of rich spiritual experience for many people who pray as if God actually listens and thinks about things or “as if” God needs to hear from us (and even demands we tune in frequently to keep in touch). Prayer is “like” talking to a listening God who even talks back occasionally. This form of “raising the mind and heart to God” is valuable – so long as we realize we are immersed in metaphor and in religious images that help us to give expression to the deepest longings and desires of our minds and hearts, mindful of a mystery, call it Divine Presence, ground of all being, Spirit, Breath, the One, God, whatever you like, that is ultimately beyond anything we can imagine.
Most Christian liturgical and vocal prayers use this form of prayer. Unfortunately it is rarely recognized as metaphor. Instead, this form of prayer has been understood as the “raising of the mind” to an elsewhere listening deity. This common practice has cemented in the minds of many, if not most Christians, that this is what prayer is really about: trying to contact and converse with a “God” person who communicates the way we humans do.
Let us “talk to God” by all means, but let us recognise the “as if” nature of what we are doing and know that this form of prayer is not for God’s sake, but ours. The mystery of God cannot be adequately honored, expressed, or understood by imagining we are addressing or communicating with a deity who listens in from the heavens.
So, to whom or to what are we “raising” our minds and hearts, if not to an elsewhere, listening-in deity? And, what is the point of prayer?
We are raising minds and hearts to “God” understood as the source and sustainer of all that exists, but understood, in fidelity to Christian tradition, as an everywhere presence. There is no “outside of” God. So we want to raise minds and hearts to an all-pervasive Presence holding everything that exists in connection and relationship. We want to raise minds and hearts to awareness that we exist in this Presence and that being human is a wonderful way to give expression to this reality.
Understood in this context, prayer covers a wide field. It is about deepening awareness of a Mystery ever present to us. It is about deepening awareness that we give human expression to this Mystery, we call “God”. It is about deepening awareness of how this Presence is expressed in patterns of development operating throughout the universe and how we are connected with all that exists within those patterns of operation. It is about knowing ourselves and yearning to give the best possible human expression we can be of this Mystery. It is about awareness, affirmation and challenge. It is about changing us (not God) and making this Presence evident in our personal lives, in our social lives, and in our political, justice and economic systems.