The irony of my life-long interest in prayer is my constant wrestling with prayerlessness.
At times it has been simply the result of not making time or taking time–which really means just being focused elsewhere without bringing the “elsewhere” into prayer.
Other times it has been due to the loss of a name for God, feeling that the three-letter word was too small, too human, too burdened by centuries of baggage. Prayer at these times began will an abyss of absence, where God’s name should be, which I couldn’t cross, so I didn’t pray.
For the longest time, prayer has been weighed down by a reaction against personal petitionary privilege–why should I pour out to God my fears and desires for such and such, when three billion people have trouble finding food and clean water? Why ask for healing when others ask and are not healed? What then do I do with scripture which encourages me to bring my whole self and requests to God?
And then the harder times when prayer has simply not made sense, beyond a sort of self-therapy, because it suggests that there is a loving Someone who is not only listening, but who also cares to listen and act in response.
This past summer, I realized that these reasons not to pray would never go away, and the only way through the difficulty was either to decide that prayer was unimportant or to live as if…live as if prayer and life are better when integrated, as if the abyss of who God is can be crossed by prayer, as if God does care about my fears and hopes (and also the other six billion people on the planet, and all life forms everywhere), and as if there is a God, and not only one who listens with love, but can act and does act through my prayer in daily life.
In trying to live as if, I have realized how theology-laden prayer is. Practices of prayer bear an internal theology, answering certain questions–who God is, how God acts, how prayer works, why pray in the first place. Living at the intersection of worldviews and theologies in contemporary theological education, I am seeing how prayer practices cannot function divorced from the theological worldviews which nurture them, and may not be able to be practiced at all if their practice-specific worldview is lost. In the Christian tradition, this is not a new insight by any means. The early theologians talked about lex orandi, lex credendi, a Latin phrase meaning as you pray, so you believe. It can also mean the reverse: as you believe, so you pray (or don’t pray).
So I now am asking these questions: In what theological worldview did my prayer practices once function? How has my worldview changed and how have these changes affected my prayer practice? What images of God and humanity (and their relationship) affirms prayer? How can practices of prayer function (and be nurtured) in academic theological education, at the intersection of multiple worldviews and theologies?