As we talked about prayer yesterday, our presenter (Roberta Bondi, author of To Love As God Loves and other books) shared that through Christian history there have been two very basic traditions about the proper disposition for prayer, both of which were present among the early Abbas and Ammas of the desert.
- First, we should only pray if and when we are in a “worthy” frame of mind. This is the idea that we must collect ourselves and present our best self to God when we go into prayer. In many ways, this is the attitude held by the Eastern Orthodox… and it is also the “official” attitude that is encapsulated in the doctrines of the Methodist church, as it was the view of John Wesley.
- The second disposition for prayer is that, however and whatever we are, that is what we bring to God. That we come into God’s presence as our true self, not trying to present just our best. In this disposition, the process of learning how to pray is the process of learning to consciously be who we are, in God’s presence.
Roberta shares that in her viewpoint – and she is clearly of disposition 2 – the primary difficulty with disposition 1 is that all relationships fail if we cannot speak the truth to one another. When we sit down and want to talk to one another, we want to talk to real people, not people’s self-image of who they ought to be. She goes further into developing her concept that if the goal of prayer is friendship with God – e.g. the way Moses and God talked as friends – but I’ll digress from her at this point.
I’m struck by the different dispositions for prayer, and have to admit to being guilty of advocating for one or the other, at different points in my life. Indeed, not too long ago I inadvertently started a passionate conversation about prayer on my FB page, simply because I posted something very much in the realm of disposition 2.
I am also struck today by what I think might be a related concept: limitations placed upon, or restrictiveness believed to be of, God. I’ve been witness to individuals, churches, groups, organizations, etc. who have developed and detailed what is “proper” and “worthy” of God, to the exclusion of others. I’ve seen this in relation to how people respond to controversial issues, what sort of clothes people wear, or what language one might use in and around God. Those who don’t toe some line are identified as not truly being part of the people of God… or at least in need of redemption!
I wonder – and worry – about such restrictiveness. I learned from C.S. Lewis years ago that as we grow closer to Christ, we become more conservative. But even as I’ve done so, I’ve also become far more open to possibility. Rather than believing that I have it right in all ways, I come more and more to believe and trust that God is in the path I walk, but that I’m likely making mistakes – and so I seek to be more lenient and open to other viewpoints, perspectives, attitudes, practices…
Right now, I definitely fall into the second disposition of prayer – sorry, Wesley! – but I don’t denigrate those who feel the first is important. As the Abbas say, “may I be saved by the prayers of my brothers.”