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T.S. Elliot wrote The Circus Animals’ Desertion in what some think was existential angst about the failures of modernity:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

If we are honest, we start re-looking at the foundations of our lives in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, and we find ourselves wanting. We can no longer rely, if we did before, on an illusory self image of continual improvement.

Prayer as an antidote to self-sufficiency

The primary description of that lifestyle which repudiates self-sufficiency and allows God to be the one alone in and through whose dynamisms the world shall be redeemed and the future consummated is: prayer. For what is prayer but the summary posture of those who foreswear the idolatry of self-reliance and affirm rather the perfection, primacy, and power of God. Prayer acknowledges and glorifies the name and character of God as the world’s sole maker and redeemer, before whom we are powerless, empty, guilty, but in whose very grace – in its own way so empty and powerless itself – all human needs are met, sins forgiven, fears quelled, foes conquered, hopes fulfilled. Alan E. Lewis

Prayer as an Act of Defiance

What is God waiting for as He suspends independence, waiting from us some corresponding costly surrender of control and agend-izing?  It is this, says Lewis: “the trigger of God’s creative and redemptive power, whereby prayer is granted an earthly instrumentality… is our prayerfully acknowledged dependence on God… [for] prayer, above all, is what enfolds us within His fathomless providential mystery…”

It is therefore as audacious subversives… that believers challenge the dominant smug myth of human self-reliance and our species’ mastery of the environment and the future…

Yet in a society which idolizes self-sufficiency, has a horror of dependence, and despises those whose misfortunes remind us of our own deep neediness, to petition God for daily bread and so acknowledge the limits of our own resources, is an act of defiance against the social and spiritual status quo.

Prayer as Speechlessness

In prayer, we are wanting to be heard. But for anyone who attempts to pray, you may know the experience of your own gaping open-mouthed wordlessness in the face of inadequacy, suffering, and despair.

Yet that silence rebukes the wordy noisomeness and empty rhetoric of our self-promoting age,” says Lewis. “For supremely in the muteness of unuttered prayer, when all we can do is give up every thought of self-redemption, and all schemes, strategies, and nostrums for personal, political, or cosmic liberation, and confess a defeated defencelessness against the magnitude of sin’s increase, then we engage most fully in [prayer]…

Prayer: Where does One Start?

Rublev's Trinity inviting us to Communion

Rublev’s Trinity inviting us to Communion

  • One does not start prayer with one… for as quickly as you begin to go to God, you find you are not speaking as to one. You are invited, as Rublev’s icon suggests, to the communion table of friendship with the Triune God, whom you find to be inspiring your prayer in the first place.
  • One does not start prayer with one… for as soon as you begin to go to God, you find yourself surrounded, enfolded, and integrated with God’s family. As personal as prayer can be, and often is, it is equally to be in the company of the faithful. Jesus’ famous “Lord’s Prayer” after all, is in the plural, as He leads us to “Our Father, to give Us Our daily bread…”
  • One does start in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, where all good prayer begins. As Jesus pointed out in the Tax Collector’s Prayer, it is the humble recognition of our condition that is the welcoming invitation to something that is more true than the evidence: the mystery of our worth to the One who made us for Himself.

Invitation to Prayer:

If you have never prayed before, or if you have considered prayer to be a mysterious activity beyond practice, I invite you to learn to pray though my prayer blog: Curriculum of the Spiritual Life, and to ask for community to pray with you.