In preparation for the upcoming sermon series I was reading Basil Pennington's Centering Prayer. At the end of chapter one, Pennington quotes Revelation 3: 14-21. For those who aren't familiar, that is the letter to the church of Laodicea. It is also home to two enduring images of scripture: being vomited out of God's mouth and Jesus standing at the door knocking.
Pennington uses the expression of this passage to discuss the intimacy of prayer. I am not going to quote the entirety of the passage from this book. But I do want to hit upon its most powerful messages and apply them for myself. Maybe you, dear one reading this, will gain something also.
The letter begins with ascription of Christ's preeminence. The Amen (the truth of all that is), the Faithful and True Witness, and the ruler of God's creation. That verse puts Christ as the substance of it all, the medium of understanding it all, and the ruler of it all. Creation and life, hope and joy, grace and mercy, life and death, heaven and hell and everything in between, time and space and matter - "it all". And Christ is its substance, medium, and ruler.
How many of our prayers begin with that understanding of God? How many times do we stop to consider that the Creator and "Hold It All Togetherer" is at the very end of our thoughts? When we pick up a phone and call a loved one, do you hold the image of that person in your mind? Do you imagine them speaking to you as you talk? I do. And prayer takes our earthly existence in the mundane routines that we follow and connects us to the one who created "it all".
Our prayers should begin with some acknowledgement of the weight of that moment and experience. In my mind, I imagine we should in some way be like the overwhelmed young actor who receives the Academy Award for their breakout film role. Or that fresh new singer whose first song was an overnight success taking their Grammy. That moment when we connect with GOD should be overwhelming and mind-blowing. And then we realize something.
God knows me.
Not just, "oh yeah, that one that lives on that speck in that insignificant spinning conglomerate of burning gas and somewhat stable matter." God knows ME. My deepest thoughts and emotions. My random thoughts and traumatic experiences. My power and ability to do good. My inexplicable capability to do bad. God knows me.
How many of our prayers acknowledge the depths of who we are? How many of us take the time to dive into who we are in prayer? Or even in life in general? How many of us can say we truly know ourselves? God knows us. God has always known us. God is better equipped to enter our prayer that we, who initiate it, are.
And when God brings before us the deeds that we have done, we better know ourselves. If we do not have a handle on the substance of our character, then God will roll over us like a tide. If we do not grasp who we are, we will become lost in our sin and failure. If we do not have some connection to being created in the image of God, filled with the breath of God, redeemed in the death of Jesus Christ, and offered the new life promised by the Spirit, then we will want to be vomited out of God. We could not stand ourselves. We could not stand to be near God, associated with God.
And we better be honest. "You say that you are rich, clothed, and bright eyed." God knows the lies we tell ourselves. God knows the dishonest approach we take to religion and life. God knows the intention of the thoughts of our hearts. God knows how we justify the "it all" of our choices.
How many of our prayers are truly confessional? How much do we really deal with our sin and failure? How often do we end up with a confession-justification time of prayer? Do we really think we are getting away with fooling the "It All" God? The one who is the substance, medium, and ruler of our lives has us figured out.
But wait! What hint of something other than vomit is offered? "I counsel you to buy from me." Surrender. Give up. You won't find a better deal. You can search to the ends of the time and space I have created. I am the only source. It sounds sinister, doesn't it? But it is a way out. It is the chance to be something other than vomit. God offers us the chance of something. It just comes as the result of surrender.
How many of our prayers take the time to surrender the elements of our life? How often do we give up the great things that enlarge our lives in thanksgiving? How often do we finally admit that we can't make the best choices for our life apart from divine words of guidance heard in meditation? How often do we just shut up the constant stream of conscious chatter, and live for a God-minute in silence? How often do our prayers mark for us the moment of true and earnest repentance, when we begin to walk a different path?
"I stand at the door and knock....and knock....and knock.......
God wants to put a word in, you chatterbox. God has some input. This is a conversation. It is two sided. It is not our soapbox. It is not your dictation of our laundry list or sitting on Santa's knee with our Christmas wishes. God patiently waits for us to stop, collaborate, and listen.
That made me smile a little.
How many of our prayer times take the opportunity for sacred silence? How many times do we hear the small voice, the quiet wind, the gentle nudges, the inspired thoughts? When we do, how often do we acknowledge the sacred voice? How often do we engage in the conversation of spirit and Spirit?
In those moments, we begin to understand abiding fellowship. God comes in to sit down in a time of feasting. There is a day when I am going to do a devotion book on eating with God. God seems to enjoy meals and food. I don't know that God is a foodie. I believe that there is an overreaching metaphor about sitting down to eat. Something happens at the table that happens nowhere else in human experience.
And I love what Pennington does with that image. We don't sit across from each other. We share the same side of the table. We share the same booth. Or, as Pennington refers to it, we recline upon one another as the loved one of John's Gospel does with Jesus in that final meal. It brought to mind the times that Lisa and I go out to supper. We don't always sit on the same side of the table. Why? She is my closest one. She is the one that I love to have physical contact with. She is the one that I share everything with, including my food if there is something she might want to try. So why don't we sit side-by-side, reclining on one another?
Mostly because it bugs me when I eat if someone is touching me.
But that is beside the point. God offers to come in and recline with us at the table. Intimacy. Communion. Fellowship. We are so far away from vomit. This has completely turned around. This is the kind of prayer that we want. This is the time of prayer we long for, hope for, and desire.
But there is no way to get to this kind of prayer without going through the rest of it. Everything that I have touched upon is one prayer time. We can't get to communion with out acknowledging God as the "It All". We can't receive God to recline at the table of our soul if we don't even know where our soul is. We can't... no, we WON'T open the door if we recognize that our failures make God sick. And how in heaven or on earth will we ever hear the gentle, quiet rapping upon the door of our spirit if we are never quiet enough to know it is there.
The victory of a dynamic prayer life is not instantaneous. It does not come natural. Prayer is easy. But to pray in our adulthood as we did as children.... I mean, have you tried to put on the clothes you wore as a middle schooler? Even if it fits, it doesn't wear right. Prayer should grow with our level of spiritual maturity. Prayer should take us into deeper places of knowing God, knowing ourselves, knowing who we are in God's great, big world.