Archie Smith on Pastoral Prayer

The message that comes across is that prayer is private and limited to satisfying immediate needs or personal wants. Very seldom do such prayers include a quest for love of neighbor and care for the perceived enemy. Only rarely do such prayers include justice in community. Only infrequently do present-day personal prayers include an embracing of mystery, self-examination, facing our illusions, or an earnest search for God’s will (and not our own) to be done in our inner and social or public lives.4 It is even more rare to pray on behalf of those who scheme to entrap or have already have wronged us. Prayers that are all about “me,” self-maintenance, and personal or private fulfillment typically neglect care for the world. The private and self-focused prayer is seldom about interpersonal responsibility, social and mental illness, or practices of forgiveness and wider justice. It seldom concerns all sorts and conditions of life. A wider sense of justice would include care for the natural environment and the strength to build up the beloved community (which includes the perceived enemy). Such is part of an ancient and ongoing conversation.

From Smith, A. (2018). Thoughts Concerning the Pastoral Prayer. Pastoral Psychology, 67(1), 85-97.

Soul Stuff: Learning, Abandoning Dreams

I’ve decided to try my hand at writing one post around some of the things I’m reading or thinking. It feels like this type of post will stand with but a little bit away from what I’ve been able to do weekly in my mishmash focus. We’ll see. We’ll try. I’ll try.

That said, I’m reading a book about liturgy and late modernity, two phrases I don’t immediately connect with the general way I blog. I am learning how, perhaps, to see a lot of what I write, think, and say as a liturgical expression and as a part of my relation to modernity, but that’s another post for a later time. In the early part of the book I’m reading (Worship As Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity), the writer outlines an historical intellectual summary as a way to build his main point.

In outlining that history, Graham points to how modernity–a period in history when philosophers began to question things in explicitly scientific ways–was a quest for understanding, a quest for knowledge, and a quest for purity. Purity was a way of discussing how things made sense. Purity meant that life was sensible and understandable, able to be collected and reduced to something that could be put into words.

With the shift in how people thought (and I do think that people were thinking critically before some of these sho-nuff smart people started thinking about how they were thinking) and as modernity turned, that quest for purity had to be abandoned. Hughes named it as “the abandonment of the dream of purity.”

By that, I think he means that the structures that people had for thinking–“This is how you learn this. This is how you show that you know things.”–had to be abandoned. Their dreams for certainty and assurance that they knew the answers that others didn’t. Their certainties with their conclusions. Their findings as the findings as opposed to someone else’s findings. Those dreams shifted.

The shift in thinking involved a corresponding shift in dreaming. In abandoning not only how those folks thought, they also relinquished aspects of their dream life. This grounds continuing education for me in a way I’m opening to because I’m learning that learning means shifting. Learning means movement and that movement is never, solely, intellectual. It’s psychic. It’s emotional.

When I learn, my dreams change. When how I think shifts, how I dream shifts too. I’m not sure a person can learn too much. I am an educator among the many names I’m called. What I do know is that whatever you learn has consequences. What you see and read and take in both informs you and, simply, forms you.

Graham makes this point in a quick fashion and for specific purposes to be sure, but what he says can relate so well to soul stuff. When one part of you turns, other parts do too. Be forewarned: thinking has consequences. Pursuing an understanding will open you up to both possessing new ideas and to abandoning old things. Take heart for what’s next.

Sunday Morning Reminders

The last two Sunday mornings a different person in our church has asked me prior to worship what was going to said about the Middle East (last Sunday) and what was going to said about Michael Brown (today).  Both those people approaching me before service have become reminders for me of several things I want to list in order to remember.  I’m grateful for Lara and Jeremy and my reflections are out of gratitude for them:

  1. The people of God (aka, the church) know what to say in worship.  The content of our faith, and the content of our liturgy, has never solely come from the recognized leaders of the faith.  I am comforted by this.  As the pastor, I’m not the only person with a facility for words about God in relation to human beings and human life.  God has gifted the people with the people.  And those lovely people have things to say about the world.  Pradeep reminded me of this even before Lara greeted me last week.
  2. What we do in worship is important for when we’re not in worship.  This comes out of something my member and friend, Nate, said.  Our worship connects to the lives we live when we’re not gathered with God’s people.  As James Smith says, our worship ends in mission.  The cyclic nature of mission, though, is that mission continues to feed and instruct our worship.  We live between Sundays, worshiping God and then, in a thousand ways, living for God.
  3. Our worship has to echo or reflect something about the world after the benediction.  If there is no connection, no reflection, then there is no real tangible reason for being a church that God continually sends into the world.  The end of a worship service is a recommissioning for all involved.  When we return the following week, we return with all that’s happened since last Sunday and we bring those events, those sorrows and joys, with us as worship, hear, and respond with others gathered.
  4. The prayers of God’s people are filled with news.  Daily news.  The news and the headlines of our times should become the words we pray, fill our throats when we sing about God’s future, and inspire us to live Spirit-empowered lives now.  The fact is our songs are all out-of-date.  They are not necessarily old though.  Our hymns and choruses are out of date in the sense that they anticipate a future that hasn’t fully come.  Those words match with the images of black hands uplifted before police holding guns–reminders from the 50s and 60s in the present–and they pull our hands upward in the direction of a God whose heart is still broken.
  5. Our words are the words of the oppressed, the marginalized, the disinherited, and the over-looked.  The truth of the disinherited is that they feel unheard and cast aside.  The truth of any good Christian faith is wrapped in the power of a God who reclaims, always holds close, and never abandons.  In other words, Christianity is an answer to the state of oppression, marginalization, and disinheritance.  That faith is a bottom-up reiteration of a deadly event where God abandoned God, upsetting all of created history and all of created future, and where God reset all things to move creation toward a better future.
  6. The hope of the church has to be proclaimed as an answer.  The hope of the world is in Christ; this is the news of the Christian faith, and that news is a long-told story.  When we proclaim the gospel in the midst of the world–be that gospel proclaimed in explicit or implicit ways, be it seen and experienced in the church’s rituals, be it lived in our lives–we are following Jesus who has always entered into our experience, checked our experience with God’s message for our time, and pointed us toward the hope of the ages.

Thank you Nate, Pradeep, Lara, and Jeremy.  You’ve led our church these weeks, even if you haven’t picked up the microphone.  Your leadership and service has filled me with thanksgiving.