Monday, August 01, 2005

Praying With our Eyes Wide Open. Proper A12 Sermon July 24

Paul states in today’s passage that there’s nothing that separates us from the love of God. Nothing stands between us. God’s Love is consistently emenating toward us. This is why I accentuate the Holy Spirit as the “Breath of God” in my own thinking and prayer life, and why you’ve heard so much about it from me. For many of us, it is a re-orientation of thinking to perceive of God’s Spirit as something that is as tangible and present to us as the very air we breathe. But, our Scriptures point us in this direction, the Psalmist writes that “as God give us breath, we have life, and when God takes back that Breath, our life is taken back into God.” For me, envisioning my life as a “Breath of God” has been an enriching insight. There’s a Muslim saying that God is closer to us than our jugular vein. That is both a comforting thought and an uncomfortable thought. Perhaps the association with the “jugular vein” makes things a little uneasy. It makes me think that my life is entirely my own….well, perhaps that’s the point!
Paul begins today’s passage by saying that even though we don’t know how to pray, this Spirit, this Breath of Life, seemingly enters into our lungs and prays “with sighs too deep for words.” It doesn’t matter that we may get caught up in our own needs and wants and prejudices and errors in our prayer life. God knows what we need, and God’s Spirit interacts with us so deeply, so intensely, that our prayers are influenced by the inaudible “sighs of the Spirit” even if we aren’t aware.
Something I told the VBS this week stayed in my mind for a while, it jumped around in my heart a little, and from these stirrings, I reckon it must be something that I should share with us as a congregation as well.
I asked the kids if we were supposed to pray in a certain posture, and was met with a resounding “NO!” It is good that the children have a sense of what is important to God, and prayer posture certainly isn’t it. It may be important for us to have a certain way to pray so that we can prepare ourselves for being with God in a communicative way.
Some may pray with hands open in front, some may pray with elbows on knees hunched. When we are children, we are usually taught to pray with our hands folded and eyes closed. I explained to the children that we are probably taught this way so that we can shut off the racing of our minds and concentrate on what God has to say to us. There is certainly a use for this kind of prayer, and it has been the dominant form of prayer in our church. If not hands folded, then certainly eyes shut. We are so accustomed to this form of praryer, that usually we preface our prayers with “Will you bow with me in prayer?” It has become our custom to pray in this way.
Yet, if we think of things a little differently, if we allow our “custom” to be flexible in some way, it may give the Spirit enough room in our life of prayer to get in there and shake things up a bit. (That is after all what the Spirit likes to do). Perhaps we may even be able to attune our ears to the “sighs too deep for words”
I remember what a revelation it was to me when I was a teenager and heard or read somewhere that Native Americans pray with their eyes open instead of closed. Now, whatever source it was that I got this information was certainly generalizing—of course there are Native Americans who pray with their eyes closed. I’ve seen a lot of United Methodist Native Americans praying just like most United Methodists, in the familiar head down, shut eyes fashion. But, traditionally, so I’m told, in the native spirituality of the Native peoples, prayer is an eyes open type of experience because it is an acknowledgement of the Great Spirit’s presence in the things that surround us.
In many Indian cultures, God is experienced in the Rain, in the Mountains, in the Wind, in the Animals we come into contact with. It was probably this sense of the Sacred in the World around us that confused many of the Christian pioneers who came into contact with the Native Peoples and decided they needed to be missionized. I agree that we as a Christian church had something very special and enriching in the Gospel to share with the Native Americans, but at that time, the Spirituality that we Christians were wanting to give to the Native peoples was a very “closed eyes” kind of faith. Perhaps God’s intention was not only for us to share our love of the Gospel with the Native People, but perhaps it was also to let the Native people share their worldview with us as well!
When I started praying with my eyes open, I started looking at the world in a different way. Instead of being something to distract my mind from a good intellectual, strictly verbal relationship with God, I began to understand what the Psalmist meant by “O taste and see that God is good.” When I started to pray with my eyes open, I began to see God’s face in the faces around me, I began to feel God’s presence in the warm sunshine or the refreshing rain, I began to taste God’s complexity and bounty in a blueberry or an ear of corn. I began to hear God’s voice in Beethoven’s symphonies.
In short, when I prayed with my eyes open, I began to LIVE MY LIFE as a prayer. I began to see what Paul meant when he said, “38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing separates us from the Love of God. For me, this revelation came with a change in my prayer life. And for me, it was like finding a treasure in a field that I had previously experienced as empty. It was a surprising pearl to my life.
Living our life aware of God’s close proximity to us is a life in the Spirit, as we have been talking about over the past few weeks. It is a Kingdom life, a life that reveals God’s Kingdom to the world. Jesus said that God’s Kindom is here in our midst, and we have not opened our eyes to it. Opening my eyes in prayer was for me the precious glimpse into God’s kingdom.
When I mentioned this kind of prayer to the children in VBS, I looked over the congregation at these fresh faces, these innocent eyes, these children who seem to know more about God than anybody. As I prayed, open eyed, with them—my heart was filled, God’s Spirit in them was made visible for me, and I thanked God for the opportunity to be with them during this past week. In the clear, knowing eyes of children lies a life attuned to this prayerful life.
Children experience wonder in the world, and this wonder in the world is something that seemingly evades us in our adult years. We become used to it all. The magic of the world around us loses its luster for some reason. We become “grown up” and forget about the mystery and excellence of our surroundings.
I remember when I was a kid, I used to look at the roots of trees that crawled out over the ground, and I’d imagine the world it must be for all the bugs that lived in the tree’s shade. I remember looking at clouds for hours. For me, flying in airplanes was a late experience in life, so fortunately I haven’t lost the child like wonder when looking out the window at the earth from 30,000 feet. Seeing the rivers and patches of farms and mountains, and the billowy clouds--Remember when we used to see the whole world that way from 4 feet up in the air?
In the acknowledgement of the wonder and mystery of life itself, the Spirit sighs deeply in us. We return thanks to God in the acknowledgement of our place among this magical Creation of God. In the human family, the complexity of which baffles us with mystery and wonder as well. Meister Eckhart, a German mystic of the 14th century, said, “IF I spent enough time with a caterpillar, I’d never need to preach another sermon in my life.” When we are astounded, when we are baffled, when we are engaged by the world, by the face of God in the faces around us, that is when we can hear the “Sighs too deep for words.” That is when we can attune ourselves to God’s prayer for us!
I invite us today to be in an eyes open attitude of prayer while we celebrate the Baptism of Garrett Elisha. The ritual of Baptism is more than the words that I’m saying or that we’re saying together. The ritual involves the sound of the water being poured into the basin. It involves the touch of water to the head. It involves the laying on of hands, it involves the sight of the water dripping down the forehead. It is not an intellectual exercise, it is a stirring of the heart, it is the welcoming into a family! We have a hands on, living faith. It is rich in sounds, smells, sights, tastes. If we open our prayer life to this bold reality, I believe we will be touched by the Spirit in a special way! Thanks be to God!

1 comment:

  1. "I began to taste God’s complexity and bounty in a blueberry or an ear of corn..."

    great line!!!!

    and beautiful sermon, and one i needed to hear... er, read.