Monday, May 31, 2010

The power of positive prayer

Prayer in its present form is an inseparable part of a human being who is part of an institutional church. In its various forms it is human being communicating with God and with oneself. In its natural and raw form, prayer is like breathing, without which human beings can’t survive. This natural prayer does not have a form or pattern but is interwoven into the existence of every human being.

Today Christians all over the world are competing with each other with written prayers and extempore prayers, each trying to outdo the other with the words used and the emotion extracted. Kerala has been going through a prayer revival of sorts, with prayer conventions in the open, inside closed doors, vocal and silent. Wherever one looks, one is faced with the overbearing presence of prayer.

Prayer as already pointed out is a communication with God and self and as such cannot be wished away. But what is the end result of prayer and is there a way to pray? Prayer is for individual and community needs, both selfish and selfless. Selfish in the sense that we pray for our own needs and wants. We expect God to provide these needs and wants. Many a time prayer for us follows this pattern. Selfless prayer is for peace, love, justice and equality in the world we live in. This overshadows our personal needs and even keeps us exposed to insecurity and inability. The first prayer sees God as an all conquering and all providing God, who sits in heaven in front of a computer, answering prayer requests coming in every second. The second prayer seeks to struggle with the God on the cross, the God who gave up everything despite having it all.

This opens up the question whether there is a negative prayer and a positive prayer. The negative prayer is the prayer in which we pray to God to annihilate our enemies and tailor make a world just for us, as if no one else exists. Positive prayer on the other hand is very Lord’s prayer-ish. It seeks forgiveness of short comings only if we have done the same to others. Negative prayer is all about us and what we want. Positive prayer is what we have done for others and looks at our lives from the perspective of others.

Churches today are faced with the challenge of understanding these two kinds of prayer. People find it convenient to hide behind the word prayer. So much that if someone says “I am praying”, he/she is then covered in a veil of holiness. Kerala is praying. But what kind of a prayer is she praying? Prayers increasingly reflect contempt, hatred and competition while it should reflect sacrifice, compassion and love. This is why we should de-construct and re-construct our notion of prayer and know that if our framework is flawed, then our prayer is too.

The church has to wake up to this fact. Prayer has to be a selfless act and not a selfish act wherein it is used to subdue and subjugate the other. Prayer for the destruction of another human being is no prayer at all. There is no perfect prayer but there can be a framework which leads to positive thoughts and positive prayer which starts with the other. Welcome to the world of positive prayer!


Fr.Thomas said...

Very good article achen...The common people should realise the power of positive prayer so that v can build a just society.

Thomas Joseph said...

Ever since the protestant inspired split in the Syriac Church in Malankara, the prayers of our Holy Fathers have been ridiculed and extemporaneous prayer extolled. It is interesting though that these so-called extempore prayers often follow a common pattern. They often dwell on the 'now,' and reflect the worldly aspirations and concerns of the participants explicitly articulated with an intimacy that on the surface is appealing. Such 'self-centered' extempores rarely elevate the audience to the divine realms, or remind them of the humble state of man, need for repentance and forgiveness, the day of judgment and the world to come. All that is 'musty' old stuff for the old-fashioned 'Yakobayakkar.' Many among us have experienced the taunts of the self-righteous 'reformed,' but it is very disheartening when such practices creep indiscriminately into our spiritual life. Today, it is very common to see even Syriac Orthodox priests and laity naturally resorting to extempore in worship.

It is not to say that routine mumbling of the prayers of the Fathers without engagement of the body and soul as a force of habit is any better. There is an abundance of themes to reflect upon in these prayers if we approach it with the proper frame of mind.

Achen, as you point out, demonstrations of prayer are common-place in Kerala today, but let us pray that true prayer is re-discovered.

Fr Jerry said...

Thank you Thomas achen. It is sad that prayer is going the way of commercial and selfish interest rather than common good. Churches should atleast try and reverse the trend.

Fr Jerry said...

@Thomas Joseph- Thanks very much for your detailed comment. You have brought out a now forgotten aspect of spirituality and that is the prayers of our church fathers and mothers. It is also true that there is nothing called extempore prayer in the actual sense because there is always a pattern to prayer, even if it is not said from a book.

I guess these days we need to debate the need for prayers said on a particular occassion. These could be spontaneous. The sincerity of the one praying may well be more important as well.

I wonder whether we can come to any conclusions regarding this topic, because 'prayer' is a word so mis-used that no one knows anymore what it actually means!

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