Marsh Hudson-Knapp | Speaking of religion: How do I pray?
Wanting to have a close relationship with the divine/God/the Life Force is one of my deepest longings. I get feeling anxious or sad, angry or powerless before the big messes around me like climate change or political problems or severe illnesses. In these times I NEED a connection with the Love and Wisdom and Power beneath us all.
I call that prayer. Do you pray? How do you do it? (I would love to hear from you!). One of my favorite models for prayer I learned from a guy names Jesus. One dark night he was facing crucifixion on a cross, and he was sweating-blood-scared. Jesus went off alone and prayed four prayer bursts. (See Mark 14:36.)
First Jesus called out, "ABBA!"
When I was in Israel years ago I went on a desert journey with individuals and families of all ages. Early one morning I saw a little boy about 4 leaving his mom and dad to go into the bushes (to pee?) He disappeared in the waving grasses and I forgot about him until suddenly I heard an ear-piercing scream: ABBA! Instantly two adults flew across the campsite and into the bushes, wrapped their arms around their young son, and he was safe in the embrace of Abba.
Jesus invites us to pray "Abba", to make a claim on the love and care of the Divine. To that lost little boy "Abba" was not just a word or a name. When he cried Abba he grabbed something powerful deep within the Ones who loved and cared for him. If you have had a little one or friend who meant the world to you then you know how their call for help GRABS you. That's the kind of powerful claim we can make on God/Abba. So when I'm troubled that's where I start: "ABBA!" and I am no longer alone.
Second, Jesus prays, "I know you can do anything." Jesus calls forth faith, confidence, positive expectancy, trust in his own heart as he prays that. Sometimes I've made wishy-washy prayers like, "If you can help... or If you want to help us or If it is your will ". This is NOT Jesus' prayer. Jesus BELIEVES in God's deep love and power, and he wants to stir that Faith up in himself and in his prayer. We know that faith or positive expectancy is powerful,
so those are my first two prayer bursts, "ABBA, You CAN do anything!"
Then - this is a little shocking - Jesus tells God, the Creator, Abba, exactly what he needs. Jesus actually a command. Jesus, with a torturous death hanging from a cross looming before him, cries out to his Abba, TAKE THIS CUP FROM ME! Jesus teaches us to be bold and persistent in our prayers. Praying in the imperative helps us to get strong in our prayer. No whiny prayers like: "If this sounds good to you God." No! Strong and straight we insist, "Heal my back. Guide our President. Send justice now!" Jesus was not afraid to tell God what he urgently needed.
Last, Mark's Gospel tells us that Jesus prays, "Not MY will. Thy will be DONE." Not, "I give up." Not "Whatever." Not, "I'll take what you give me."
Think of what Jesus meant. "Whatever you want, God, whatever is your plan, I am throwing my whole being into Your Will." From there Jesus went to the cross. Jesus' love for Abba God and trust for the Power of Life lead him to a whole-hearted commitment to DO what God wanted. In this moment it was the cross.
So That is MY favorite model for praying, especially when the going is tough. It stirs my heart, my faith, my courage, and my commitment. "ABBA, I have seen in my life and in all creation that You CAN DO ANYTHING. Do this Now, I throw my whole being, heart and soul into whatever YOU want, Abba, confident that You will use this to make something GOOD!
Would you be so bold as to pray like that?
Marsh Hudson-Knapp is a member of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council. If you want to talk about prayer you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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