Incarnational Prayer


Musings /Part 5/ on the Practices of a
Resurrection (Expansive) Spirituality

CC0 Public Domain
CC0 Public Domain

Proverbs 17:22 — A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.

Yesterday’s post (With) presented a perspective on witness in mission, generated by Samuel Wells’ A Nazareth Manifesto. Wells suggested four approaches that individuals and groups might take in living out their faithfulness in the world: working for, working with, being with, and being for. As I continue to reflect upon these alternatives, I have realized that they may also describe four approaches to prayer, prayer as an expression of faith (Crucifixion Spirituality) and as an embodiment of faith (Resurrection Spirituality).

Prayer as Working-For – this is classical definition of intercessory prayer. A family member or friend is sick; we pray for them. We are not sure how, why, or when this works but we continue to offer those prayers. Often that family member or friend will ask for our prayers, or a friend or church member will ask for prayers for a specific individual or cause. When someone says “I’ll pray for you,” I am never quite sure what that means. Some might actually pray; others may not. If they do pray, I am never sure what they are praying for. All I know is that I feel better knowing that they have thought about praying for me. After all prayer is about relationships. Even if they eventually forget to pray for me, they have at least made some small overture to a relationship with me. I can appreciate that.

Prayer as Working-With – The best description is provided by Ron Del Bene’s A Simple Way to Pray. Here, instead of a general promise to pray for another, a brief discussion ensues. “What is a word that brings God to mind, or energizes God within you?” (Example: Abiding Love) Then, after that word is identified, “What is your deepest desire at this time? What is it that you most want or need?” (Example: Healing) The prayer might then become “Surround Dick with the healing of Abiding Love.” Having identified their prayer, it is time to identify the components of your own. (Example: Abba and Peace → “Abba, help Sally find peace.”) Now that the prayer for both parties has been identified, it is time to make a covenant with each other – namely, whenever you are brought to mind, I will pray your prayer.

The above two alternatives are vocal prayers. They are most important for people living into and out of a Crucifixion Spirituality. They are most of the prayers which are offered during Sunday morning worship. The prayers more related to a Resurrection (Expansive) Spirituality tend to be embodied — that is, they engage more than just the mind’s vocal center. They are whole body, whole being prayers.

Prayer as Being-With – This type of prayer is more in the tradition of contemplative prayer, often praying without words. I learned such an approach in a seminar on healing taught by Francis Geddes: Sit quietly (preferably in the physical presence of the person upon whom the prayer is focused). Bring an image of that person into your mind and then into your heart. Let them abide there quietly. After a while, allow an image of their illness to arise within you. Let it sink from your mind into your heart. As you continue, let an image of them whole, healed arise within and descend into your heart. Consciously meditate on these images until they merge into a single image. When done, bring your consciousness back to the preson who is before you. Listen as they describe their time of quiet prayer and share with them your contemplative prayer.

Prayer as Being-For – Sometimes intercessory prayers, prayer covenants, and intensive contemplation is not enough. Those prayers stir something up within you, something requiring your action. You then pray with your hands, your feet, your mouth, and/or your bank account. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple courtyard because they were perverting the process of spiritual healing. Praying words, intentions, and images was not sufficient.

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  
                       — Matthew 21:12 (NRSV)