Three Types of Prayer

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.53.17 PM
“Creative Commons Prayer Awakens” by Kevin Shorter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Luke 11:1     Lord, teach us to pray.” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Samuel Wells (A Nazareth Manifesto, 2015) describes “Three Ways to Pray” (pages 292ff) – the prayer of resurrection, the prayer of incarnation, and the prayer of transfiguration. I like his imaginative use of three words most often used to talk about Yeshua. It is as if Yeshua teaches as much or more about prayer through his life than merely through his words.

While I like Wells’ terms for the three ways of prayer, I kept wanting them to be filled with deeper meaning (or at least an alternate meaning). So I decided to craft my own descriptions of these three ways.

The prayer of Resurrection – everyday living in response to God’s call (into)

Resurrection describes the new life that comes after the Cross – that is, after all the props which supported my control of meaning and purpose for living are taken away, thus freeing me to live “without why.” This is the time of great expectancy and creativity arising out of a new being shaped by compassion, peace, and justice. This is not a time of pollyanna-ish wishful thinking, but a time when everyday living is filled with expectancy and joy. It is a time of living on the edge, in the tension between the conditional and the unconditional, between memory and a promise. The celebratory prayer of Resurrection is more about attending to an unheard inner voice… intuitively listening for that insistence, invitation, call that comes in the name of God… committing daily life in response to the call that is heard. At its root, this is the prayer of openness to that which comes. It is not a negotiation or a wish list. Instead we pray ourselves into the depths of our day-by-day lives.

The prayer of Incarnation – solidarity with family, neighbors, and strangers (with)

Incarnation describes the relational embodiment which anchors us in the Source of life and confirms others in relationship with others. This is the prayer of solidarity. For me, prayer is not primarily about words. However, when I visited a friend who has just begun treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, I shared spoken prayers for him – not because I expect my words to convince God to intervene and do a miracle, but because his life is connected to my life. When he is sick, a part of me is sick too. My prayer is sharing my energy, my care and concern, my support with him. Our praying together is simply about our being with each other. Friendship, like marriage, is a commitment to be be with each other “in sickness and in health.” Or, an another friend said to me as I was facing the death of my wife, “I’ve got your back.” That is Incarnational prayer.

The prayer of Transfiguration – unfinished business (self, others, world) (if / since)

Transfiguration describes that which comes after we think we have given our all. It is the movement from the mountain top back down into the valley. Transfiguration builds on Incarnation and Resurrection realizing that there is still unfinished business to which we must attend. It is great for Yeshua to dine and have after dinner conversation with Moses and Elijah, but Yeshua still had work todo down in the valley… and so do we! Heightened experience can add to our perspective and experience, but it is escapism if we don’t return to whatever unfinished business is at hand. The prayer of Transfiguration is a more complex type of prayer. It is assessing the work ahead in terms of our principles and priorities, reviewing those principles and priorities within the community of faith lest we simply reflect our own need to be in control. This is the prayer of contrasting options and alternatives – if this happens, then I will…; since this is a commitment, I will…

There are, of curse, many other ways to pray – for example, the prayer of Crucifixion. This is anguished prayer, lament, sorrow – for oneself, for others, for the world. This is the guttural prayer that arises out of our suffering, our heartbreak… when we or others or the creation seems out of control… when meaning fades… when other people, institutions, and systemic structures oppress and marginalize… when physical, social, relational, religious resources are in short supply or seem incapable of sustaining us. What other ways do you pray?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email