Friday, October 12, 2007

Cramming Prayer

I used some of the material found in my Slowing Down posts (here and here) to write an article for a local prayer newsletter called "The Kneeling Army." It's not all original stuff but I like how it turned out. Here it is.

Cramming Prayer
By Michael Krause (with a little help from my friends).

Some people relax or refresh themselves the way many college students cram for exams – instead of routinely giving space to rest, they hold their collective breath as their schedules fill with meetings and phone calls and e-mails and movies and … Discovering the stress of this breakneck pace, these same busy folk schedule a weekend off – but to pull it off, they must first work extra hours to clear their schedules, then go out of town to get away from the interruptions or take a whole week off, which then requires three days of recovery. In other words, they “cram” into their busy schedule some relaxation but have to get out of their regular, daily life to do it. Ever try to cram in some relaxation? It helps, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Just the expression “cram in some relaxation” creates tension.

Some people pray the way college students cram for exams …

Cramming reveals a basic misunderstanding of life – and many of us (me included) try to cram in prayer. We go about our daily lives trying to cope with the pressures of living: get up, make breakfast, make lunches, get the kids to school, get to work, make your boss happy, deal with cranky co-workers, stay late, rush to get the kids home, make supper, take the kids to lessons, or the mall, go shopping, pick up the kids again, get ready for bed, sleep, get up … Then when a crisis comes - like a sick child, being laid-off/fired, a new job, a new house, a crisis at work, a parent with cancer, an urgent deadline - we desperately cram in our prayer, frantically, anxiously hoping it will be effective.

Prayer needs to be like breathing, a regular rhythm of breathing out the concerns of our hearts and lives, then breathing in the restorative life and words of God. It is daily. It is hourly. It is moment by moment and needs to be as steady as breathing – part of the rhythm of life. But we often think prayer is effective only if it involves deep, intense, long times of intercession or contemplation, instead of it being natural and organic – like breathing. We are also too often in a hurry to go somewhere else or do something different to take notice of the fact that God is right there – closer than our next breath.

John Ortberg describes his attempt this way: “I called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in my current ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life. I told him about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. “What do I need to do,” I asked him, “to be spiritually healthy?” Long pause. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life," he said at last. Another long pause. "Okay, I've written that one down," I told him, a little impatiently. "That's a good one. Now what else is there?" I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible. Another long pause. "There is nothing else," he said. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls. Thomas Merton said: “The rush of life is a form of violence.” And Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil."

For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith or never pray. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. We will settle for cramming prayers instead of a life of prayer.

Paul said it this way: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

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