You probably expect me to pray for you. That’s fair. And I do, even if I keep a fairly open definition of prayer. I think about you all the time. I fret over you and on your behalf. If I know your current dilemma or your current blessing, I worry or smile accordingly.
As a clergyperson, I try to do the old Levite thing, which is to be the maintenance man for the covenant between you and God. I try to impart the covenant and help you remain in it. I trust that God remains in it.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6: 5-8
Perhaps the most routine thing we do in church is recite the Lord’s Prayer. Even us protestants still do that every Sunday. It might be the most rote thing we do. By “rote”, I mean automatic and perhaps even thoughtless. But this week I am reminded that rote things come up when called upon. On 9/11 one of the 911 phone calls from Flight 93 asked the dispatcher to help him through the Lord’s Prayer. He knew he was on the brink of death and he wanted a word of holiness and peace in a time of violence and death.
Not every day is 9/11, thankfully. But disorder reigns anyhow. Our schedules get overtaken, our relationships get mangled, our communities get embroiled, our sleep gets deprived. Isn’t it telling that we have so many words for various kinds of chaos?
Why Church? For the routine of it. Yes, because it’s steadfastness is part of its giftedness. For decades you walk in and walk out. Then tragedy strikes…now you don’t have to ask who to go to. Even in the midst of “normal” chaos, the routines of church ground us and correct our paths.
I am amazed that my Muslim brothers and sisters pray 5 times a day. It is a gift and a responsibility. Then I look at ancient church history and see that Christians used to pray 7 times a day (called the Liturgy of the Hours). I don’t know how they did it.
Essential to the fruitful Christian life is the relationship you have with God. Maintain the relationship and let your spirit grow accordingly. Jesus teaches how.
In Matthew 6, as Jesus is preaching from the Mount, he addresses the faithful life. He cites three key areas of discipleship: alms-giving, prayer and fasting. The language is casual: “whenever you pray…”. Underlying that casual phrase is an expectation that you would indeed do these things.
I hope that you’re life isn’t chaotic. When it is, let us be there for you. When life is peachy, take a moment to be there for others.