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Could someone recommend books on prayer? I mean books about prayer, not books of prayer (or prayer books).

I do not believe in an interventionist God, so I'm having difficulty with intercessory prayer and prayers of petition - are they necessary? If so, why? People have told me (during a recent difficult situation), "I'll pray for you". I always thank them, but in my mind I'm saying, "What good will that do? I need you to help me solve my problem!"

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Could someone recommend books on prayer? I mean books about prayer, not books of prayer (or prayer books).

I do not believe in an interventionist God, so I'm having difficulty with intercessory prayer and prayers of petition - are they necessary? If so, why? People have told me (during a recent difficult situation), "I'll pray for you". I always thank them, but in my mind I'm saying, "What good will that do? I need you to help me solve my problem!"

Yvonne,

 

Although it is not exclusively a book "about prayer," Rabbi Kushner addresses prayer in some depth in the excellent book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. If you haven't read it, I am confident you would like it. It presents a progressive point of view about the practice of religion. And, it is as valid for Christians as Jews.

 

George

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Guest billmc

Yvonne,

 

I struggle with this subject also because the scriptures and even Jesus do seem support intercessory or petitionary prayer and, like you, I have doubts about God as an interventionists or a deus ex machina. My experiences have led me to reject the notion of an all-powerful God "out there" who is listening and waiting to answer our prayers if we can only get the words right or align our desires and will with his.

 

That leads me, at least at this point in my journey, to notions of a compassionate "God within", God as incarnational within each of us who, rather than intervening without us, uses us as, in NT language, the "Body of Christ" to do his will on earth. Seen this way, my prayer life has changed from seeking the right words to cause God to act, to listening to that still, small voice inside that is often prompting me to act to the best of my ability. This means that my prayer life is more about listening to what I believe God would have me do than in trying to get him to do something.

 

The downside to all of this, of course, is that there are life circumstances (which are, to be honest, most of them) that are WAY BEYOND my ability to do anything about. I can give someone a cup of cold water or a shirt to wear or a ride to work. But I can't cure a person from cancer or do anything about the loss of a loved one. But then, again to be honest, I don't see God going around reliably curing cancer and eliminating grief either. At the same time, there are, IMO, "odd things afoot" in this universe and I'm not one to stick God in a box and dictate to him/her that he always heals or never does. ;) My sense of the God that is "bigger than me" is, as the Bible says, surrounded in clouds of mystery. But the "Christ in me" is usually able to get his message across...if I will but listen.

 

Anyway, all of that to say that, given my own shift on the subject of prayer, I lean more towards books that encourage meditation so that I am more sensitive to the Spirit and can discern what I can do. One book that has impressed me on this subject, though I've only been able to read excerpts and listen to podcasts based on the book, is Richard Rohr's "Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer." Richard's main point, IMO, is that prayer is not about getting God to see our circumstances, but about learning to see our circumstances from God's point-of-view, that everything is connected and that, if prayer is communication with God, then prayer is how we live, not something we do. Prayer is not about getting God to change possible futures, but about being aware of the now and fully present to it. I don't know, of course, if this is anything like what *you* are looking for, but I find it fresh and honest to reality.

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I'm hesitant to suggest this, as there is a fine line between recommending a book about prayer and endorsing it. With that in mind, I recommend Calvin's Of Prayer, a section of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The link is to a free & legal copy.

 

While I find Calvin fascinating, I don't fully agree with him (I don't think I'd like this site much if I did ;) ). That said, however, I do recommend reading it. The man often accused of creating the most fatalistic form of Christianity thought that prayer - explicitly asking God for things - was an important activity. Even (especially?) if one disagrees with him, his argument may be of interest.

 

There is also Karl Barth's writing on the topic (free and legal link here, google books link here). Like Calvin, Barth isn't exactly progressive, but he's considered one of the great theologians of the 20th Century for a reason.

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I have doubts about God as an interventionists or a deus ex machina.

 

I always wondered what "deus ex machina" meant! :P

 

My experiences have led me to reject the notion of an all-powerful God "out there" who is listening and waiting to answer our prayers if we can only get the words right or align our desires and will with his.

 

That leads me, at least at this point in my journey, to notions of a compassionate "God within", God as incarnational within each of us who, rather than intervening without us, uses us as, in NT language, the "Body of Christ" to do his will on earth. Seen this way, my prayer life has changed from seeking the right words to cause God to act, to listening to that still, small voice inside that is often prompting me to act to the best of my ability. This means that my prayer life is more about listening to what I believe God would have me do than in trying to get him to do something.

 

I agree, completely and totally. Then, in your opinion, is it "proper" (probably not the best word) to petition or intercede? In the NT stories of healings, Jesus is often telling people "Your faith has healed you", "Never have I seen such faith", "Your sins are forgiven, get up and walk". Perhaps it is faith that effects a metaphorical healing? Sigh. I've been reading a lot and have not been able to process everything intellectually. (ie not knowing what Deus ex machina means). It seems the more I read, the less I understand about prayer.

 

Ah well, maybe some things just aren't meant to be known! :lol: (Asking questions is my raison d'etre.)

 

On that note, I would like to recommend a book of progressive prayers by Michael Morwood called Praying A New Story. It has some wonderful reflections on Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter.

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Guest billmc

Then, in your opinion, is it "proper" (probably not the best word) to petition or intercede?

 

Yvonne,

 

You ask some good questions about this subject, and ones which many progressives are talking and writing about. Ones which, as I mentioned, I still struggle with. I have to admit right up front that I really have no answers to this; I know more about what I don’t believe about prayer than what I do believe about it. :) So all I can do is to share what my thoughts and experiences are at this point in my journey.

 

Deus Ex Machina, as I understand it, refers to the way that actors were sometimes placed into and removed from scenes in ancient Greek plays in order to effect a change. They were brought in and removed by means of a big hook at the end of a lever operated off-stage by stage hands. It was a plot device where certain predicaments could be solved by another character simply “dropping from the sky” to intervene. Once the plot took a new course or was resolved, the character was removed. In modern terms, theology calls this the “sky-hook God.” It is God (who has been absent) showing up to perform a miracle and then leaving to return to heaven until he is needed again.

 

From my own studies, I think the Jews progressed in their ideas about God over the years. (BTW, I’m very open to correction if I’m wrong about this.) It seems to me that in the beginning of the Bible, God was, for the most part, “in heaven” i.e. absent from his creation. God was, for most intents and purposes, not *here* and, therefore, a mediator between heaven and earth, between divinity and humanity was needed. And this mediator needed to be ritually clean in order to perform his duty.

While Jesus in the Bible is often portrayed as the ultimate mediator by Paul and the writer of Hebrews, I find in Jesus’ own teachings that we all have direct access to God and that no mediator is required. God, according to Jesus, is the heavenly Father, but God is also “one” with all God’s children. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 reflects this. Jesus, rather than supporting the “mediation” system of the Temple and the priesthood, says that we can all go directly to God in our hearts.

Granted, I don’t think Jesus’ message caught on immediately. In fact, I think it still hasn’t. So other writers of the scripture do say that mediation is, if not necessary, helpful. For instance, the book of James says that if there are any sick amongst us, bring them to the elders of the church who will pray for the sick and the sick will be healed. This is a mediation/intervention method of healing and I just don’t find that it “works” in the real world. If it did, the church would have no sick people in it. ;)

 

At the same time, to not pray for people, especially when they have requested it, seems cold and callous. And this, to me, is probably how I best see “interventionist” prayer at this point. My prayers for people are not attempts to get God to show up and to act, but a way for me to acknowledge before God my own love and concern for these people and that I entrust them to him. I believe that God is already with and in people and always “at work”. Therefore, my prayers take on more of the flavor of empathy with others and thankfulness for God in their lives than in seeing myself as some kind of mediator attempting to get God to do something for people.

 

On the other hand (thanks for tolerating my long-windedness; I will, hopefully, run out of hands shortly), things happen in this universe that are strange and unpredicted. I have seen people “miraculously” healed. Why and how it happened, I don’t know. So I can’t dismiss everything as superstition. But I also can’t subscribe to the notion that there is a method (often involving giving money to big-haired preachers) that can be used that will cause God to act and/or heal. I admit that God is outside of any boxes that we think he might fit into. But I also don’t believe that anyone has a “hotline to heaven”. I believe that God is here, loves us all equally, and is always working in and through us.

 

STISL (Sorry This Is So Long). Complicated and perplexing subject matter…but in a good way.

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This thread has been extremely helpful, as was the "Prayer For Progressive Christians - The purposes of prayer with a non-intervening God" thread. It helps to know that others are struggling with the same issues as I do, even if we do not have all the answers.

 

I especially liked this comment from "Prayer For Progressive Christians The purposes of prayer with a non-intervening God "

under General Discussion>Progressive Christianity:

 

quote credit added by JosephM >>>>>> Mike said ....

Perhaps it may be said that in the act of prayer God is intervening in our lives? In the sense that it is not we ourselves who pray but the spirit. This assumes of course that God is not ontologically separate from our own lives or life in general.

 

When someone asks for prayer, I always tell them "of course I will", and I try (which, I believe, is a prayer in and of itself, the "trying"). I quit "praying" for a long time because I just didn't see the point in it. I pray now, but if I described it, I doubt many people would recognize it as such.

 

What about the NT and prayer? Do I throw out "Ask and you shall receive..." and other verses as meaningless? I keep hearing/reading that its a metaphor, but for what? I don't get it. I have to read Bishop Spong's book on interpreting the NT. It seems the more I know the more confused I get. :blink:

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I think that prayer serves a useful purpose in giving us a feeling of doing something in situations over which we have little or no control. It is a mechanism for expressing our hopes and fears even if we don't expect direct divine intervention. Somehow, it is psychologically stronger than 'thinking about' someone.

 

I think it is benign and doesn't deter most people from also taking whatever constructive action they might.

 

George

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Yvonne,

 

I would suggest throwing nothing out unless it is revealed as false to you personally. Perhaps you can just set what you don't understand aside until a later date when it becomes clearer. It seems to me, if Prayer is communion with God then the words are said for our benefit, not God's. When confusion arises in my mind, i remember that confusion is just a thought. It too will pass and clarity will come in its time.

 

Joseph

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Guest billmc

I think I'm actually mad at God in for not being the magic genie and granting wishes. :ph34r:

 

I know that feeling well, my friend. In my life, knowing what God is not, though painful, helped me greatly to experience what God is (which I am still on the cusp of).

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Yvonne, I agree with billmc, that realization can actually be a very positve step to coming to feel closer to God. The way I worked my own way through that stage was to think about how you would feel if others had spread about some fantastic image of you, perhaps even flattering, but still, not at all "you" as you really are. Now supposed others that have not met you have fallen in love with that false image of you, even thinking the idolize you.

 

But you know it isn't really you they idolize and think they are in love with, but a false image that isn't about you at all. Now consider that when you didn't seem to live up to all those wonderful stories they'd been told about you, they got really mad at you, decided you were just a big phoney all along.

 

But then one came to you, quietly, and said, you know, it isn't your fault others made you ouut to be something you are not. I'd like to get to know you, the real you. I want to know you, personally, as you really are.

 

Then go sit down, somewhere alone, where you don't have to worry about anyone hearing you "talking" to someone they can't see is there, and say, God, it doesn't matter that you are not what they said you were. I want to get to know you, personally, the real you.

 

And then just start talking to Him.

 

I can't think of a book to reccomend, but I can share what works for me, has helped me feel a "connection" to God, or whomever/whatever is greater than me.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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Then go sit down, somewhere alone, where you don't have to worry about anyone hearing you "talking" to someone they can't see is there, and say, God, it doesn't matter that you are not what they said you were. I want to get to know you, personally, the real you.

I'll let you know when I come back down after reading this. Excellent.

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Btw, I can't explain why for me, I have to talk to "Him" out loud, as if really speaking to another person that is present, but it seems important that I do. Just "thinking" a prayer or conversation with Him just doesn't seem to work for me. It may feel awkward at first, it did for me, but then as I talked out my problems and concerns with Him, I found that I began to get "answers" on remarkable ways....I would chance to hear someone talking about something I had talked to Him about, giving me new insights, or I'd walk into a waiting room somewhere, and there would be a book or a magazine article that seemed selected and placed there just for me, just where I was right then.

 

Jenell

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I know that feeling well, my friend. In my life, knowing what God is not, though painful, helped me greatly to experience what God is (which I am still on the cusp of).

 

So very true - I find these periods of painful "knowing" have been the times I have seen the most growth.

It's okay that I'm a little but mad. :unsure: I'll get over it, but at least now I can see what's been holding me back.

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I think realizing what you are mad at and why will help you a lot in finding a way to move forward.

 

I was raised, as many are, with the big terrible taboo against expressing anger in general, and to even hint at anger at or toward God or the church or even religion or even real 'wrongs' by other Christians (we're suppsed to forgive, and not judge even wicked Christians) were absolutely unacceptable.

 

Much of the anger I discovered in myself, that had been building up, being stuffed back and swallowed for so many years, toward the rules and beliefs and practices that had nothing good or right about them, they had been idolatrized for being "God's commands". When my anger exploded, I let myself consciously recognized and acknowledge that I HATED the horrible evil "God image" that had been fostered upon me as what I must accept if I really loved wanted to obey God. It wasn't God I was angry with, or hated, it was the false God, the religious God image, I had been told since earliest childhood I must accept and even 'love'....and who could love such a God that would send me to burn eternally in hell if I didn't toe that line. Didn't conform.

 

I think a lot of us have to go through something at least along this line, before we can regain, if we ever had it to begin with, trust in and love for God.

 

Jenell

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