Saturday, February 28, 2009

How Should We Commune with God?

This has been a fascinating month for me, as I've never thought so much (or had so much input from others) about prayer - and especially about how I've always approached prayer. It's been wonderful to read everyone's input - and I am sincere when I say I deeply appreciate what has been shared. As a result of this month's focus, the following has become even more clear to me:

1) HOW we pray is as much a cultural artifice as anything. In response to a comment on a group blog, I did a little searching through our scriptures. I thought I should share the results of that research here:

"I find it fascinating that the word “vocally” is found in our entire canon only 5 times - all in the D&C. The actual command is to pray “vocally and in secret” and “vocally and in thy heart” and “vocally and in thy heart, in public and in private”. Every single case appears to be specifying at least the possibility that the command is to pray vocally when praying publicly (for or representing a group) and not necessarily vocally in private (”in thy heart”). The most interesting aspect is that in all five passages there is a clear distinction drawn between praying vocally and praying “in thy heart”.

The canon uses the phrase “aloud” 24 times, with 19 of those being in the Bible. Only one of those verses (Psalms 55:17) deals with prayer, and it says “will I pray, and cry aloud” - apparently distinguishing the two from each other.

[An additional search since then shows that the term "bow down" is used 38 times in our canon, and every instance talks of prayer, worship or respect. If there is any form of prayer that would be normative based on our scriptures, it would be "bowing down"- which implies a form of prostration beyond merely kneeling.]

“Kneel” (or “kneeling”) is found in our canon only 7 times - and each time that kneeling is part of a communal activity, not a personal, private prayer.

Understand, I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t kneel for formal, personal prayers. I’m just saying that perhaps it is more of a cultural expression of humility than an eternal law. Perhaps if the heart is right, exactly how the body is positioned is less relevant than we tend to assume. I still kneel whenever I pray “formally”, but it can be taken to an extreme - for example, by believing that a bed bound person or someone without legs or someone in a wheelchair somehow can’t have the same experience as someone who can kneel. Also, it could be argued that if kneeling shows humility, then it is even better to prostrate one’s self fully on the ground - since that position is even more humble than kneeling.

The take away from all of this for me is that, while I still like kneeling, and while I certainly AM NOT advocating not kneeling for those in our culture who can do so, I’m even more open to the idea that others can pray without kneeling and have every bit as strong an experience as someone else can on their knees."

2) Ironically, despite this research and discovery, I am more committed right now to pray formally at least more regularly - when there is something unique and specific I need to address. I see prayer now much more like I see church attendance - in that I recognize with church meetings that there is a proper time for "special" attire and a proper time for "casual" attire. I am willing to sacrifice my own perspective and wear more formal attire for many meetings where I personally believe more casual attire would be fine, but there are cases where "formal attire" is important - like Sacrament Meeting and the temple, for example.

Likewise, I have reached peace with the idea that, while my own personal prayers generally can be "relaxed" and non-verbalized, there are instances where a "formal petition" is more appropriate - and those times are more often than I previously have admitted.

3) I simply can't judge anyone else for how they pray. All of us are unique and different; all of us view formality a bit differently. I need to find what works for me as I commune with God, and I need to be gracious in how I allow others to find what works for them.

There really isn't anything new in the post, but I wanted to take the opportunity again to thank everyone who commented on these posts this month - and on the post on Mormon Matters. I truly have gained new insight this month, and I truly appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about formality being appropriate in certain situations reflects some of my thinking on this.DH and I have recently made a point of kneeling together in prayer daily and each time we do so I am reminded of the temple.I have been unable to attend for some time so this feels very significant to me ,and it has taken both of us a journey to be able to take this position in relation to our Heavenly Father.We both had distant and authoritarian parents,and we don't lightly put ourselves in the position of dependent children.Interesting.

Anonymous said...

you are love to me laura .

Papa D said...

My 6-year-old strikes again - completely on her own! *grin*