Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Without Ceasing

The Christian life is a mixture of solitude and community. On one hand, prayer is personal: Abba Father is the equivalent of Daddy and God spoke face-to-face with Moses. On the other hand, prayer is communal: *OUR* Father in heaven, Jesus is where 2+ are gathered, prayer is above national boarders. We are directed to at minimum 2-3 times a day (In Judaism, people pray alone in the morning, wherever they were at noon, and with their families at night); Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing. With those directions, we'll be praying around other people at least, if not with others.

Typically, when I hear "pray without ceasing," I think of these super formal events that stop typical life. In Jesus' and Paul's time, prayer was different. Devout Jews would offer up to God hundreds of prayers in a day. Most prayers were one sentence. These prayers were specific and were prayers of giving thanks and blessing God. In Jesus' day, most of these prayers started with "Blessed is He...." A few centuries later, it was decided that the opening phrase should be "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe..." These blessings, these prayers, were designed to thank God for specific things and events in our lives.

When it rains, "Blessed is He that renews the earth."

When it thunders, "Blessed is He whose strength and power fill the world."

When it lightnings, "Blessed is He who created the earth."

When the sun shines, "Blessed is He who sends light to the world."

When you get dressed, "Blessed is He who clothes the naked."

When you see a rainbow, "Blessed is He who remembers His covenant, is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His word."

When you see something of beauty, "Blessed is He who has such things in His world."

These are just a sampling of the blessings the Jews sprinkled throughout their days and what would have came to Paul's mind when he directed us to pray without ceasing. More blessings can be found at Hebrew 4 Christians.

I really like this concept of blessings prayers. It has the potential to keep me grateful, to keep me aware of God's perfect goodness, to keep me from slipping into auto-pilot. It is steeped in history and has a comfortable cadence.

I like the history and connectedness these blessing prayers have. I've been praying through the book of common prayer. As I pray the prayers in it, my mind thinks about the other people who are currently praying these prayers with me, in my time. I think about those who have prayed these prayers in the past and those who will do so in the future. I think about how God is not limited to one time like we are and how He might hear all of these prayers, spoken by the saints of the ages, at the same time in different languages and accents. I think about how beautiful that must be and I rejoice in my ability to be connected into God's family.

I've learned that I like liturgy and its history, but at the same time, I like to know *why* we do a certain thing a certain way. For instance, I discovered when I was questioning why it is reverent to stand when the scripture is read, that the tradition started in the Old Testament, at a synagogue, but I wasn't told why those worshipers did that. At least I established where it started.

What are things you are thankful for? How can you turn them into blessing prayers? The "formula" is simple: "Blessed is He..." or "Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe..." or "Thank you Lord for..." or any other way of offering thanks to our Lord.

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