Aelred's July 2007 Letter

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Mutually influencing energies


Although here in Cambridge we have not had the deluges that other parts of the country have had, it is dull and wet and I have had to have recourse to an older cache of photographs taken by Tim - Sunrise - guess where! Which also reminds us that the longest day has also past and that we are on the way to Autumn - but hopefully, not too soon so that we can enjoy some decent warm and dry weather. That must also be the 'prayer' of the hundreds of people who have been made homeless by the floods.

Which brings me straight to my topic - prayer. It is possibly reasonably fair to say that prayer is often thought of as a one way sort of traffic. Both in the corporate prayers of the church and in private, we orient our prayer to the divine who not only seems to be beyond our human sphere but also beyond all sense of any sort of responsive reaction.

Many people are entirely agnostic about the possibility of getting 'answers' to prayer - it's a shot in the dark for them, particularly when they are in great personal need. Books on prayer regularly confront that problem but largely without much success. There have always been, of course, those who maintain that they have a 'hotline' to God! I hope any of my friends who think along those lines will not mind if I challenge that idea too.

I would like to posit the idea that our problems with prayer largely stem from ideas of God which are, to say the least, unattractive today - the hidden, unconcerned, divine autocrat. This image comes not only from the terrors dealt out to disobedient Israel but also by the (misunderstood) disembodied 'voices' of the Father in heaven in the New Testament accounts. He is, for many people, all too unconcerned and too far removed from human life and strivings.

But also Christ is also often thought of as separated from us except though the medium of sacrament. Eucharist is indeed the prime moment of communion in Christ but apart from that he can become a distant figure relegated to 'heaven'. All the Fathers emphasize that prayer is always to God through Jesus and so prayer is automatically thought of as purely a movement from us, through Christ to God - again, the one way track.

Paul in Romans brought in the interesting idea that prayer can be informed by the Spirit - the Spirit searches our hearts and minds. That is a step forward in getting away from the one track understanding of prayer but can still leave us in the grip of misunderstanding the reality of the living God and the risen Christ who is now Lord.

Apart from the writings of monks, nuns and mystics, ordinary folk have sometimes witnessed from their own experience to the dynamic relationship between God, Christ and themselves. I would like to put it in this way. First of all the divine 'person' whom we call God must at least be as responsive to people as we are to our friends. But this responsiveness is not only, or even mainly, about dealing with concrete aspects of our lives but mainly a continuing rapport through the 'skin', as it were. We live and breathe in the atmosphere of all our neighbours, seen and unseen. That is human-ness.

So there is surely in God the 'energies', the continuing interaction with our human-ness. And our 'prayer', our interaction with the divine, can be seen rationally as accepting our place in the continuing stream of the 'energies' which encompass both ourselves and the divine. Similarly, the place of Christ in this human/divine interactive activity is to help us interpret this experience of the energies that flow between ourselves and the divine. He has shared our human-ness in life and in death and now as the vindicated, risen Lord is our nearest support.

I would attempt a sort of definition of prayer here. It is our real engagement between the divine energies and our own energies which encompass our lives here and now. We may not only put pleas for help or thanks into words but may actually engage in the living, life-giving source of love and life. That means that how we most often think of prayer will be turned upside down. No longer can it be a lonely process of 'praying' but an engagement with the divine who is constantly seeking us out.

It is a stunning thought that we actually live in this continual stream of the divine energies of love. Prayer is, hopefully, the living and not merely vocal, response - as we take our place in this continually interacting flow of personal, mutually influencing energies of divine and human concerns. God is no longer in that scenario to be thought of as apart and unconcerned, but also is with us and is capable of being 'influenced' in love as he also 'lures' us in love towards the truth and the beautiful.

© Aelred Arnesen

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