Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How and Why To Pray: The Fire Within Us Is The Spirit

The Very Reverend Sam Lloyd gave the most recent Sunday Forum at the Washington National Cathedral as a talk about prayer and our spiritual lives. A dvd is available here to purchase at the National Cathedral website. His talk is all about being a Christian with the power of prayer, living a spiritual life and maintaining a life of prayer.

A central part of being a Christian, he says, is to say prayers and to have a pattern of prayer. This lecture tells how to pray and why prayer is awesome and desirable.

Dean Sam Lloyd tells of his own personal journey to a life of faith and prayer, and tells us how we, too, can improve our own spiritual lives. In his very gifted, warm and intelligent way, as a supremely educated and experienced preacher, everything he says inspires in this special talk.

He talks about how he experienced the Copernican revolution of what prayer is and what God is. He tells how he learned that we are not the center; the earth is not the center, according to Copernicus, but that light is the center of the universe and is where energy comes from. God is trying to connect with us. The Bible, he says, is God's quest for us. The heart of the Christian life, he says, is learning how to pay attention to a God who is coming to us, if we open ourselves up.

Psalm 139
1  O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2  Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising;
thou understandest my thought afar off.
23  Search me, O God, and know my heart:
try me, and know my thoughts:
24  and see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.     King James Version.

All along, God has known us and is always there.

He quotes from Isaiah 43:1
Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. God is always with us. He also recited by heart a beautiful old hymn, "I sought the Lord...always thou lovest me." In C.S. Lewis' autobiography Surprised by Joy, he says, the God we have been trying to reach has been trying even harder to reach us. St. Augustine also says prayer begins in our finding a space and openness to hear and notice and receive the God who has always been seeking us out. Prayer at its heart is profoundly receptive and passive. And it leads to great energy, passion and commitment, but it begins by our receiving God.

Dean Sam Lloyd's second point is about the spiritual life and what we do with our lives. At the heart of our life is this desire for more. This restlessness is "at the heart of the human phenomenon." It drives people to do good and evil, and is the fire within. He refers to Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality about the fire within. It is a fire for goodness, love, longing and connection that drives us beyond ourselves. We should aim for a spiritual life that honors that fire within us. This idea goes back to the Greeks, Hebrews and St. Paul; the fire within us is the spirit of God trying to be in us. The spirit and energy and fire propels us. To long for God is to experience God. The fire within us is the life of the spirit within us. We are all in God as fish are in water.

The third major point in this talk is about how it isn't easy to maintain the life of prayer in today's busy world. He believes life is meant to be lived from a divine center. As Thomas Kelly says,  there is a "divine abyss within us all." Thomas Merton said there is a true self and a partial self. People in the West think they are who they think they are, instead of knowing they are deeper. The true self is deeper than who we think we are. The idea is to create a pattern of spaciousness to allow enough quiet for God to be heard. He is immersed in the world and in our lives and speaks to us. The spiritual life is about learning to listen, says Dean Sam Lloyd

He advised us to take ten minutes a day to be still and learn to create an open space to listen to this Deeper Spirit. We can read scriptures if it helps to open our hearts. As St. John said in John 15:3, "I am the vine and you are the branches" for we are all one with Jesus. Prayer can help us think and feel new things, and help us learn how to listen. We can ask for God's help for anything we want, confess our sins, and be honest. By taking the time to be still, prayer is about being present in the moment, and the goal is to create a life that is attentive to God.  Dean Sam Lloyd suggests a goal for Lent is to have a deeper prayer life.

Most of the Sunday Forum talks are available linked here to buy on dvd and are well-worth watching.

This writing is not in any way sanctioned or approved of by the National Cathedral. The writer is grateful to the National Cathedral for the opportunity to write and learn about these modern issues at the intersection of faith and public life. Please give generously to the Washington National Cathedral.

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