Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Praying In the Place of Jesus (Prayer Summer 2014)

Photo: Wilberforce, Ohio
Wilberforce, Ohio
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written a deep, beautiful piece on prayer in The Christian Century - "In the Place of Jesus: Insights from Origen on Prayer." Praying is not simply another tool in our spiritual toolkit. Praying is growing into what Paul calls "the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13)

Praying is standing where Jesus stands, seeing what Jesus sees, hearing what Jesus hears. 

Jesus taught his followers to address God as "Our Father." Note the little word "our." This is Jesus and me, before the God of us. Just as Jesus cries out "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36), so are we invited to do the same (Galatians 4:6). Williams writes:

"It seems that all Christian reflection, all theology worth the name, began as people realized that because of Jesus Christ they could talk to God in a different way."

When we pray we do so in the presence of God. But it also seems right to pray putting ourselves in the place of Jesus. This "sounds appallingly ambitious, even presumptuous, but that is actually what the New Testament suggests we do. Jesus speaks to God for us, but we speak to God in him." 

Williams writes:

"That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action, just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father—even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death."

When Jesus instructs us to pray "Our Father" he is asking us to stand where he stands. "Everything is bathed in the light of that relationship." 

This means that prayer is always "in Jesus," not "to Jesus." Early church Fathers such as Origen understood it this way. The Pauline theological redundancy that as Jesus-followers we are "in Christ" expresses this new relationship. Therefore pray, in Christ.

As you pray you stand where Jesus stands, praying in the place of Jesus.