Othering Prayer at Advent 2022 – II
Individualism and Its Distortions
Do you recall looking at your image in one of those fun house mirrors, concave and convex and otherwise bent, in an amusement park? It can illustrate the way we might miss-image ourselves based on an out-of-whack, taken-for-granted, reality. It is a distortion, a skewed reflection of what is real. What if our spiritual quests and faith understandings are vulnerable to the concave and convex bends in our worlds taken-for-granted.
In contemporary North American society, frames of reference are constrained by the dominant role individualism plays. It distorts. Societal understandings, economics, politics, culture, even language are limited. Cormac Russell and John McKnight compare this with the African notion of Ubuntu and write: “Individualism is a superhighway to a sick, depressed, and dissatisfied life and a fragmented society. Ubuntu, by contrast, says we are not self-reliant, we are other reliant: that life is not about self-fulfillment and leaning into work and money. Instead, a satisfying life is largely about leaning into our relationships and investing in our communities; it is about interdependence, not independence, (The Connected Community, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2022, p. xiv).
I would suggest our views of prayer have been focused too narrowly as an individualistic practice, to be personal prayer or meditation, primarily. There is Corporate Prayer, typically in a worship service or as the Invocation or Benediction in religious or civic gatherings.
Recently I wrote that the focus on Centering Prayer has gained much acceptance in religious life. While of value; still, I ask if it might be balanced by what I would call Othering Prayer.
To my mind, Othering Prayer is rooted in the prayer Jesus taught the disciples (Luke 11 and Matthew 6). What we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer draws on elements from multiple earlier Hebrew prayers. In English translations the opening word “Our” says a great deal. It begins with an awareness that we are part of a community.
I do not write this to suggest Centering Prayer, or deep personal religious experience is not of equal or often greater value. Rather, it is to suggest that there is reflection to be done on how Othering Prayer might carry benefits in acting toward God’s purposes in our world.
It was Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating, St. Joseph’s Abbey Trappist Monastery who played a significant role in opening awareness to the value of Centering Prayer more than fifty years ago. For Keating, Christian Centering Prayer was in continuity with the practices of other religious traditions.
I am assisted by the insights of Richard Rohr and the good folks at the Center for Action and Contemplation. Since 1987 this Center has sought to integrate contemplation and action with Rohr arguing they are inseparable. In fact, Rohr emphasizes this when he says the most important word in the Center’s name is neither Action or Contemplation but the small word “and.”
Recently a friend commented that her experience is that when she practices quiet, contemplative, centering prayer, it seems richer when done as part of a community. Hmmn.
Enough for now — more to come…