I was watching Polygamy, USA, on NatGeo yesterday and was glued to the screen.
The fundamentalist beliefs in terms of behavior and dress reminded me very much of my own childhood- though, we believed polygamy was wrong, of course. And we could show our legs to the knee.
I watched the young men rise, stand in a circle and pray. The phrases came quickly off their tongues, phrases round with use, with somber purpose, with dedication.
It brought back so much, listening to these prayers. I remember sitting in the dining room, in the silence, waiting for the next person to pray, feeling guilty that I was not myself leaping into the breach and how out of the silence, one person's voice would rise up, and the phrases begin to be said, earnestly, sincerely.
I knew God was listening. It was as though we were paging Him.
That was the thing that struck me. When I prayed that way, God was far away and prayer was opening up a channel to reach Him, and He would listen, provided my sins were forgiven.
So we paged God before meals and we paged God before heading out on a long trip. We paged God before meetings and after meetings, in the morning and at night. I believed that God found this slow, steady rhythm of prayer pleasing.
This is something beautiful and peaceful about rote prayer, steady prayer, with the undulating rhythms, the familiar phrases, the round ending. I still pray like that sometimes, myself.
I begin, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." and work my way slowly through each phrase, wondering at them.
The main difference now is my perception of distance. Watching that program, I became aware of the huge gulf between my relationship with God at that time, and my relationship with Him now.
Last night, I was talking to Him about prayer. I was feeling, as I so often do, my complete inability to do very much for others- as if I am having no impact on this life.
You prayed for them, Jesus reminded me. He was standing in front me, watching me with such tenderness, as I was working through my thoughts.
"Yes, that's true," I answered, remembering what that prayer felt like.
It felt like I was opening myself up to a rush of winged love that was not originating in me, but simply flowing through me, out to its mysterious and beautiful purpose.
With that kind of prayer, I am simply participating in what God is already doing and always doing. Still, I like participating; I like being a small part of this.
You should pray for Me, Jesus suggested, His eyes twinkling with humor.
He does often have this delightful, almost self depreciating good humor, which used to shock me completely.
I was resting in Him once, a year or so ago, and I was ardently declaring that once I was with Him, I would never leave Him again, forever and ever, for eternity.
He bent His head to mine and He said, with such bubbling humor, you won't get tired of Me, after all that time?
It makes me laugh now, but at that time, I was just appalled. I didn't know how He could take Himself so lightly. In fact, I scolded Him. When I was young, I used to judge the twelve disciples for behaving like that toward Him- I believed that I would never do such things, make such mistakes!
Now my heart melts into loving recognition. All my pride is gone; I would have behaved the same. I would have traveled the same path.
I would scold Him for suggesting that He would suffer, I would be offended for Him and want to call down judgement, I would argue about who got to sit next to Him, I would passionately declare that I would die for Him and then deny Him in the heat of the moment and then I would remember that He knew I would and that He had still given me a job to do, and that moment would remake my soul. In that moment, I would understand.
So when He suggested I pray for Him, I simply gave Him a look that was something between shy love and fond exasperation. He knows that I know that He needs nothing and will accomplish everything perfectly through Himself.
However, I considered the possibility that one might minister to God, which is a phrase that is sometimes in my head lately, but I'm not sure what it means.
It occurs to me now, as I write this, that this phrase might be in my head lately because it contains part of the answer as to why I'm so often in the inner place with Him- which is a question I've been asking Him.
"I suppose I minister to You in some way..." I said to Him, uncertainly, having, at that time, only the foggiest idea what that meant.
You do; your place in Me is unique, He replied, immediately.
Immediately, I misunderstood Him. He is often going on about uniqueness and my first, incorrect thought is that uniqueness implies favorite, not irreplaceable.
So I didn't accept what He was saying; I deflected Him. "But everyone else is, too," I replied.
Your place is unique, He insisted.
"You can't have special people!" I cried, angrily. I stepped close to Him and took His robe in my two hands, as though they were the lapels of His suitcoat, if He has been wearing one. "If You have favorite people, then You're not really Jesus and I... I won't believe in You," I finished, with breathless daring and anger.
There was this one moment where I waited, frozen and then He burst out laughing; I mean, He was bent forward, shoulder shaking, eyes closed, laughing.
His laughter is so delicious. It broke up all my anxiety; I couldn't help laughing with Him. I realized then that I'd been misunderstanding what He meant, but that He found me delightful.
I leaned against Him in relief and I was caught up in His warm and close embrace. "I see now," I admitted. "Yes. No one else could fit into my place and I could never fit into anyone else's place. I must fill the place in You that is made for me. Everyone ministers to You in their own unique and irreplaceable way. Everyone is favored and loved."
Then you must first know this for yourself, He told me once, when I said that I wanted to pass on this affirmation to others.
Richard Rohr wrote very beautifully about this:
"Being chosen doesn't mean that God likes one more than the other, or that some are better than others. Usually, in fact, they are quite flawed or at least ordinary people, so it is clear that their power is not their own. As Paul will put it, "If anyone wants to boast, they can only boast about the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:31)
"Here is the principle: You can only transform people to the degree that you have been transformed. You can only lead others as far as you yourself have gone. You have no ability to affirm or to communicate to another person that they are good or special until you know it strongly yourself. Once you get your own "narcissistic fix" as I call it, then you can stop worrying about being center stage, and you have plenty of time and energy to promote other people's empowerment and specialness. Only beloved people can pass on belovedness."
-Hidden Things: Scripture as Spirituality, Chapter Two: Getting the "Who" Right, pg. 43
I remembered all this, as I leaned against Him. I let go of my self-judgments and rested in my place, the place in Him that is not earned, that always waits for me and cannot be lost, only found again and again.
I stood on tiptoe and whispered into His ear. I said, "You are the Son of the Living God. You are Life itself."
The pleasure of affirming this shivered down my spine. He smiled, the corners of His eyes crinkling up. He looked at me. His eyes are beautiful, luminous, clear. I could receive His loving gaze and look loving back at Him.
Richard Rohr writes many lovely things about this, but here is one that sort of sums it up, for me:
"Jesus brings the biblical tradition to a climax when he defines truth itself as personal rather than conceptual. He says, "I am the truth" (John 14:6) and then immediately defines himself as one who is in absolute relationship with his Father (14:7, 9-10) and the Spirit who is in relationship to both (14:16-18). This rearranges the world of religion from arguments over ideas and concepts into a world of encounter, relationship and presence to the face of the other. That changes everything."
-Hidden Things: Scripture as Spirituality, Chapter Three: People Who Have Faces, pg. 61