Is prayer a transaction?

“God waits for us in the inner sanctuary of the soul. He welcomes us there, where we can experience, in the words of Madame Guyon, a “continuous inner abiding.” And here is the joy: the results are always in excess of the work put in.”
From: Richard J. Foster. “Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition.”

If one believes, as I do, that God is Omnipresent, then there is no place God doesn’t exist. That would, then, include “the inner sanctuary of the soul.” But to imply that God is only there, in our individual souls, seems wrong to me. First of all, what “soul” means is unclear to many people.

Some might say our soul is “the part of me that lives on past death and goes to heaven to be with God who is waiting for me there.” For those people, the notion that God is waiting for you in your own soul would seem strange indeed. Others might define “soul” the way Plato did… or perhaps St. Augustine’s Body-Soul split. How is Soul different than Spirit, for example. To say God waits for us in the soul implies God (the divine) does not similarly wait in our bodies. That’s anti-Incarnational; a part of the theology that allowed us to abuse the planet, other life here, and each other. Considering “the flesh” as “sinful” has had major negative impact on attitudes toward healthy sexuality, marriage, and the roles of women, etc.

Orthodox Christian theology is that, in Jesus, God became flesh and divinized us as whole beings. Paul taught that in Christ crucified and risen all of creation is reconciled to the Creator.

Madame Guyon’s “continuous inner abiding” is taken from “The Way of the Cross” from 17th Century France. She was a Contemplative who kept notes regarding her contemplation. These were later compiled. In one note she wrote:

“To be continuously turned deep inside simply means that, having turned within to God-by a direct act- you have remained in His presence. The only time you need to make a point of turning again is when your abiding is interrupted for some reason. You rest in the continuous inward act of abiding.”

Hmm. Foster is not talking about Contemplation. What Guyon observed is that once you learn Contemplation, you can keep it going a long time. As I understand it, Contemplation is a spiritual practice of many religions, most Buddhism, where one learns how to turn off the Cerebral stream of words and thoughts and rest that part of our brains. It must feel like God’s in charge and present when a person is in the pre-verbal parts of our brains (the brain stem mostly). At least that’s what they report and why they advocate it. I would have to take classes.

Prayer, overall, is a generic human practice. Although one might think Christians assume they invented it. There was a fellow at the table beside us at the bakery this week with a sign “Free Prayer.” His sign mentioned his Christian Church. He had a King James Bible open. Did he not know that we live in a community where our Muslim friends pray five times a day (for free). Orthodox Jews pray three times a day (for free). And for the past 10,000 years (before smallpox killed them), the Sammamish People who lived here prayed to their gods both individually and as a group. We don’t know much from before 10,000 years ago, but one has to guess that shamans and priests have offered up prayers since the invention of language.

But the phrase that most bothered me in Foster’s statement is “results in excess of…”

What? Prayer is a transaction in the Spiritual Free Market? Do we pray as an investment with a positive return? “Dear Lord, I hereby give you 50 cents worth of prayer time, time is money you know, and in return I would like you to cover the rent this month. Amen? Deal?”

I think prayer is a good thing, don’t misunderstand me. I just don’t think it’s a conversation with God who lives in my own soul, or that it’s about turning off part of my brain, or an investment with an expected positive return.

I learned that the “praying hands” position is from an old practice of binding the wrists of captured people so they’d be unable to carry a weapon or attack the captor. Eventually subjects would voluntarily assume that position before people of power to show submission, just like genuflection. The captor or master was their “lord”… who they might petition for something or other.

I hope prayer doesn’t require any particular posture, gesture, special table, room, or practice. And I hope it is more than going into our souls where god awaits us to reward us for a wise investment of time and effort.

Things to pray about, or meditate on, or contemplate…. or as I put it “to ponder.”

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