Monday, July 30, 2007

Praying With the Church #5: Jesus and Sacred Prayers

I haven’t been doing this much lately, but I’m still enjoying fixed hour prayer – even if my hours aren’t “fixed.” Perhaps “flexed hour prayer” would be the better term for me. Either way, it has been good. This post will give a brief summary of the ancient Jewish prayers that Jesus likely practiced – morning, noon, and night.

There are Catholic prayer books, Anglican/Episcopal, and Orthodox, not to mention The Divine Hours for the rest of us (the one I’m using). The ancient Jewish prayer book is what we call the Psalms. While some are intensely personal prayers, they are fit to be the prayer book of Israel. Another regular aspect of the Jewish liturgical life is the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deut. 6.4-5). They also recited the Ten Commandments and something called, among other names, the Amidah:

Blessed art thou, Lord, God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob, great, mighty and fearful God, most high God who createst heaven and earth, our shield and the shield of our fathers, our trust in every generation.
Blessed art thou, Lord, shield of Abraham.

Grant us, our Father, the knowledge (that comes) from thee, and understanding and
discernment (that come) from thy Torah.
Blessed art thou, Lord, who grantest knowledge.

Bring thy peace over Israel, thy people, and over thy city and over thine inheritance; and bless all of us together.
Blessed art thou, Lord, who makest peace. (McKnight 48).
These three elements were what Israel prayed at their hours of prayer. McKnight says it would look like this:
Psalms all the time and throughout the day.
Morning = Shema, (10 Commandments), and Amidah
Afternoon = Amidah
Evening = Shema, (10 Commandments), and Amidah

Most people who might stumble upon this blog are likely of a similar stripe as myself, hesitant to use the words of others to pray – the fear of vain repetition. But I find my prayers take on their own vain repetition as I either get lazy in articulating my prayers or I am in a request rut. I love what McKnight says about Scripture and prayer that might help those of us who are more hesitant to toy with this kind of prayer:

“…let’s probe this concern about repetition in another way. This question may actually be masking another issue, one that is part of the hesitation to use prayers written by others. Our tendency is to go to the Bible for something new, to read it in the expectation of a fresh discovery of something we did not know or had not heard or had completely forgotten. As a professor who teaches the Bible, I know the

“But the discovery of something new is not the sole, or even the main, purpose for reading the Bible. The longer you look at the idea that we read the Bible to find new meanings, the sillier it becomes. We read and return to the Bible not (just) to find something new but to hear something old, not to discover something fresh but to be reminded of something ancient.

“What we find in the sacred rhythm and sacred prayer tradition of Israel is the wise recitation of those passages in the Bible most central to spirituality, passages we need to be reminded of daily because of their importance for how we are to conduct ourselves before God and with others” (50-51).
Does this resonate with anyone else?


Lee Jones said...

Odd; in my previous comment, I almost mentioned a fear of getting too "fixed" in my prayers. I fear it will cheapen the personal aspect of relationship with God.

On the other hand, I have been attempting to memorize the Shema. There's something comforting about starting off with, "Blessed are You, oh LORD our God, king of the universe."

So, yeah, McKinght's words and your feelings are echoed in my own experience. I must, somehow, break the weak repetition I adhere to (albeit unconsciously so).

Justin said...

I've been pretty slack on posting lately, but one of my next ones - probably sooner than later based on your comments - will be on the difference I think this has been making in my "praying at all times" prayer life. It's better - even with those fixed times. And I have a tendency to make my own personal "fixed" prayers that aren't nearly as thoughtful as those who others have written to be shared, particularly the psalms.