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THE ESSENTIAL WITHIN
A Primer on Christian
by Ruth and Loren Halvorson
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"How can I pray?" That is the theme
for the exercises in this chapter. The more you try to include other
people in your prayer or the more your prayer leads to others, the more
you are faced with the task of finding ways by which you can give your
entire self to this task. If the heart of the Christian life is "living
for others", than you cannot limit this "living" to times of prayer
and meditation, but it should include all that goes on during the day.
Neither can "living" be limited to the words of prayer but it must also
include deeds and suffering (i.e. the totality of your life). You
can reach others only at the level and in the place where you find yourself.
A visual image might help to introduce
the concern of this chapter. A radio is assembled from many individual
parts. These parts could exist only for themselves, but it is only
when they are put together into one entity, a radio, that a "mysterious"
device is created which can receive signals from ether waves and turn them
into something the human ear can hear. A radio expert sees the potential
of each individual part becoming a radio, seeing, as it were, the possibility
of the whole in the part. But it is only since there were radios
that this has become a possibility.
In a certain sense you might say that Jesus
Christ in becoming human took upon himself the "individual parts" of human
life binding them together in his own life into a whole so that through
his humanness he could become an organ for receiving divine reality.
Since then human life in all its individual parts has the possibility in
each of its parts - when combined properly - of being receptive to God.
In a "directed meditation" (a meditation
where materials are suggested by a leader or spiritual guide for one's
personal reflection and meditation.[eds.]) let me show you how what
we have thus far attained can become fruitful for meditative prayer.
In a group one member can slowly read the individual steps providing long
pauses so the "soul can keep up", as someone said. When you do the
exercise alone you can read it phrase by phrase and pause long enough so
that with you a process begins.
Out of the nearly limitless possibilities
which the Bible offers, I wish to offer two verses from the
Prepare yourself: relaxation - depth
- reception ...remain silent.
(Take about three minutes.)
1. Let the text with its visual symbols
work on you:
“For your sake
I will...break down all the bars... Behold, I am doing a new thing; now
it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:14,19)...
Reflect on the word, "bars", as the symbol
of all which makes you unfree such as:
(Remain silent until something begins to
resonate within you.)
the overwhelming number of tasks that shackle
you and do not let you breathe. . .
harsh external situations, needs, which hinders
free development ...
inner obstacles that leave everyone standing
before unassailable heights blocking every way
out as is often the case during depression...
- You can add your own possibilities here...
2. Direct the symbolic words of this text
like a search light on your life and let them illuminate the "bars" you
have personally experienced. From which ones have you suffered the
(remain in silence until something
begins to resonate within)
3. Make an inner connection with a specific
person close to you who has similar or even more difficult "bars" ...
(Wait silently until something begins to
try to feel connected with all people have
to such situations...
be aware that in your own area of responsibility
whatever you "do" will have a hidden effect on all other people sharing
the "living behind bars"...
when you conduct yourself according to the
"measurement of Christ" others are effected in a mysterious way... . .
4. Look at Christ who is the "way"
(Remain in silence until something begins
to resonate in you.)
how did You (Jesus) deal with the over abundance
of tasks that you could have undertaken?...
how did You face the needs and the physical
conditions which life behind bars brought you ?...
how did You deal with your anxieties that
brought sweat like drops of blood to your brow?...
5. Christ is the way. Travel that way:
"Behold, I am
doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Is. 43:19).
Christ lives in me really and truly (Gal.
2:20) and this life grows in me if I give Christ room and allow him to
fill that space more and more:
Lord, it was Your faith that broke
down the prison bars of the harsh realities before which you stood and
which enabled you to see through it the will of the Father so you could
say, 'Yes, Father'"...
Let the "new" grow in me as I look at
Your faith, Jesus, until it leaves its imprint on me... until there begins
to grow in me that faith that sees everything is coming from the hand of
"Lord, it was Your hope that
released you from the prison of impasse - in that you came through to a
salutary "nevertheless" giving you joy so that the momentary need became
but a transition... .
Let that "new " deepen in me as I look
at Your hope, Jesus, until it is imprinted on me ... until there begins
to grow in me the hope that joined with Christ's agony every trial has
a "nevertheless", every cross a resurrection...
"Lord, it was Your love that
broke bars of isolation from the community around You by revealing through
your suffering for humankind what "for others" means and with love broke
down the wall to the Father through Your 'Thy will be done'"...
Let that "new" deepen in me that in looking
at Your love it leaves it imprint on me... until there begins to grow in
me that same love for others and for God that reaches out...
(In silence as long as it goes well
I beseech You, Lord, through Your own
imprisonment loosen the bounds that make me unfree. May Your freedom
flow into my life and through me to all with whom I am united in prayer
until my prayer becomes action...
Ending the meditation
End your meditation slowly and calmly
by relaxing as in previous exercises...
What we have done using the symbol of
imprisonment behind bars can be done with every key symbol in the Bible.
Every such symbol shines like a search light on specific areas in the life
of Jesus Christ. We can apply all of the steps just taken to every
element of his life because he became human just as we are.
back to beginning
From what you have discovered, what new
ways of praying have opened up for you?
1. Whenever you look at specific situations
in the life of Jesus a greater area for prayer opens up. What Jesus
experienced, did and suffered prepares a river bed for all who find themselves
in the same situation. Our prayers open the stream of such a way.
2. All of us have had the experience of feeling
our prayers have gone into thin air. We have brought a particular
need to God and not the least bit seems to change, everything remains the
same. If you are not praying routinely or out of a sense of duty
for someone but have taken on a person's needs as your own, then one day
you face the question, "Can't I do something for this person? It's
not enough to pray only with my mouth!" What can be said nowadays
about Jesus' words on "praying and fasting"? In the history of the
church have not prayer and sacrifice always been mentioned together?
In this case it may mean that God expects some action from you requiring
our total response? Perhaps resolution to this question will come:
then when it appears that someone has closed
himself or herself off from direct contact with God you can insert yourself.
You can become the connection between Christ and the other person by being
to some degree a "detour", by becoming as much like that person as possible,
becoming yourself as much like Christ as possible. When on the one
hand you seek more and more to be like Jesus and on the other hand seek
more and more to be "one" with another person (John 17:11) then the stream
of Christ's healing flows through you to the other - and to many others.
when you are in a similar situation to that
of Christ and open yourself to the hidden stream of healing flowing from
him by connecting your response with his response and your suffering with
his suffering -
when Jesus Christ takes on himself aspects
of our human life in order they may open a way to God (something we cannot
do for ourselves) -
when you as a member of the body of Christ
and with his strength connect with this stream and let it flow through
Is this all an illusion? I have
asked myself that question and have come to the following conclusions:
It is clear for all to see that God reaches
people regularly through others rather than in a direct way. The
reverse is also true. People find contact with God more often (some
might say "always") through another person than through the direct experience
Looking at Jesus always provides the criteria
for justifying our thoughts and deeds. Jesus was truly God and also
truly human, at the same time both God and human. He restores the
connection that had been broken between God and humankind by providing
a "detour" in his own person.
What we are seeking to express very carefully
here is nothing other than following through with what it means to be a
disciple of Christ - not somewhere on the periphery but specifically there
where the heart finds its mission.
Let me give an example to make this more
back to beginning
I was asked once to pray at a home for
mentally impaired children where additional staff was desperately needed.
In praying it became clear to me that the difficulties in keeping people
from undertaking this work were low salaries, hard physical work, seeing
the suffering, etc. When looking at Christ, however, our human criteria
is completely changed. To be a disciple of Christ means in particular,
doesn't it, to take on such difficulties oneself and to meet Christ there
in such suffering?
"Praying the deed"means
that you seek in your own life the place where in some corresponding way
you take on similar tasks:
"Praying the deed" means to seek to do such
things with love and joy! (cf. symbolic
deeds the sixth set of exercises) - signs of embodied prayer).
tasks in which you experience little progress
tasks that are physically demanding -
tasks involving human encounters that you
would prefer to avoid ...
I chose this example because here God
gives us an answer rich with symbols that seem to justify this form of
prayer. After I tried doing this kind of praying over a period of
time I experienced how a person for whom I was praying that God would show
him the direction of his life, suddenly decided to start working with mentally
From this example you can see the individual
steps of such prayer:
back to beginning
1. Meditate on the needs of the people for
whom you seek to pray ... .
2. Seek in your own life that which corresponds
to these needs... .
3. Look at Jesus. Where are the corresponding
needs in his life - how did he deal with them... exhibit them?
4. Wait until it is revealed what you can
do in your own life that corresponds to what the other needs to do in order
to come into contact with Jesus...
5. Seek at least at one point in the day when
you do what you have acknowledged needs to be done. It is precisely the
doing that connects with Jesus as well as with the other person (the
mystery of the incarnation, Jesus Christ becoming human).
Sometimes the deed becomes the prayer
itself (e.g., when for the sake of what you are praying you do something
you have never done before). In most cases "praying the deed"
involves doing with greater love and relevance the task that you should
have done in any case based on the model of Christ's deeds.
To avoid any misunderstanding what is meant
here is that you should not pray the deed, but the deed itself becomes
prayer. For that, however, you have to be fully present with heart
and mind in the deed!
back to beginning
1. When out of concern for a loved one
you do something meaningful, that often means a great inner liberation.
One frequently has the feeling that words alone are not sufficient.
2. When you begin to live this way you will
experience fewer "grey days". Each small deed conveys an act of ministry
3. It is worthwhile to continue praying for
someone especially in this way over a period of time maintaining, of course,
the regular schedule of your daily prayers.
4. For those who suffer from long term illness
this type of praying offers a significant calling.
5. Saying yes to an unpleasant task or to
what is painful, a smile when you don't feel like it, or a friendly word
to a person who treats you badly, can all be deeds prompted by such praying
that puts your body into the service of prayer even when there was nothing
else you could do!
6. Such praying is in any case no mere "cleaning
fluid". That has to be said most definitely in this connection.
When you pray in this step by step way as we have shown in the possibilities
offered, then you need to know that your prayer is heard by God and is
taken up by God's love. That does not mean that we experience an
answer to prayer in such an obvious way as happened in the example I used
above. Every "visible" answer to prayer is a gift of God who seeks
in this way to encourage us to continue praying faithfully when we don't
see any "results". God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and
God's ways are higher than our ways!
Our deeds are nothing more that
a pale reflection of the deeds of Jesus. As members of his body and
with his strength we can do for others what Christ has already done for
and to us (Cf. seventh set of exercises).Jesus took on our human nature
and opened it to God. When we allow the life situation of another
person to enter into our life, when we join his/her experiences, joys,
sorrows and tasks to what corresponds to circumstances in our own life
and bring it all to Jesus, then we become in this act a disciple of Christ
and our connection to Christ becomes deeper and deeper as does our connection
to the person in need.
Jesus' life was a life "for you" not only
in word but in deed and in every experience most especially apparent in
his suffering. To live as a Christian disciple means living "for
another" not only in word but especially in deed, in experience and in
suffering (II Cor. 1:6f., Col:1:24, Eph 3:13 all use the words "for you"
for what Christians do voluntarily for each other) both on the surface
of visible human relationships as well as in the hidden depths where we
put others in contact with Christ and one another. In this meditation
we ventured a bit into this depth. The ill for whom doing public
acts is often denied it is important to know that the deeds in the depths
contain all that happens on the surface.
A participant said quite spontaneously
at the end of this group lesson, "If this is what Catholics mean by the
veneration of the saints, that would solve a big problem for me".
Meditation breaks through even confessional barriers. At the end
of a recent ecumenical course on meditation for church staff a Protestant
pastor said, "I believe during these days we Protestants have discovered
that we are more Catholic than we thought and the Catholics have discovered
that there is much that is "Protestant" in their own tradition".
All agreed to that. Much of what
separates us lies on the surface (e.g. different words meaning the same
thing). The deeper you probe the depths the closer you come to unity.
Now you have the opportunity to try yourself
what you have learned...
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