Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Prayer, Interrupted

In the conclusion to his thought-provoking text God Interrupts History, theologian Lieven Boeve quotes Johan Baptist Metz who writes, "The shortest definition of religion is interruption." Christianity, for Metz, was never meant to become a cultural assumption, something into which one was born and went through the motions. Quite to the contrary, Christianity is a dangerous memory of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This "dangerous memory" is itself subversive of the current order, giving courage to those folly, or brave, enough to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and inspiring them to live courageously in a world so ravaged by sin.

This being my first exposure to Boeve's thought, I am inspired to continue reading. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout my reading, impressed with the clarity of his writing and the power of his thought. Indeed, Boeve sees it as essential that Christianity be re-contextualized in each era. This is not to say that we jettison the past but, rather, that we allow the experience of Christianity to come alive, to be incarnated, in each new context. As he writes, in a beautiful turn of phrase,

"It is not as human beings that we are Christians but as Christians that we are human beings..."
Christianity is not meant to be something added-on to a human. It is meant to be the way that we are human. The wisdom of the Cross, derided so often today, will not always compel assent from those who do not believe, but it may light the spark that impels others to live as Christians live, provided that we live out our faiths courageously and boldly.

I entitled this post "Prayer, Interrupted" because I often think of prayer as a conversation with God. It is a temptation, though, to let the conversation become a monologue: me talking and not listening! It is helpful, then, to consider that the God of Israel and Jesus Christ is one not above interrupting the human story in order to let the story of the Kingdom be known. We see examples of interruption in the prophets and figures of the Hebrew Scriptures (surely, Isaac is grateful for the interruption that spared him from Abram's knife!). We see interruption in John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and disciples of Jesus. We see interruption in the way Jesus is claimed to have disturbed and righted the human narrative. We see interruption in a history of the saints whose lives became foolish to many, yet attest to the glory of God.

If prayer does not interrupt our lives, if the liturgy is not a bit of a surd that chafes us just a bit, if God does not interrupt our so-called illusion free philosophy of life...then it's probably not prayer. Authentic prayer is marked with a profound vulnerability, a fragility, that exposes each of our hearts and lives to the interruptive presence of the Creator and Sustainer of all. The next time you set about praying, listen for that odd, niggling, feeling in your heart: perhaps the irritating knocking in some neglected region of your heart is the doorway inviting you into a new place of relationship with God.

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