I have had many arguments recently about the idea of prayer. First, I am quite exhausted from arguing as it is destructive and when you win you really lose. Rhetorical debates optimize much of what I am trying to be against but constantly fall prey to. Thus, I write this as a way to hopefully end my argument on this front-or at least verbalize my views in preparation for the next round.
I don't know what to do about prayer. My mother often tells me to simply talk to God as is he/she is next standing/sitting/eating/chillin' next to me, but I can't. I find God in many places but this supernatural presence that my mother, and others as well, feels is not of my world view. I can't simply pray. I find most church practices to be destructive and its view on prayer falls under this category. I have been asked to prayer before/during/after I lead worship some weeks and I just can't do it. I don't talk to God like that. There is something very encouraging/unique about the Orthodox view of prayer. The idea that prayers are predetermined takes away the narcissistic notion of God-talk and brings Christianity back into its original context-with the people. I know, I've had a few people say that such a focus on community is too much like socialism. I can only say about that is, "Fuck off, and read more." The my buddy Jesus just doesn't do it for me, and when I do pray by myself it's completely for selfish reasons and rarely in a form that would seem to serve the proper purpose.
Prayer must have a wider definition than the usual-head-bowed-eyes-closed formula. Prayer must be more than words that are thought up on the spot. I find that when I write, play music, watch a film, discuss theology (not argue about it), read, and commune with others, I am closer to a holistic definition of prayer that actually encourages me to move. Prayer in the common form does nothing for me but remind me of how boring mainstream Christianity is-and that is the great tragedy of the 21st century. Too often to I hear of groups that come together to pray but do nothing else. This is not only counter-productive but contradictory. From what I can gather, prayer is not about a two-way conversation but a three-way one: God, the individual praying, and the surrounding community. When we forget about praxis, we have turned Christianity into a self-help guide that is only suited for privileged people that have no need for a better life. The prosperity gospel is far to prominent in its many deceptive forms. Speaking in tongues and prophecy have become euphemisms for a hyper-spirituality that does not cause social change but reduces the gospel to an "inner peace." Such a thing does not sound bad until we realize that we have been manipulated into believing in something that Jesus did not teach. Internal and external issues are equally important to God, but American privilege has allowed such divisions.
The power of prayer is a vague concept I can only hope will gain meaning in the future. As of now, I am sceptical. Prayer meetings have little use to me (I say this acknowledging that my own social location has influenced my view and in now way am I making these claims universal). I have seen prayer be used as an excuse to remain unmoved. I seen prayer used to misinterpret the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And I have seen prayer used in such vague ways that do nothing but remind me that it has lost its power amongst the Western privileged. I do not say this as a pessimist for I am happier than I have been in quite some time. I say this because I, and many others before me, have thought this but feared the wrath of the less educated who would demean it with claims of blasphemy. I can only hope that I will see prayer become something more substantial. Until then...amen.