Prayer and Prayings

 
I need to address this important subject because prayer is such a significant part of public church services and also it can be a vital part of one’s personal religious life.  Some people engage in praying very frequently and regularly.  Some people call it a time of meditation, a quiet time, time given to God, or something else.    For many people, they feel it is an important way in which they can grow in their personal relationship with God.  However many in the church have serious questions about prayer; how it works and if it does.

In traditional church instruction I have received over the years, and in the normal church service environment in which I often pray these days, an outside Supreme Being/Person is always been a ‘given’.   Such phrases as, ‘Let us come before God in prayer.’ are repeatedly used.  God is ‘someone’ to whom we have to ‘come’.  Speaking and listening to an outside, distinct Being is presumed to be what is happening.  This is usually accompanied by very anthropomorphic thinking and speech.  But as a non-theist, post-theism student, with no separate, distinct supreme Being, to whom can I talk or to whom I can listen when I pray?
 
Do I have to ‘start all over again’ in this area of religious life? Maybe not, but certainly I need to give a great deal of consideration and ‘faithful reappraisal’ to what I think I am doing when I pray and also to what the content of my prayers is.  Praying to or listening to an outside Being has never been a helpful idea to me.
 
Maybe I am a little too analytical and brain-centered, not giving enough room for feelings and emotions, but I press on.  When I participate in religious exercises, I want to understand to the best of my ability, what I am doing and why.
 
So what for me now?
 
The quotation below I think is well worth contemplating.  My following comments about prayer and praying have this quotation as its basis.

Hal Taussig posted in June 27, 2013 on his internet blog, a statement about prayer.
 
Prayer Is an Outpouring of Primal Emotion, not a Loyalty Oath.

Prayer makes humans more vibrant and conscious. Prayer is not just one thing, but an inexact set of practices that allow people to connect more deeply to lived experience. Countless prayer gestures connect people to what is happening in their lives: spoken and unspoken thanks around campfires, intentional silence giving way to a sense of expansiveness, swaying bodies davening the rhythms of Hebrew chant, conscious lament in the face of loss or failure, walking up a hill to see the sunset.   As the Native American poet Joy Harjo puts it:

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you
And know there is more.

So, the main point of prayer is human aliveness. Although in some circumstances praying can be boring, pretentious or silly, it mostly contributes to people shining, growing, reflecting, seizing the moment, resisting numbness, opening themselves, facing pain and problems, and coming closer to one another.

For me, this is as close as I have come to a helpful entry into thinking about prayer.   Jo Harjo continues,
 
Given the bossy ways some religious institutions prescribe prayer, it is quite surprising that prayer as experience and gesture does not require belief or religious adherence. Anyone can pray anywhere – within or outside of religious organization. You can yell at God, like the Hebrew psalmists, or you can run the last mile to finish the Boston marathon. The lonely soul can croon in the shower, the pilgrims can trek toward mountaintop or stained glass, and the gay teen can pick out his finery for the parade.

Unfortunately in North America and Europe, (and I suggest Australia as well) the sense of what prayer “should be” has been dominated by the mostly Protestant portrayal of prayer as a speech to God. This has tended to have the effect of silencing those who are not speech-makers and losing a wide array of prayer traditions that focus on other kinds of expression.

Prayer can be boring, pretentious or silly, but mostly it contributes to people shining, growing, seizing the moment, resisting numbness and coming closer to one another.   Perhaps even more surprising is that prayer does not require conscious allegiance to God. That some want prayer to be a kind of loyalty oath to God robs prayer of much of its power to orient and energize people. The urge to pray comes not so much from some divine policing of our behavior as from needs to cry out in pain, roar with joy upon landing a job, or stand still to remember a friend. It doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes needs mentoring of sorts – but prayer often flows generously and unprompted from human growth and longing.’

Within this framework of thinking, I share my understandings and experiences.
 
For me, the activity of praying is a mental/spiritual exercise, a thoughtful exercise but not always performed in silence.  Sometimes in public prayer we participate speaking aloud, as in repeating the Lord’s Prayer.  At other times we remain silent listening to the prayer being prayed.     In private prayer I do not usually speak aloud.  Some do, some don’t.   Mostly, I undertake it in the silence of my inner being.
 
I can speak only of my personal experience but I add a small smattering of psychology I have picked up along the way.
 
Psychologists often use the phrase ‘self-talk’.   Often it has to do with how we talk to ourselves about ourselves.  Dr Susan Whitbourne, currently professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, speaks of this concept on her website.

‘We all hold internal conversations as we go through our days, and sometimes nights. Psychologists have identified one important types of these inner monologues as self-talk, in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you are doing when you are doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice … You can actually ‘hear’ what your self-talk is saying.’ 

I believe that these internal monologues or dialogues we have with ourselves are amongst the most important ‘conversations’ we have.  They can help us crystallise our opinions and attitudes; they can influence our behaviour; they can motivate our actions; they can prompt love and hate.

Positive examples of ‘self-talk’ could be “I am doing this well.” or “I look nice in these clothes.” or “I’m glad I spoke up and stood up for what I believed”   Examples of negative self-talk can be, “I am making a mess of this.” or “I look awful in these clothes.” or “I should have kept my mouth shut.  People will think I’m stupid.”  We indulge in this sort of self-talking a lot and there are strategies we can use to make this ‘self-talk’ work for us in a positive way.  To some extent we can take control of this ‘self-talk’.
 
While acknowledging this sort of ‘self-talk’, I wish to use the term in a much wider sense. I wish to use the term as referring to the silent, or otherwise, talking we use every time we think and every time we question something or make decisions.  The level of self-awareness we have, can determine to an extent, the depth of our ‘self-talk’.
 
Sometimes we say, “I talked myself into it.”   I believe this is literally true.  After thinking about a matter for some time, we eventually come to a decision.   It might take some internal debating with ourselves, a lot of ‘self-talk’, but eventually we can literally ‘talk’ ourselves into it.
 
When reading about ‘self-talk’, I have found that the word ‘inner’ is used very often.   ‘Inner conversations’ and ‘the inner voice’ are phrases often used.   In a wider sense of the term I would suggest that ‘self-talk’ is experienced by most people in all of their daytime activities and at night as well. Think for just a moment.  You are silently reading the words on this page.  It could be said that you are talking to yourself using the words you are reading.
 
I accept that there are many ‘selves’ that form me.   There is my 14 year old self who makes himself very influential in some, very few I think, occasions.   It may be that this 14 year old self becomes influential when some experience I have reminds me of the way I reacted those many years ago.  During winter, my 3-4 year-old self speaks up nearly every time I get out of my daily hot shower.  This 3-4 year-old self of me begins crying because I remember that when I was very young, my mother used to bathe me and I hated being taken out of the warm water in the bath, into the cold, cold atmosphere of the bathroom. My present experience is that after the shower, my more mature self kicks in and tells me that the discomfort I am experiencing will last for just a few seconds and I ‘hear’ my mature self saying how fortunate I am that I am not part of the majority of human beings today who are not able to get warm when they are cold.   However, the 3-4 year-old self makes his presence felt and I need to quieten him down most mornings.
 
Another self may be my humble self who accepts my many limitations   It could be my passionate self, maybe aligned to my super ego, who wishes to bully others into my ‘correct’ way of thinking.  It may be my confident self who happily discusses with others, things important.  And so on.  So in my ‘self-talk’ I need to be as aware as I can, as to which other part of my total self I am conversing with. But internal conversations continue at a rare old rate!  Confusing?  Yes!  But that’s who I am.  All of us are very complex beings.
 
In my conversations with others, the idea of ‘self-talk’ is often given negative connotations.   It has often been said to me, “Talking to yourself is the first sign (of going mad)”.     I think this is an unhelpful, unfortunate and ill-informed comment.  It can nearly prevent ordinary people talking about ‘self-talk’ altogether.   Pity!
 
I wish to suggest that ‘self-talk’ is incredibly significant and in doing so, I wish to reclaim its importance regarding prayer and praying.   The depth of ‘self-talk’ which occurs in our inner selves, I believe is one of the experiences which defines us as human and maybe separates us from many other forms of life.    We can and in fact, do talk to ourselves.
 
If we take this ‘self-talk’ idea to an extreme, we could call some of it ‘self-chatter’.  We talk/chatter to ourselves when driving a car.  Instantaneously, most of the time, but we go through the process.  Our internal chatter goes, “There is a 60 km restriction sign.  I had better slow down a bit.  I will take my foot off the accelerator.”  It happens in an instant, automatically.  We take our foot off the accelerator and we slow down.  (I hope.)  Many of these sorts of actions happen so often that they become automatic and our mind is, one might say, in neutral.
 
‘Self-talk’ can give rise to decision making and so to our behaviour.   The more important the decision we need to make, the more comprehensive may be our thinking, our ‘self-talk’.
 
In many of the very serious conversations I have with my inner self, I can be involved with what I believe is my divine dimension, God Within.   The ‘self-talk’ conversation I have with God Within I believe is prayer.    I am not saying something flippant here.   I am saying something which is of great significance to me.  It is now a basis of my thinking about prayer.   The big difficulty for me, is that I seem to be replacing the Supreme Being, in whom I have believed and to whom I have prayed for so many years, with myself.   Is that not extremely presumptuous?  I press on.
 
Prayer for me, is very intentional ‘self-talk’; talking with and listening to God within.  If we do regard prayer as this sort of ‘self-talk’, it is a human exercise which does not need a separate outside Being/Person called God.   It involves the inner aspect of my being in a conversation with that divine dimension of me, which I call God Within.  I believe it is a profound human experience open to all human beings.  For those of us who are panentheists, the concept of God Within is consistent with God being in me and me being in God.   ‘In God I live and move and have my being.’  God Within, that spiritual dimension of me which makes me sacred, is in conversation with me in my ‘self-talk’, and it happens very intentionally many times.

Some might say God Within is our conscience.  Conscience can be defined as that aptitude, facility, intuition or judgment which assists us in distinguishing right from wrong.   Our culture, our up-bringing, our personal development, our past and present experiences, all contribute to its development.   In psychological terms, conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values.  I believe it can also lead to feelings of rectitude and self-affirmation when actions conform to such values.
 
Examples of the ‘self-talk’ that involve conscience are explained for me, by the use of idioms like, “I have a guilty conscience.”, ‘In all good conscience, I can’t ..”, “It’s a matter of conscience.”, “He pricked my conscience.”, “It weighs heavily on my conscience.” etc.   We can take note of our conscience and act accordingly or we can turn it off and act accordingly.
 
My concept of God Within is far more comprehensive than conscience; however conscience is involved.   God Within, my divine dimension, is much larger than that which prompts me regarding right and wrong.  God Within can be involved in nearly all my intentional ‘self-talk’, if I listen.
 
In our silent internal conversations, we can allow God Within to be involved or we can ignore God Within.  When we do take notice of God Within, this God conversation continues and the good, the loving, the healthy, the generous, the forgiving and the thankful can result.
 
I have written many lyrics about this sort of God Within conversation.
 
From my lyrics

Divine Persuasion
 
Dr Val Webb states:‘God is imaged metaphorically as Divine Persuasion – call it conscience, heart, ground of being, Love – Working within us and the world towards richness and wholeness.’
 
Divine Persuasion urges us, “Make life-enriching choices.”
At every time in every place hear silent sacred voices;
As thoughts divine direct our ways and with us earth rejoices;
We move to wholesomeness enhanced by life-enriching choices.
 
Divine Involvement permeates the essence of our nature;
Provokes, entices, sponsors us to forge a wondrous picture
Of human worth and dignity in every race and culture;
We move to wholesomeness and find the essence of our nature.
 
As ordinary church-goers, we are given the opportunity to participate in many different sorts of prayer. In public, this requires that the prayer content should reflect to a large extent, the common experience of the group in which the prayer is offered.
 
Prayers of Intercession. 

For me there are intercessory prayers and intercessory prayers.    Some can be like a basket of requests for a God to intervene and fix up things.   For me, some intercessory prayers can be little more than a Father Christmas wish list.   Some prayers seem to be cajoling a God to do something and to do it quickly.  I don’t believe in these sorts of intercessory prayer and I will not participate in nor lead other ordinary church-goers in such.
 
However, if the intercessory prayer encourages me to think positively about someone, if it invites my love to surround that person, if it challenges me to do whatever I can to stand with that person in their suffering, if the prayer suggests ways of possible prevention of similar suffering to others in future and/or if the prayer alerts me to situations of suffering I may not otherwise be aware of, then I would participate in such prayers.
 
I was once told that the only intercessory prayer that is effective is the prayer that challenges us to be responsible and sensitive in our time, place and situation and enjoins others that they be the same in their time, place and situation.  I personally find that helpful but I think our prayers for others can go a bit further.
 
I think there are many people in our churches today who attribute to a theistic God the good things that happen and they give thanks to God for them.  It seems, however, that many of these people are reluctant to also blame this same God when bad things happen or even when the good things prayed for do not happen.   Gretta Vosper in her book, With or without God states: –

Following any natural disaster, newspapers are filled with stories and pictures of people thanking God for their survival.  The feeling is natural but the attribution is problematic.  It is as though they are utterly oblivious to the loss or death of their neighbours, of children and the elderly – who have succumbed to the conditions…. We must listen to the words we so commonly use, and hear within them the silent implication that if God chose to save us from the flood, God must have also chosen not to save the person who drowned next door.

That seems to me to be a reasonable conclusion for those for whom intercessory prayer has not worked, even if they do not attribute to a God the bad things that happen.  It is not that this God has done something bad.  It is just that this God has not done enough good.   If this God has saved certain people from disaster or has healed certain people miraculously or has enabled certain people to escape injury, why then has this same God not chosen others to be protected or healed or escape injury?  It is not that people attribute curses to this God.  But this reasonable analysis remains – If this God chose to save/or heal some then this same God has also chosen not to save or heal others.    This is the core problem I have with a theistic God who can intervene.
 
Whenever some are chosen, in any situation for whatever reason, then there are others who are not chosen.   This is obvious common sense.   Choosing always creates a ‘them and us’ situation.  Not always but sometimes this can be unhelpful, even dangerous.
 
Inevitably comes the question, “Why?”  We humans are always looking for causes or reasons for what happens.  We are always asking the question, “Why?”, even from childhood.   We want to solve the mystery.  We don’t like unanswered questions.
 
If this God can be thanked for survival or healing or whatever, it is presumed that this God had something to do with it.  Otherwise why thank this God?   For some people this God is the whole answer and for others, at least part of the answer as to “Why?”   If there is an answer or at least part of an answer as to why some are saved/healed, it is quite reasonable for the same question be asked about those who are not saved/healed.
 
These questions, in my opinion, exist because of a biblically theistic view of God, a God out there who has the power to intervene; i.e. to heal, to save, to protect.  Sometimes this God does something and sometimes this God does not!    Can you see my problem?
 
This, I think is where some church people, usually unconsciously, can be unhelpful or even cruel.  The argument can sometimes go this way; “It cannot be God’s fault that a person was not saved or remains un-healed, because God is all-loving.  God always wants the best for all God’s children.   It must therefore be the fault of the person not saved or the fault of the people praying for the person who was not saved or remains un-healed.  It can’t be God’s fault.”
 
Then, recriminations can continue.  Not always, maybe not frequently, but by no means rare.  “The person suffering didn’t have enough faith.” or “You’ve got to pray believing.” or, “Those who were praying didn’t pray in the right frame of mind.”
 
When people say these things they may be trying to be well-meaning but this approach is cruel.   It’s called, ‘Blaming the victim’.  The person suffering or the people standing by trying to support the suffering one, do not need guilt heaped onto them as well.  They have enough to cope with as it is.
 
But because we continue to ask the question, “Why?”, because we wish to solve the mystery, at least partially, and because there are no clear and unambiguous answers that are satisfying, some find themselves going deeper into their pain because just maybe they are the cause of the lack of saving/healing.  It just might be because of their lack of faith.   It just might be that they are not praying in the right frame of mind.   Etc.   Guilt is added to pain.   It happens.   Recently in a church weekly news sheet that I read, there appeared a ‘Thank you’ notice.
 
‘Thank you to all who have prayed for the recovery of my husband from …  Our prayers were answered.  He has been cured.’

Others in that same congregation, who have partners with serious health conditions and for whom many prayers have been prayed, felt affronted by the imputation that their prayers were not effective because their loved ones had not been cured.  I have been told by some people how guilty they feel when this sort of unhealed, uncured situation occurs.  They feel their prayers have not been effective and they feel responsible because the healing has not happened.
 
I consider that a theistic, interventionist view of God not only permits, but also encourages some of these attitudes and beliefs.  This is the core of my problem with the biblical theism of which I speak.

 Some beliefs are based on the rewards and punishments approach to God.   The above cruel, insensitive attitudes sometimes arise from an emphasis on the judgements of God.   Good faith, strong faith, right faith is rewarded.  Lack of faith, wrong faith is not.  Lack of reward can border on punishment.   I think we should name this sort of belief and shame it. I believe it is anti-gospel.
 
So what for me now?
 
I have been involved in a Prayer chain, praying for someone in a life threatening situation. I have baptised infants who have been in imminent danger of dying.   Mothers have come to me on a few occasions, frightened that their newly born baby might go to hell if not baptised. (What an absolutely disgraceful teaching given by parts of the Christian church.  I believe it still happens.)  As a matter of pastoral concern I have baptised the unfortunate infant and in the process, I believe, brought comfort to the mother.
 
I have at times, joined in the laying on of hands in a special healing service when a person has requested that I be involved.  Again, as a matter of pastoral concern I would not separate myself from such a demonstration of compassion for the one who is stressed or in need of support.  I involve myself with all sincerity and not just as a show.   For me, these are certainly not the times to engage in theological discussion or questioning.
 
When people know that they are being prayed for by a chain of concerned people, when people realise that they are the centre of other peoples’ positive thoughts and silent prayers, it may sometimes make a positive difference.   It may even contribute to the healing process. Some people have told me that it has made a positive physical difference to them.   It is all a total mystery to me.  This is why I remain open to various ways of thinking and practice regarding prayer.   Who am I to discourage people’s desire, in whatever way they may find helpful, to seek some personal support and comfort or give support to their family, to their friends or even to strangers, in times of trauma?
 
Some have lived all their lives with the belief in a loving God who comes in times of trouble. Many have experienced ‘the everlasting arms’ of this love enfolding them, renewing their strength, enabling them to face tomorrow.  Who am I to question this experience of support and comfort?  Who am I to query such a connection between beliefs and the way people tackle life’s difficulties?  Many of us might remember verses in the gospels where Jesus, according to the gospel writers, said comforting things.
 
Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  (Matthew 11:28.)
 
Numerous believers have gone to such verses and found in them, an assurance that may have been the difference between giving up and enduring to the end.   Who am I to suggest this is not authentic living?
 
I would not go so far as some clergy who say they no longer believe in intercessory prayer, but I think we need to be as clear and as unambiguous as we can, when we talk about such things.
 
I think most people, most of the time, want to be helpful and considerate of others but unfortunately sometimes their beliefs prevent this from happening.
 
An important reason to risk thinking more deeply about this issue, I believe, is that people who believe that intercessory prayer has not worked are often forced into silence.  We are told that it is not a good thing to question a person’s beliefs, particularly if those beliefs are a source of strength and comfort.  Beliefs are sacrosanct. They should not be questioned.  Fair enough. But most of these people for whom intercessory prayer has not worked are then forced into silence.  They remain mute.  Sometimes they suffer in silence, unable to accept their situation but also not able to voice their feelings for fear of upsetting someone for whom such prayers have worked. Those suffering need to be given a voice. Their stories have got to be heard.
 
However, if we do confront these situations and attitudes/beliefs, are we calling on ordinary church-goers to question the idea of God intervening?  This can be very threatening.   If God doesn’t make things happen or prevent other things from happening, who or what does?  If we can’t pray to God for help what can we do?  If we can’t answer these questions we are left with too much uncertainty.  We are left without the security based on what we may have believed and what the church may have taught us for years and years and still does.  Someone must be driving the bus! I have been taught that God is the driver.
 
And then we can be confronted by the dreaded scenario – death.  I quote again from Gretta Vosper’s book.
 
‘We explain the tragedy of death by assuring ourselves that God, in love, took the deceased home to heaven.   It is crucial that we peel away the interventionist deity concept from our belief system and face reality.   We are the origin of blessing and curse in our world, not some otherworldly deity – not in Christianity, not in Judaism, not in Hinduism, not in Islam, not anywhere.’

That is hard!   And because it is so hard, I think, we and some church leaders avoid speaking this way.  I believe the above quote puts the issue in cold hard terms but, I believe, these are appropriate for thinking about this complex issue.  I believe firmly that humanity, generally, is responsible for much of the blessings and curses we experience in this world; not all, but quite a bit.    The above quotation says that ‘We are the origin….’ and I find this coverall statement difficult because it is obvious that sometimes humanity is not the origin of blessings or curses.   I think Vosper is arguing that an interventionist deity is not involved.
 
Another suggested part of this picture is the behaviour of nature.  Nature is sometimes thought of as being the source of blessing and curse in our world.   We don’t control nature but surely God does.  God, I have been taught, is almighty.  As asked before, “If God doesn’t make things happen or prevent things happening, who or what does?  Someone must be driving the bus!”   Gretta Vosper continues.
 
‘Some might look at hurricanes and landslides and want to add nature as co-creator of blessing and curse, too; despite the fact that lately we’ve been found to be terribly responsible for what Nature has been handing us.  I would agree that what nature doles out is neither blessing nor curse – it just is.’ 

What is, is just what is.  I think we need to accept this.   This is not fatalism that everything is pre-ordained, but it is an acceptance of the things we cannot control as just happening with no consideration of what the implications are for humanity.  Nature behaves according to the laws of nature, those dictates which have evolved with the Earth, in our solar system and in the rest of the cosmos over many billions of years.  These laws and processes are amoral.   What is, just is and when we humans get caught up or affected by nature, chance or luck can be at play.   To think otherwise and suggest that God is acting with rewards and/or punishments is monstrous to me.  Some dangerous religious leaders still preach that God who rewards and punishes, uses nature to execute these judgements.  The results of the so called ‘Acts of God’ in nature are random as far as their effect on human beings is concerned.  To suggest that God has a decisive hand in them, is to point to a God whom I would have nothing to do with at all.  Jesus does not teach about this sort of God.
 
Gretta Vosper asks a few piercing questions.
 
Can one’s concept of a guiding, loving God be a source of help to them in difficult situations?  Absolutely.   Does everyone experience it this way?  Of course not.  Should the church declare and guarantee not only that an omnipotent, omniscient god helps everyone in this same way (when clearly it does not) but that everyone should seek guidance from it?  Absolutely not.   Could the church help us to figure out how to choose to be a blessing instead of a curse?  How to open ourselves to another’s plight instead of retreating into a guarded self-protection?  How to open our hands instead of closing them whether we believe or not in God?   I certainly hope so.  If not, we might be sunk.
 
Some theologians say that prayer is the living out of love, etc.  I do not support this because I believe that prayer is the internal thinking/listening/speaking process with God Within that motivates/prompts future action.  Prayer and the following action are different; obviously connected, but different.  If no action follows prayer, the prayer is idle chatter.  Action authenticates prayer, but I believe action is not the same as prayer.
 
From my lyrics

Praying – Living values
 
When I pray I feel more deeply;
Reaching out with thanks and praise;
When I pray I think more deeply;
Pondering life’s puzzling maze;
When I pray I live more deeply
In the values love conveys.
 
When I pray I can’t act badly
Giving way to grim deceit;
When I pray I can’t be angry,
Wishing for some vengeance sweet;
When I pray I’m far more ready
To befriend each one I meet.
 
I believe that we are the channels of love to the world; we are those who can bring about justice and equality; we can give comfort and support.   If we don’t then it just may not happen.   If we don’t decide to live lives of compassion there is no point praying to a God of love.  If we don’t work for justice there is no point praying to a God of justice. If we don’t support those who are suffering, there is no point praying for support a God can give.
 
From ‘Process Theology – A basic introduction’ by C. Robert Mesle, states:-
 
‘Every person incarnates the divine call – i.e. incarnates God – to some degree.’ 

From my lyrics

God’s Incarnation
 
We can be God’s incarnation
When we live in love and peace;
God’s own kingdom is reflected
When all wars and conflicts cease;
With the promise
Of true justice
We may see God’s reign increase.
 
We can be God’s incarnation
When we link with Galilee;
God’s own kingdom is reflected
In our life and ministry,
When with Jesus
We find purpose
Bringing love to victory.
 
So with God Within involved in all these personal matters, prompting and guiding my beliefs, attitudes and actions, God Within is very much part of my internal conversation that I have with myself on a nearly continuous basis, my ‘self-talk’.   As part of this, my conscience, my inner voice, my ‘self-talk’ can be powerful.
 
But then there is still the question, “Who is driving the bus?” “Who is in control?”   I do not think of God as the driver but as a co-passenger, in each passenger.   Whether the bus is being driven through the beautiful countryside with lovely views on each side that we enjoy, or whether the bus has just crashed through a safety rail at the top of a cliff and is plunging to a rocky, tragic disaster below, God is in each one.  We, the passengers, are not alone.   God is not the author of the accident but God is in us in the event.   God is involved, inherent in all our suffering and all our good times.  If we die, we die into God.  If we live, we still have our life and our being in God.    In our grieving, God Within us is grieving.  When we suffer, God suffers.
 
Here is an example of a prayer of intercession which I find helpful, involving and deeply meaningful.   It was offered by one of the congregation at the Toronto Uniting Church in New South Wales, Australia very recently.
 
As we pray may we see ourselves in the prayers we share!

May the light of these words fall strongly upon each of us.

May we find the truth they reveal in our own being, and may we respond with compassion and love.

(PAUSE)

I invite you to ………… be still.   Slow down.

Find the centre, where God is.

It is from this place – not our head, not even our heart, but from the depths of our being, where God is.   From the depth of the silence, we are called to LISTEN! 

(SILENCE)

In this time, amongst these people, may we sit and be STILL!

May we learn to open the depths of our being to others that we might cast light into darkness, and wonder into reality, and in turn be lifted by the beauty and truth we offer to each other.

We light a candle as we pray.

We woke this morning and the news was still bad – we weren’t having a nightmare!   The reality of the Syrian situation is at last sinking in!  

We want to speak about our despair and helplessness for the Syrian people, for the people of Iraq.   Our response still paralysed by the enormity of the situation.   We hear and see pictures of the children in the cities around Mosul – some of them not knowing the freedom and light that education gives, not ever feeling safe!

We pray for tables of diplomacy and cooperation between nations; for those who strive for liberation and justice, bringing God’s wisdom; for peace that transcends differences.

We light a candle as we pray.

There are many countries where genocide and ancient grudges are responsible for violence, rape, abduction, death, where fear and anger dominate human hearts.

Can we imagine a world when anger will no longer be a motive, when fear will no longer be the reason for brutality?  

When anger and fear will give way to healing – to wholeness – to God!   (PAUSE)

Can we imagine a world when power will no longer be found in armaments, when strength will not be found through oppression?

When armaments and oppression will give way to justice – to freedom – to God!   (PAUSE)

May this vision be seen more fully in us?

We light a candle as we pray.

From the depths of our being can we imagine a world when people will no longer be suspicious, when terror will no longer control us?

When suspicion and terror will give way to community – to love – to God! (PAUSE)

Can we imagine a world when children, women and men will no longer cry out from abuse, when “life” is seen as precious and will no longer suffer needlessly?

When abuse and suffering will give way to care – to harmony – to God!

May this vision be seen more fully in us?

We light a candle as we pray.

We pray for those in our community who want to be fully included – the stranger among us, for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

We pray for those we know who always seem to fail; those in the grip of habit, addiction and abuse.

Daily we see and read of the failures of those in principal positions of care, whose treatment of patients, parishioners, clients, spouses, and children leave us feeling ashamed, yet also mindful of our own shortcomings.

Can we imagine a new world where we are ready to make a creative difference?

We pray for those whom we know who are suffering – are ill (………. waiting for test results.   (PAUSE)  

Those who are in grief (the family and friends of …….. )   (PAUSE)

The weak and frail among us, many of whom are forgotten or disregarded!   (PAUSE)

Those struggling in the darkness of depression!   (PAUSE)

When wounded-ness, isolation, loneliness give way to mercy – to compassion – to God!

May this vision be seen more fully in us?

We light a candle as we pray.

For ourselves we pray – for that safe place where we can speak of what is hard to talk about.

We offer our attempts at patience, at loving.

Our attempts to receive those who are different from us;

Our attempts to keep our ears perked to hear all the voices in our world, to see through inner eyes, and listen to a still, soft voice within.

We light a candle as we pray.

May we be courageous in our action!

May we be faithful in our loving!

May we be transformed as we pray!

Amen.

Thank you, Di Atkinson. (Di acknowledges that some of the thoughts in her prayer come from others but she is not sure who.  She says, ‘Thanks’.)
 
Prayers of Thanksgiving.
 
How is a post-theism student thankful if there is no one to whom she/he can give thanks?      I have problems with thanking God for blessings because if I attribute the good things that happen to me to God and thank God for them, then I have a problem when such good things do not happen to others.    To use our traditional anthropomorphic talk, “Does God favour me and not favour others?”   I think not!
 
Sometimes in church I hear a prayer that gives thanks to God for living in Australia with all the benefits we enjoy.  Did God organise me being born in Australia?   I have problems.
 
So what for me now?
 
I think that being thankful and giving someone thanks engenders the same inner human feelings/emotions.   The experience is similar. If I am thankful, I am not suggesting that God has favoured me over others but if I thank God then the problem arises for me.
 
Sometimes we need to be intentional about our thanksgiving.  We may need to prompt ourselves or be prompted into giving thanks. I believe this self-prompting comes from God Within.   We can be thankful that we or someone else has had a safe journey, that the bushfire did not burn our home down, that an operation was successful, that a growth was not malignant, that the weather was what we wanted it to be, that we were not injured in the motor vehicle accident; and so on.  In life, it is often very appropriate to thank some other human being.   Some of the good outcomes in life can be attributed to the responsible, generous or compassionate activity of others.   In the case of an operation we can give our thanks to the surgeon.   In the case of a safe journey we can give our thanks to the bus or train driver or air pilot.   In the case of a bush fire it may be very appropriate that we give our thanks to the volunteer fire-fighters.
 
But there are happenings in our lives for which we can just be thankful, sometimes profoundly thankful. Sometimes a good outcome might be pure luck and we say, “Thank goodness.”   I think that’s great!  A growth not being malignant will generate relief and thanksgiving.  That is a matter of our good fortune as well as, possibly, good diet, avoiding smoking, etc.   Our ‘self-talk’ can be, “I am so thankful.”  In the case of a motor vehicle accident, we can be thankful and maybe feel a bit guilty, if we were in the back seat and luckily walk away from the accident uninjured.  If we had been sitting next to the driver we would have been killed. If we thank some God, where does that leave the person who was killed and others associated with the person who was killed?  Again, let us just be thankful.
 
Being thankful, thankful ‘self-talk’ is good for the soul, our inner being.  When we are thankful, this, for me, is a prayer of thanksgiving.  God Within is in our self-talking.   This is thankful ‘self-talk’ but we are not thanking ourselves.  We may not be thanking anyone else either but in our ‘self-talk’ we are still being thankful.
 
Let us be thankful for the good things and work to enhance life, thus making more good things happen.  Let us rejoice in the good things that happen, the ordinary as well as the miraculous, the unexplainable, and the mysterious.   But let us do it in a way that does not raise negative implications for other people who are in situations that are not good.  Let us do it in a way that does not create, even by implication, a ‘them and us’ picture.  Let us do it in a way that encourages hope and not despair, hope and not guilt.  Let us rejoice and be thankful and leave it at that.  I believe this enhances our thankfulness.  It does not diminish it.
 
I believe this attitude is consistent with a non-theistic based theology.   It fits well with panentheistic beliefs. I believe that the biblical theism of which I speak, with its interventionist implications, points in a very different direction that I do not follow.
 
Prayers of Confession.

As understood by many ordinary church-goers, prayers of confession have to do with confessing our sins.    This is what I have been taught.   It has to do with saying, “Sorry”.    But confession can have to do with confessing our faith.   Confession is not necessarily connected only with wrong-doing.
 
However, when we move to confession of wrong-doing it can be, for some people, the most serious of ‘self-talk’.   Self-examination can lead to self-rejection, self-affirmation or both.  If it leads to self-rejection it is often accompanied by depression and guilt, and these can be very strong, sometimes overwhelming human emotions.    When feeling guilty we can think we have done or said something wrong and we wish we hadn’t.  Maybe we have not done or said something that we feel we should have done or said and we feel sorry.   Hindsight can both affirm us and challenge us, even convict us.
 
If guilt does take over, we might feel we could make an endless list of our failings.  I am reminded of many human failings in the prayers of confession in church services I attend.   These prayers are often very detailed, very personal and we are encouraged to own the sins mentioned.  “Forgive us Lord.” Or, “We confess these our wrong doings.” These responses can nearly compel us to own the sins listed.  These prayers often end with a longer response like, “We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed.  Lord, hear our prayer and in your mercy forgive us.”  If we listen to these prayers, we are left with little doubt about how guilty we should feel about ourselves.   Prayers of confession are usually followed immediately with a pronouncement of God’s forgiveness but I often wonder if this has the impact that is desired.   I would hope so.
 
If we take notice of the lyrics of many of the traditional hymns we sing in church services, they leave little doubt in our minds about how sinful we all are.  There are practically no hymns in our traditional hymnbooks which suggest there is anything good about humanity.  Are we encouraged to think of ourselves as ‘utterly depraved’?   Maybe not to that extreme but pointing in that direction.   One hymn I remember from my youth, mentioned already, has, ‘Before thy throne we sinners bend’ in every verse.  The main traditional Christian emphasis that has been taught in the church through the centuries is that the cross of Jesus was necessary to pay the price for our sin.  The sacrifice of Jesus, I have been told, was necessary to enable God to forgive my sin, as well as everybody else’s.  This leads to two main emphases of traditional Christian theology as I remember; that of the great love of God to initiate and accept such a sacrifice and the great sin of humanity that made it necessary.  Do the Genesis stories still have some influence regarding this negative view of human-beings?  This sort of Fall/Redemption theology is so unhelpful to me these days.  I find much of this is expressed in prayers of confession.
 
So what for me now.
 
I believe we need to acknowledge we could be better people.  When we intentionally contemplate this, this ‘self-talk’ is for me, a prayer of confession.   I see no reason to call it other.  God Within prays our prayer.
 
I believe God Within is in all this ‘self-talk’ with us.   We are prompted by our beliefs in the good and thus, by the comparison we make between the good and what we think of ourselves and some of our past behaviour, God Within prompts us to accept our shortcomings and also accept that we are accepted as we are, the good parts as well as the not-so-good parts.
 
“Confession is good for the soul”, we are told.  I believe this is very true and one might add, “All things in moderation.”  We need to find a balance.  Maybe we need to accept that we are both good and not so good; that we do have a bright side as well as a dark side.
 
To use the somewhat questionable analogy of the courtroom – God Within is our prosecution and our judge; and God Within is our defence.  God Within is in the dock in us.  God Within is our forgiveness and the erasing of our criminal record. God Within gives the pronouncement of absolution.  God Within is the challenge to improve our performance in future.  God Within is inherent and totally involved.
 
Prayers of Adoration.

As a non-theist what can adoration mean if I have no separate, external, Supreme Being/Person to praise and adore?    How can a prayer of adoration be prayed if there is no distinct Being to adore?
 
So what for me now?
 
As a post-theism student, I go to my concept of God Beyond.   I refer you back to the previous article on a Trinitarian Faith.  Amongst other things I make belief statements about God Beyond.
 
God Beyond is the life within all that exists and lives, including me, but not limited to me; other people, trees, ants, rocks, moon, stars, galaxies and most microbes and bacteria outside, beyond me.  God Beyond is God everything has its being in. The phrase God Beyond is appropriate because nearly everything is beyond or outside of me.
 
I also make mention earlier, with regard to the universe being magic and awesome.
 
Nature, the Cosmos is absolutely and utterly awe inspiring.  No question!  We only need to look at the starry sky at night, we only have to contemplate the complexity, the intricacy of the human body and how it functions, and we only need to think about the interdependence of all living things on our planet earth …. and so on endlessly, to say that the Cosmos, Nature, the creatures and all else that are part of it are beyond imagination in beauty, functioning and interdependence.  Pure magic! 
 
Adoration, if you wish, and awe I find totally appropriate.  I can say quite comfortably that I adore the way the trees seem to dance in the wind. I can say that I adore the way you smile. Even though adoration makes a lot of sense to me, I prefer the words ‘awe’ and ‘thankfulness’ in the religious prayer context.
 
From my lyrics

In awe and thankfulness
 
For God inherent and within,
That sacredness when we begin,
In awe and thankfulness we raise
Our hymns and prayers in grateful praise.
 
For God in process, movement, change,
In all things common, also strange,
In awe and thankfulness we raise
Our hymns and prayers in grateful praise.
 
In the lyrics above I am speaking of the ever and always in-dwelling God and not as an external Supreme Being to be worshipped and adored.  Before a God-saturated universe, a universe-saturated God I can only stand in silence and awe.   I believe prayers in church services can have the tone and content of adoration without reference to an external, distinct, Supreme Being.  In the face of such an ever-changing universe, speaking of a Creator in the terms I have become used to in the church, presents me with a concept of a God, that is far too small.
 
God Beyond is totally mysterious yet ever present to and in all.  My response to the awesomeness of the universe, to all that is around outside and within me, is one of praise and thanksgiving.  Yes, adoration.
 
I have written many lyrics about this.  Being in awe of the Mystery is what is important for me.   Many may call this adoration.  That’s OK but, for me, not adoration of a distinct, supernatural, supreme, creator Being/Person, God.
 
There is so much to fill the empty space created by rejecting a theistic Creator/God.
 
Prayers of Supplication and Petition.
 
These prayers no longer have a significant place in my understanding of prayer.
 
So what for me now?
 
I can meditate on having more patience, more tolerance, etc., but this, for me, is the ‘self-talk’ of which I have been speaking.   It is my internal challenge of being truly human, with such words as, “May I be……”, “May I have…..”
 
From the Macquarie Dictionary the definition of ‘supplication’ is
 
humble prayer, entreaty, petition’;
 
and of ‘petition’ the definition is
 
a request made for something desired, especially a respectful and humble request, as to a superior or to one, or those in authority’.
 
The desire for changed behavior is totally appropriate but for me, they do not revolve around or are involved with an external supernatural Supreme Being.   For me, this attitude is all about God Within and the ‘self-talk’ to encourage it to happen.  It is not me helping me but my divine dimension having influence.  I believe this can be very intense for some people.   For me, ‘Letting go and letting God’ fits in here, when approached panentheistically.
 
I recently heard of a priest who asked his congregation to pray for a particular rugby team to win a match.  I know this is somewhat of an extreme and it is absurd and disgraceful but it happens.   It happened just the other day and it was not done as a joke!   It was serious!   What would God do if a neighboring parish prayed for the other team to win????  I often hope that weather will be good for a particular event, but to pray to a God that this will be the case is, I believe, manipulatively absurd.
 
The language we often have used in prayers in church services.
 
It is my experience of public prayer in the church environment, I always hear the words as those addressing a separate outside Being.  Prayer, being conversation, involves two parties.   I believe most ordinary church-goers, living their religious lives in an environment saturated with biblical theism, would regard the other party as external, a separate outside Being.   I am suggesting that the ‘other party’ is internal.  That is why I speak of ‘self-talk’, speaking to and with God Within.    I think this points to the fundamental difference between biblical theism and panentheism.
 
Significantly different understandings of God lead to significantly different ways of praying and thus the language we use in prayers.  The sort of prayer language I experience in church services has not changed in any significant way from 1000, 2000 years ago.  A separate out-there Being we call God has always been a ‘given’ and still is.  Although not actually stated, this separate out-there Being is assumed by the many often repeated phrases like, “We come into your presence …”, “Let us come into the presence of God…”, “Hear our prayer O God…”, “Our Father who art in Heaven…”, “In your mercy, O God, forgive us…”., “We thank you, O God…”, etc.    I have heard these phrases continually in my 80 years of church attendance.   I have often heard it said that personal relationships grow with communication and if biblical theism dominates then having the conversation with an out-there separate Being is totally appropriate.   These phrases fit perfectly.   I have to do theological cartwheels to feel involved.  The time of the church service I attend has changed from 11.00am to 9.00am but, in my estimation not much else has changed in the prayers prayed.   Even inclusive language is still a matter of some debate.   For goodness sake!
 
So what for me now?
 
I believe we can have the experience of thanksgiving, celebration, confession, intercession, adoration etc. in prayers and liturgies without the presumption of an out-there separate theistic God, without addressing this God.  The website of Rev Rex A.E. Hunt as well as websites of many other Progressive Christians, give abundant resources for such prayers and liturgies.
 
As I say in my lyrics

Moving forward in belief

When we ponder what we value,
When we search our past belief,
Then we struggle to surrender
What we’ve known that’s brought relief.
 
We are called to venture forward;
We are challenged to review
Our beliefs and our behavior;
Always seeking what is true.
 
I have tried to deal with prayer and praying from an ordinary church-goers perspective and from what my experience has been, however in the broader sense of the meaning of prayer and praying I wish to reiterate that with which I began.
 
Prayer makes humans more vibrant and conscious. Prayer is not just one thing, but an inexact set of practices that allow people to connect more deeply to lived experience.    So, the main point of prayer is human aliveness. Although in some circumstances praying can be boring, pretentious or silly, it mostly contributes to people shining, growing, reflecting, seizing the moment, resisting numbness, opening themselves, facing pain and problems, and coming closer to one another.

Given the bossy ways some religious institutions prescribe prayer, it is quite surprising that prayer as experience and gesture does not require belief or religious adherence. Anyone can pray anywhere — within or outside of religious organization. You can yell at God, like the Hebrew psalmists, or you can run the last mile to finish the Boston marathon. The lonely soul can croon in the shower, the pilgrims can trek toward mountaintop or stained glass, and the gay teen can pick out his finery for the parade.

Perhaps even more surprising is that prayer does not require conscious allegiance to God. That some want prayer to be a kind of loyalty oath to God robs prayer of much of its power to orient and energize people. The urge to pray comes not so much from some divine policing of our behavior as from needs to cry out in pain, roar with joy upon landing a job, or stand still to remember a friend. It doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes needs mentoring of sorts – but prayer often flows generously and unprompted from human growth and longing.’

My ‘self-talk’ in praying often centres on the words of the Serenity Prayer:
 
May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference;
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as a rough pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would like to have it;
Living with the hope that life is good and love can make a difference.
 
Like in other aspects of my journey, I have had to do a great deal of ‘faithful reappraisal’, ‘faithful revision’, ‘faithful replacement’ and some ‘faithful rejection’.  My summation of my situation is that I do not need to ‘start all over again’ but I do need to take cognisance of my previous beliefs and work with them, not being afraid to change the words of my prayers when I think it is appropriate.  This is a continuing process for me.

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