Prayer is not a secret code whereby persons can get God to do their biddings. I was raised (thank you, Jesus) by parents who had Christian faith and were committed to going to church every week and also reading the Bible. Thus at some point—I could not have been older than ten—I read or heard of Jesus’ saying that if you had faith you could tell a mountain to go into the sea. I lacked any personal experience with mountains, yet still I knew this wouldn’t happen. And I worried that faith was impossible.
Yes, Jesus says “Ask, and you will receive.” But he also says not to worry because our heavenly Father already knows what we need before we ask.
So there are two things to say. First, God wants us to ask him for whatever we need or want. He wants us to open up ourselves to him, quite regardless of whether our wants are what they ought to be. I might feel my heart is in a rather bad place and I’d rather not tell God what I’m desiring at the moment. This will not do. Prayer is opening up to God whatever it is that is within us.
But God will not give us bad things, even if we ask for them. Why then does he want us nonetheless to ask? Because (this is the second thing to say) prayer is not an exchange of information. It is, instead, a movement into intimacy with God.
And closeness with God is the point. It is also, I suppose, the deepest desire of our hearts, restless, as Augustine said, until they rest in God himself. All our words or actions in prayer, from the thoughts of our hearts to the gathered sharing in the gifts of God at the Holy Table, aim not at getting something from God but at being with God, coming to know his heart.
Herbert McCabe was a brilliant yet unprepossessing Dominican of the last century. I recently found a BBC Sunday service from Blackfriars at Oxford. It’s the first Sunday of Advent, maybe forty years ago; McCabe introduces the service amusingly (it’s the first Sunday of Advent), and then preaches. His sermon is an amazingly clear and simple setting forth, in less than fifteen minutes, of the fundamentals of Christian prayer. The sermon starts at about 16:00. Enjoy it here.
Out & About. I am to preach at the traditional services at Incarnation in Dallas on July 24, at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.
Looking Ahead. You still have two months to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in preparation for our first fall book seminar. It will be on Sunday, September 18, at 5pm at Incarnation in Dallas.
And in the evening of Sunday, October 9, I will give the fall theology lecture. The topic is the theology of walking; I will include muchos reflections on walking the Camino de Santiago.