Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Priority of Prayer

"The ongoing witness of the Taize community is..."

A little more than two weeks after the adventure in Pine Ridge, I find myself surprised by this Captain Obvious insight: the ongoing witness of the Taize community is... prayer. Not pilgrimage. Not candles. Not even silence or singing, though of course the character of Taize touches all of these things. Prayer: in community with Christ at the center; in daily rhythm; the conviction that prayer orders all else, informs all else. 

Prayer as Scripture-prompted conversation with the risen Christ.

Not always sexy. Sometimes boring. Frequently simple obedience. Patience. Receiving the Word that comes from outside of ourselves. Prayer: leading to listening (silence). Prayer: leading to speaking (song). But first, the simple commitment to pray.

On the last day of our time in South Dakota, Brother Emile met with a group of us to debrief the days and look forward to the future. His interest was surprising and instructive: he wanted to know about the groups that were committed (or committing) to regular prayer back home.(1)

The priority of prayer may be the hardest thing Christians are asked to maintain in our daily lives.

In recent years, a popular interpretation of the missional church movement (to which my own ministry is greatly indebted) has lead congregations to swap Sunday morning worship for ministry in the world, usually some kind of outreach or service project. Without presuming to know - much less judge - the intent of those who have trialled this practice, I have wondered what the exchange conveys about the relationship between prayer and action. The exchange seems to pit as enemies - or at least as trade-offs - two activities that normatively play for the same team.

In my own life, I have little doubt that I have much room to grow with respect to loving actions toward my neighbors. But when I consider the things in my life that prevent a fuller living out of love toward my neighbors, I confess that worship is not among them. I regret the days I spend too much time on Facebook. I regret the days I spend too much time insulating myself from need of God by my worry and lame attempts at fool-proof, long-term plans. I regret the days I overextend myself and hurry too much. But I have yet to end a day lamenting, "If only I had not prayed so much today."

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(1) "Taize is not a movement," Brother Emile said. "We don't mind you advertising 'with the music of Taize', but we aren't about furthering Taize." Just behind his spoken words, an echo of St. Paul: 
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)

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