Posted by: Titus Presler | December 15, 2011

Prayer Supreme: Meditation for Advent III Thursday

“It is not that conduct is supremely important and prayer may help it, but that prayer is supremely important and conduct tests it.”  So said William Temple, English bishop and theologian in the first half of the 20th century.  Labor relations and social justice, mission and ecumenism were all commitments that Temple engaged in the public eye of church and state.  Yet for this major activist, praying was the central act.

What does that mean?  It is only in prayer that we can track along with what God may be up to with us and in the world.  And what does that mean?  Commitments and initiatives are life-absorbing instead of life-giving when they become our fixation.  Regardless how compelling the cause, we need regularly to let it go and simply be.  In that relinquished state, we are again available to God.  We encounter God afresh.  We encounter ourselves afresh.  We become able to access again the true depth and breadth of life.  We become accessible to God’s mid-course corrections.  This state of attentive rest with God is what the Christian tradition knows as contemplation.  It renews our very being.

We tend to think of Mary the mother of Jesus as simply a receiver.  She received a revelation, a promise, a child.  Might she not also have been an activist?  Certainly her song, the Magnificat, marks her as a person ready to join God in challenging the powers of the world.  What was Mary doing when Gabriel visited her?  I like to think of her at prayer.  Through contemplation she was in a state where God could reach her, where she could join God’s activism in the human story.  (Luke 1:26-56)

My wife Jane was visiting General Seminary from Zimbabwe when Desmond Tutu was on sabbatical there and it was announced that he was to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work and witness in South Africa.  TV cameras waited on the sidewalks.  Accolades flowed in from around the world.  Amid the tumult Jane noticed this: “At every service in the chapel, he was the first to be there, alone at prayer.  And usually he was the last to leave, still at prayer.”

“Pray without ceasing,” the apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:17).  I hear that as an encouragement to be oriented always toward God.  Times apart are what sustain that orientation in the urgencies of life: times with ourselves and with God.

Pray.  It’s supremely important.
This meditation is adapted from Titus Presler’s “Alert for Signs: Seeing and Praying through Advent” (Forward Movement Publications).

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