I asked a Jewish friend what elements made up their Sabbath service. His answer, “Mostly prayers.” What? They just prayed the whole time? That didn’t seem very interesting to me.
A prayer is defined as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
So, I began to think about the church service and liturgy where I attend. I realized almost every facet is really a prayer. From the opening invocation, through all the responses, we’re basically praying, right down to the benediction—a prayer of blessing.
Every hymn or song would fit that definition. So would every anthem (but that prayer is only sung by folks who can sing better than most of us). Music resonates with prayerful mystery as it stirs us internally through its energizing vibrations.
While the sermon is basically an explanation directed to the congregation, I think in many ways it is an explanatory prayer for those gathered. Or, maybe the pastor is just praying we’ll stay awake.
So, what’s the connection between a church service and C-A-R-E that I’ve covered in my past four blogs? In mainline churches most of the elements can be easily recognized.
Centering is anything that gets us into the mindset of paying attention. An organ prelude is a musical invitation to center one’s self in the moment. In our church, the “Opening Invocation” is now sometimes called a “Centering Prayer.” I would also consider the sharing of joys and concerns from the members a way of preparing ourselves for what needs and actions we can set our hearts on during the service.
Appreciation occurs in the many times we express awe and gratitude. Notice how frequently hymns use words like adoration, praise, and thankful.
I believe that appreciating where we are, or aren’t, in life is a significant factor in how whole we feel. How positive or not we rate our lives. The path to wholeness requires self-examination and appreciation.
Reconciling starts with acknowledging our short-comings of thoughts and actions. While I don’t have the least sense of being a “sinful person” in the original sin sense of that concept, there are plenty of ways I really need to act differently to imitate the epitome of good, Jesus. How many ways as individuals, or collectively as “the body of Christ,” do we need to change our relationships with ourselves, others, and any part of creation?
Traditionally, most Christian church services were designed to worship and get right with God. While I feel we need to appreciate, that is, learn about and understand the Ultimate Reality we call God, feeling subservient to a being hovering above and judging us is not my reality.
To me, the whole purpose of a church service is to Energize us. It’s a safe place—hopefully, if it’s not a judgmental church—where we can be vulnerable and share our limitations. Yet we can also rejoice and recognize our collective ability to accomplish much. This is the power of gatherings of Jesus followers, and the more the elements of CARE are purposefully encountered, the easier it is to experience wholeness.
From Passivity to Intervention
I’ll highlight one part of a typical mainstream church service: the “Prayer of the Church.” Although it goes by various names in other denominations, in the Lutheran church, it’s when we offer intercessory prayers for a long list of things. For each petition, the congregational responds, “Hear our prayer.” To my ears, that says, “I want You—anthropomorphic God—to make this happen.”
Instead, this is exactly where we should be energized. When we hear a request for help, we should respond, “I’m listening! And I want to do something about it.” As Pope Francis says, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
Now, I fully realize we’re not able to solve every problem that might be mentioned. But, at a minimum, we can file the concern in our mind and later find some way to either physically remediate the situation or at least change our attitude about how we view the problem. No request should lead to passivity.
The Buddhist Karmapa notes that “compassion is not passive or helpless. …With real compassion, even if you see nothing to be done at that moment, you do not withdraw your concern. In fact, you reinforce it with the resolution to keep looking until you find a way to ease their pain.”
I often wonder, what if the entire congregation realized they aren’t passively asking God to be an intervener, but shouted, “We’ll intervene!” Now, that would be energizing.
My wife attends a women’s group called Rebekah Care Circle. During each month’s meeting they go around the room and ask for prayer concerns. I believe simply voicing those concerns is the actual prayer. When the leader incorporates it into her more formal prayer, it’s an opportunity for everyone to reinforce their compassion for that person. Will God swoop down and solve all those issues? Of course not. But by that time, every person there shares love and awareness of the personal situations that are wanting wholeness.
Even though I don’t think there’s a god who hears our prayers, I do feel it’s important to let folks know that others are expressing concern for them. That’s the multiplier effect of the divine vibes of CARE. I like to imagine the person thinking, “Wow, somebody cares for me—that gives me courage.” It’s a way of showing we’re interconnected—no one needs to feel alone.
I realize I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. But I hope you’ve expanded your concept of how prayer has elements that can increase its impact in each person who prays. One of my readers wrote this insight after my CARE explanations: “Prayer gives us a beginning to a course of action. That is powerful.” Yes, prayer is not a passive request. It initiates a change in the one, or the community, praying.
_____________________________ Art Fabian — March 18, 2019
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Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.