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Prayer as Action: Loving the World

Does it ever seem that not much is happening when you pray? When that’s what it seems like to me, all I need to do is look back at the tracks of prayer in my life. The psalmist’s astonishment and relief at being “lifted out of the miry bog”- in all the bog’s various guises in my life – often comes to mind. But there is so much more. Prayer changes things, yes, but mostly prayer changes us.

By transfiguring our ways of seeing and being, contemplative prayer often calls forth in us an urge to moral action to address and meet the myriad needs in our world. Opening to God’s loving presence alters how we respond to situations all around us, particularly those calling for acts of justice and mercy.

We see this movement of prayer and action in the pattern of Jesus’ own life and ministry, particularly in the arc of Jesus’ story in the season of Lent just passed. The Sunday before Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary pointed us to the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This year in particular, as I sat with that story, I sensed how Jesus’ transfiguration of consciousness and identity set the stage for the next story we heard in the lectionary sequence: his sojourn in the desert for a time of fasting, prayer, and inner struggle. At the end of those forty days, with transfigured perception and the fierce scouring of inner shadow work, Jesus moved immediately into a ministry of justice and mercy, healing and teaching: a ministry of radical love. Throughout Jesus’ life we see the interweaving of prayer and moral action.

This is the model for our own lives. Transformation of consciousness and moral action in the world are the result of contemplative prayer. One of the last chapters of Tilden Edwards’ book, Living in the Presence, is entitled “Acting.” That makes sense, doesn’t it? Tilden writes that the overflow of God’s love in and through us moves us to action as we live more deeply in the Presence.

But this is tough work. I certainly need strengthening and support in this endeavor. To assist us, Shalem offers several regular times of prayer where we can join together to both strengthen and soften our spiritual hearts. We are strengthened to do the work of moral action. We are softened to love the world, just as it is, with tenderness and mercy. Joining these praying circles, I am enabled to witness and attend to areas of suffering in our world without being overcome with despair. At our graced best, Tilden writes, we become vehicles for God’s mercy and love. We radiate and circulate God’s pervasive love for the world, as it is, so that it can be made whole and just, as God intends it to be.

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