Praying Progressively

May 20, 2008 at 12:43 pm Leave a comment

A defining characteristic of religion is prayer. Each faith tradition and each sect within a tradition has its own prayer beliefs. Every group is certain that their prayer form is the one most pleasing to their God. Protestant Christians, for example, hold the Lord’s Prayer in veneration as the prayer Jesus taught word for word, so it is the proper way to petition God. For this reason, its paternalistic language and humanistic God are not readily subject to change.

Prayer seems to be a deep human need and even secular folks practice it in the form of wishes or superstitious ritual. Always, there is someone (or something) to whom we are petitioning. We act as subjects appealing to a supreme someone to show us favour in return for our honour. Once that humanistic, supernatural God is removed from the equation, to whom do we pray, and even why?

Progressive Christianity addresses the question. Gretta Vosper, in her book, “With or Without God,” considers prayer (see pages 329 to 333) and shows how the act of praying should be shifted from soliciting favour from a “who” (which is being passive) to accepting responsibility ourselves (which is becoming active) to answer the needs we recognize. By making this simple change, we are then empowered to act upon those needs rather than waiting and hoping for magic to happen. I agree with Gretta, but think there is more to it.

There is, I believe, a real power to prayer, but not power supplied by some kindly old man above the clouds who may or may not grant our request, even if it is submitted properly. There is an energy, or power, that we can access in the same way as praying but it requires a new understanding. Religious prayer is understood to be through our inner self to that ineffable old man to do something for us, but the prayer of the emerging church must be understood to be through that same inner self, except now directed to that collective energy (and remember: together with Creation, we are ‘God’) in order to accept responsibility and action for whatever our petition.   

This collective energy, I believe, is what Carl Jung spoke of as the ‘collective unconscious’. Richard Tarnas in his book, ‘Cosmos and Psyche’ quotes Jung:

The collective unconscious surrounds us on all sides… It is more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us… Also, it does not by any means behave merely psychologically; in the cases of so called synchronicity it proves to be a universal substrate present in the environment rather than a psychological premise. Wherever we come into contact with an archetype we enter into relationship with transconcious, metapsychic factors.

What Jung is saying is that there is a universal subconscious.

As the human experience evolves, occasionally someone develops a major leap forward in knowledge. At these times, it seems in another part of the world, this same discovery is made, or very close to being made by someone else. This synchronicity is grounded in the universal or collective unconscious. As example, unbeknown to each other, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace were working on similar theories of evolution at the same time. Darwin was confident of the uniqueness of his theory and was amazed when made aware of his competitor. Darwin then rushed to publish first and overshadowed Wallace but this demonstrates how something within the collective human experience caused the same idea to germinate in more than one place. It sounds like hocus-pocus but think about it. What the religious call prayer, works on that same subconscious, interconnected network. We access that network of energy the same way we pray. We go to that sacred place within and focus our concerns or thanksgivings. However, instead of directing petitions to the old man upstairs, we simply ‘put it out there to the universe’ (as our Native sisters and brothers would say). Energy then flows from us, or to us, through the network of that universal subconscious.

Progressivism and the emerging church simply need to redefine the understanding of prayer. To shift the focus from praying to the old man for favour and instead praying non-theistically for empowerment, as Vosper suggests, energizes the network that unites us all. Prayer may still go unanswered, but there will lat least be a rational understanding of the process.

Let me know your thoughts.



Entry filed under: Wrestling With God.

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