Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief


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Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief By Gretta Vosper.

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Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief

  1. 1. Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief By Gretta Vosper
  2. 2. Who is Gretta Vosper?Gretta is a United Church minister, ordained in 1992. Shehas a Master of Divinity from Queen’s TheologicalCollege, Kingston and has served at West Hill UnitedChurch, Scarborough, since 1997.Gretta’s partner is Scott Kearns, music director at West HillUnited. She is a mother and grandmother.In 2004, Gretta founded the Canadian Center for ProgressiveChristianity.Gretta’s first book, With or Without God: Why how we live ismore important than what we believe, formed the basis ofour first study group when Open Circle was formed.
  3. 3. BOOK OVERVIEW• Intro: Why write this book?• Part One: In a World of Beliefs: What is the Core Narrative of traditional Western religion and how does it shape how its adherents view the world?• Part Two: In a World Still Tied to Beliefs: Deconstructing traditional prayer.• Part Three: In a World of Exposed Beliefs: Why we need to change the language of prayer.• Part Four: In a World Beyond Beliefs: What would prayer “without God” look like?• Part Five: In a World in Need: What is “Empact” and how do we achieve it?
  4. 4. WHY WRITE THIS BOOK? Prayer can be: 1. An active part of people’s lives, providing a) A sense of connection to God b) A sense of meaning and purpose 2. A source of frustration, despair 3. A ceremonial function only 4. Of no interestAnd yet prayer remains an important part of millions of lives.Most of the “prayer” literature assumes there are benefits and iswritten for an audience of traditional believers.So the book asks: What are the benefits, if any, of prayer, and how canwe make these benefits, if any, available to everyone, believers andnon-believers alike?
  5. 5. PART ONE: In a World of BeliefsExamining the Core Narrative• The Core Narrative is the lens through which we view our reality, a lens that we may not even perceive is there• Those that control the Core Narrative, control the system• In the past, this control has been in the hands of religious leaders• The core narrative has consisted of a series of “revealed truths” that may be found in a particular set of sacred documents and which are interpreted by trained religious officials• The most constant threat to a core narrative that is based on “revealed truths” is reason
  6. 6. The Problem with the Core KeepersAs in her previous book, With or WithoutGod, Vosper accuses religious leaders, as keepersof the core narrative, of not passing on newinformation, insights, and understandings(contemporary scholarship) to the lay adherents oftheir faithsShe suggests that people are not given theinformation they need to be able to move forwardon their faith journeysIn Xianity, for example, upholding the view that theBible is TAWOGFAT, locks people in Stages 2 & 3 ofFowler’s Stages of Faith
  7. 7. Fowler’s Stages of Faith (1981)Stage 1:Fantasy world of pre-school childrenStage 2:Literal understanding of stories told to them by faith communityStage 3:All encompassing belief system with authority placed in individuals or groups that represent one’s beliefsStage 4:Understanding that much of what we were taught is not literally trueStage 5:Ability to embrace previously held beliefs as myths that are helpful in lifeStage 6:Ability to offer one’s self to world without thought of personal loss
  8. 8. • In Vosper’s view, the stage of faith that one is experiencing depends largely on information and context, not maturity• People deserve to be given up to date historical and critical perspectives on the Bible and Xianity so that they may choose based on full disclosure.• Do you agree with Vosper’s statement that stage of faith depends largely on information and context?
  9. 9. Tracing the Influence of Core Assumptions (The Core Narrative)• A flood hits your town. People die. How do you understand this occurrence if your core narrative is grounded in: a) Theism? Belief in a supernatural god who is all powerful, all knowing, source of all good b) Deism? God created world, then backed away c) Pantheism? God and Nature are the same thing i.e. Everything is God d) Non-theism? Scripture is not TAWOGFAT, but a humanly constructed set of writings that can be examined critically and challenged based on contemporary scholarship e) Religious non-realism? The real world is the natural world, nothing more. (Sh** happens)
  10. 10. What are the assumptions of the core narrative of traditional Christianity based on a theistic view of God?God is perfectly good and the source of all goodness(source)God is active in our lives (agent)God is in control (promise of good now or after death)How do these assumptions shape what prayer lookslike?In prayer we turn to God because:•God is the source of what we need•God will act for us•God is the promise that all will be well eventually
  11. 11. PART TWO: In a World Still Tied to Beliefs Formal prayer in traditional churches, then, continues to reflect the core assumptions about God outlined on the previous pages (God as source, agent, and promise) It also reflects and provides an outlet for 4 basic human responses: •Adoration •Confession •Supplication •Thanksgiving
  12. 12. PRAYER OF ADORATION• Usually included at the beginning of a service as an offer to God of our devotion, love, or attention“Blessed are You, O Lord our God,Wellspring of all that is.You are the sea on which we float,You are the wind that fills our sails,You are the storm that buffets us,You are the calm that brings us peace.Open our ears to hear Your word,Open our eyes to see Your beauty,Open our hearts to be warmed by Your love.”
  13. 13. Hymns of Adoration support the prayers“O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art. Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art!”When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeurAnd see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,How great Thou art, How great Thou art.Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
  14. 14. Can you see how the prayer ofadoration might be useful to thekeepers of the core narrative?
  15. 15. The adoration prayer reinforces the belief in a God that is all- powerful and all knowing. It invites believers to be open to the possibility of something much, much greater than themselves, and in their openness, to be made completely vulnerable to whatever the worship leader might offer.
  16. 16. PRAYER OF CONFESSIONThe basic premise of Christianity emanates from the idea that sin came into theworld through the fall of humanity in the Garden of EdenEven those who believe the story of Adam and Eve to be myth continue topresent without question its concepts of sin and forgiveness.Images of hell and punishment are not signs of a benevolent Creator, yet theseimages continue, to this day, to be a significant part of the Christian worldview.In the prayer of confession, the believer lays her/his sins before God and asks forforgiveness from God
  17. 17. A Prayer of Confession“Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide,and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name,what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for usa consuming fire of judgment. Set us free from a past that wecannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed;and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness andImage, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.”Who holds the power in this type of confessional prayer?How might this type of prayer affect the “pray-er” in terms ofself-worth, shame, and/or guilt?Why does the prayer close with “through Jesus Christ…”?
  18. 18. Music echoes the prayer of confessionAnd when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,He bled and died to take away my sin.Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,How great Thou art, How great Thou art.Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
  19. 19. Prayer of SupplicationIn the prayer of supplication, believers entreat God on their ownbehalf or the behalf of others for needs or desires to be fulfilled.This, again, reinforces the belief (the core narrative) that God is thesource, agent and promise for all that is or will be good.Consider: 1. A popular minister’s wife falls ill. Large numbers of thecongregation pray for her life (supplication). She survives and prayersof thanksgiving are offered.2. A small child is ill. Many prayers of supplication are offered. Thechild dies.• What effect might these results have on the “pray-ers” in each of these scenarios?• How do the keepers of the core narrative deal with the apparent inconsistency?
  20. 20. Explanations of Unanswered PrayerOffered by the Keepers of the CoreNarrativeWhy does one person receive God’s blessing whileanother does not?•Greater good•Higher wisdom•Unrevealed plan•Lessons needed to be learned•Problem within the person prayingThese explanations, in Vosper’s view, are not goodenough.
  21. 21. PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING• In this type of prayer, the believer pours out thanks for all of the blessings of the world to the loving, benevolent, all- knowing God.• Focuses on the good things that have happened to individuals or to the specific community• How does this form of prayer reinforce the core narrative?
  22. 22. A Prayer of ThanksgivingWhen turkey’s on the table laid,And good things I may scan,I’m thankful that I wasn’t madeA vegetarian. -Edgar A. Guest
  23. 23. A song of thanksgivingFor the beauty of the earth,For the beauty of the skies,For the love which from our birthOver and around us lies,Lord of all, to thee we raiseThis our grateful hymn of praise.For each perfect gift of thine,To our race so freely given,Graces human and divine,Flowers of earth and buds of heaven,Lord of all, to thee we raiseThis our grateful hymn of praise.How might the aspects of the core narrative celebrated in this song (that allgood comes from and is brought about by God in us) affect how we see our rolein the world?
  24. 24. RECAP• So far, Gretta has told us – Why she wrote the book {to examine prayer critically and discover how its benefits (if any) can be made available to everyone} – What the Core Narrative of traditional Xianity is {God as source, agent, and promise} and what influence its assumptions have on our world view – What traditional prayers {of adoration, confession, supplication and thanksgiving} look like and how they both reflect and sustain the Core Narrative
  25. 25. PART THREE: IN A WORLD OF EXPOSED BELIEFS• Why do we need to change the language? Many clergy & theologians hold a very progressive imageof God, yet their language upholds the notion of an all-powerful,external, benevolent God – a theistic being who is source, agentand promise. We have refused to let the language mature alongwith our understandings.Prayers, hymns, Bible readings, invocations, absolutions all pointto a real god out there about to do something when that is nolonger what contemporary scholarship is telling us.For too many, the language of the church is a barrier.
  26. 26. WHAT DO WE NEED?• “We need a language of prayer that honours the reality of our quest for security, but doesn’t cover it up with theological constructs that soothe our anxieties but do not call us to the greatness of our own humanity.” (Gretta)• How does the traditional language of prayer fail to call us “to the greatness of our own humanity”?• How might the core narrative of the Christian religion as reflected in prayer have been useful to the political leaders of societies over the centuries? Is there anything similar happening today?
  27. 27. PART FOUR: IN A WORLD BEYOND BELIEFSWhat is prayer without a supernatural source, agent and promise?“Prayer without God is not nothing.” It can be a turning to our own human source, agent & promiseIt’s OK to acknowledge that:• We are the source. The motivation for action has always lain in our own broken hearts.• We are the agents of change in our lives and in the world• We are the potential for goodness. There never was a promise of goodness, healing, or peace in a world full of pain and suffering.
  28. 28. What would prayer “without God” look like?• Prayer of Adoration: - giving homage to the values by which we choose to live “Our thoughts we now centre on all that is good on all that we know is worthy so we may focus attention on the richness of truth restoring our souls for the journey To all that is worthy to all we believe is true to all we deeply value we commit ourselves anew”
  29. 29. • Prayer of Confession - measuring our shortcomings & acknowledging thesometimes selfish choices that have thwarted our efforts, andthe challenges that have kept us from our goals “We shelter ourselves with images of who we think we are- intelligent & well-informed compassionate & well-intentioned- until those wrenching, wild, chaotic moments when we learn otherwise, when life exposes us to glimpses of ourselves-
  30. 30. intelligent but ill-informed; compassionate but causing harm-And we wish we could flee from the complicities of our lives.Into the lives of others, we are bound to be woven.Into the eyes of others, we are compelled to look. So it is we pray we may be in the realities of others, a gentle presence that when we stand before them in utter, full disclosure of who we truly are,we will not shy away from the reflection in their eyes- not the eyes of our children not the eyes of our partners,not the eyes of our companions on the journeynot the eyes of those we may never know.As travellers who would see with a clear and honest vision, we pray. Amen”
  31. 31. • Prayer of Supplication - praying “to God” is replaced by praying “into” the congregation - Concerns & celebrations are presented into the community by members of the congregation - What is key is the immediate response of the faith community in providing support, acceptance, shared joy, etc. The community is the support system.Eg. When a celebration is presented, the leader or presenter says:“In this abundant blessing” Members respond: “We share the joy”When a concern or sadness is presented, the leader says:“In this our time of need” Members respond: “May love abound”
  32. 32. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms Iris DeMent from True GritWhat a fellowship what a joy divineLeaning on the everlasting armsWhat a blessedness what a peace is mineLeaning on the everlasting armsChorus: Leaning leaning safe and secure from all alarmsLeaning leaning leaning on the everlasting armsOh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim wayLeaning on the everlasting armsOh how bright the path grows from day to dayLeaning on the everlasting armsWhat have I to dread what have I to fearLeaning on the everlasting armsI have blessed peace with my friends so nearLeaning on the everlasting arms
  33. 33. • Prayer of Thanksgiving - a sense of gratitude that is not directed toward anything other than the object/person/experience for which you are grateful “On this morning of Thanksgiving, our hearts leap with joy at the wonder with which the world unfolds. We delight in the gifts the Earth provides. We rejoice that we can live, move, and work, amongst such beauty
  34. 34. We give thanks that,even in times we know as difficult,traumatic and life-shattering,when we pause and rememberthe deep connectedness we have with all life,even in those darkest moments,our hearts can well up from the depthswith gratitude.May we be inspired this day with the beauty of the worldIn which we live and lovethat we, who too often forget to give thanks,might be stirred to living only in thanksgivingfor all the passion that life shows to us.Let our lives be turned into gifts-to each other, to ourselves, to the world. Amen”
  35. 35. John Shelby Spong, Retired Episcopal Bishop
  36. 36. The Lord’s Prayer - The Non-Theistic Prayer• Our Father, who art in Heaven • Our thoughts we now focus on allHallowed be Thy name that is good, on all that we know is worthy.• Thy kingdom come, thy will be • As we come together, we seek to done on earth as it is in heaven make right our relationship with ourselves, our community and our world. • Our celebrations and our sorrows• Give us this day our daily bread. we pour into our community, so that they may be shared and supported.• Forgive us our trespasses, as we • As we recall our own forgive those who trespass shortcomings, may we be against us. strengthened by the knowledge that it is the goodness in us that condemns our actions. May we also forgive, freeing each other into hope and new life.
  37. 37. The Lord’s Prayer - The Non-Theistic Prayer• Lead us not into temptation, but • May we ever strive to see beyond deliver us from evil. our limitations, choose beyond our immediate needs, and live into each day, the fullness of its opportunity.• For thine is the kingdom, and the • As we leave this place, our hearts power, and the glory, forever and filled with the gifts of peace and ever. Amen hope in this hour, may we fill our hearts to overflowing with an urgent need to do the work to which we are called. May we overflow in our zeal for a realm of justice and peace, and equity for all. Amen
  38. 38. Part Five: In a World in NeedPrayer, Vosper says, is not the final answer.What the world needs now is “empact”, the ability toempathically impact others within and beyond our communitiesand the world around us. We need to get in right relationshipwith ourselves, our communities, and our planet.“Let us pray? No, it’s not going to be that easy. Let us get onwith what we need to get on with. And that is going to be hard.”
  39. 39. ConclusionBottom Line:Gretta is suggesting that we change the language and intent of prayer, noteliminate it entirely . We need, in her view, a language of prayer (meditation,contemplation, reflection) that a) reflects contemporary, liberal Christianscholarship and that b) calls upon us to acknowledge our responsibility ashuman beings to be the source, agent, and potential for goodness in ourworld, a world that needs our attention.“We have no prayer that can keep us safe. We have no prayer that canintervene in the laws of the universe and keep away illness, evil, calamity. Wehave no prayer that can heal a sick child or extend the life of a loved one. Wehave no prayer that can change people’s minds and make them understandus, or turn their hearts and make them love us. We have no prayer that canmove mountains. We have only ourselves. We have only ever had ourselves.But we have done all these things. And we can do more. Amen.”
  40. 40. The Change – Garth BrooksDedicated to those lost in the Oklahoma City bombing