Prayer as Self-Surrender
As I have often acknowledged, the foundation of a spiritual journey is anchored in some kind of discipline. Too often discipline gets a bad rap, as if it is some kind of punishment. For some folks hearing the word, discipline, conjures up running laps! This is unfortunate. Discipline is the dailiness of activity that leads to growth and development. One of my disciplines is using the lectionary for some spiritual reading each day.
This discipline enables me to do a little reading that hopefully feeds my soul and nurtures my spirit. It is not a guarantee. But without a discipline I can virtually guarantee that we won’t get very far in the spiritual journey. It is like training for the marathon. It is stupid to think you can wake up one weekend, decide to go somewhere and run a marathon. Twenty-six miles is too far to go on a lark! The same goes with the spiritual journey.
When I turned to the lectionary reading for today, I went to the Morning Prayer. I know this connects me with the community of monks around the country as they, too, are reading the same words that I am reading. This helps me sense that I am not alone in this journey. I am traveling the road with the monks and nuns. The context is different, but the journey is very similar.
The first reading comes from Psalm 5. One verse immediately stuck out to me. That verse contains the words of the Psalmist to God: “As I make my prayer to you, Lord, listen to my voice in the morning; in the morning I will stand before you and await you.” This underscores the importance of discipline. The Psalmist says, “as I make my prayer.” That means he makes prayer. If we are honest, many of us probably should say, “when I make my prayer.” Or maybe, even more of us say, “if I make my prayer.” Discipline puts us into the game every morning!
Since the Psalmist does make his prayer every morning, he can petition God to “listen to my voice.” I think of the words many Jews utter on a regular basis: the Shema. The Shema is taken from Deuteronomy. The word, Shema, is the Hebrew word that gets translated, “hear.” The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy begins the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Every prayer is a petition for God to listen. And that should be followed by an expectation that we, too, should listen.
The Psalmist says that he will come in the morning to God and “stand before you and await you.” This is a good word for our culture. We are not a waiting culture. We are a doing culture. In fact, we usually start by doing. Think about how we get up in the mornings. I know I begin by doing. It is coffee, newspaper, and maybe a quick glance at the weather channel to see what clothes to wear. I jump out of bed into action. There is no waiting.
If I wait, it probably is at a red light or a traffic jam! I can imagine most of us don’t have time to come in the morning, stand before God and await the Divine One. No doubt many folks I know would consider this to be a royal waste of time. Why would you be waiting when you could do something! As I type these words, I indict myself. I put myself in judgment. That is why I need the discipline of the lectionary to remind me of what I say is important.
For me the lectionary reading leads to a little time in prayer. When I think about prayer in this context, I recall the words of the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his book, Quest for God, Heschel wrote these words: "We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender."
Heschel is a wonderful mentor for waiting and for prayer. Take time to wait. Take time to pray. Prayer helps us see it is not all about us. Being egocentric is not what the spiritual journey is about. If we can pray and wait for the Holy One, then we are taking the steps to be self-conscious.
To be spiritually self-conscious enables us to surrender our self to the Higher Power. Literally, it puts us in our place. In God’s eyes our place is exactly where we should be and want to be. I know my place in the world is to be a servant and a minister. This is my version of self-surrender. The irony of it, however, is how much I receive! I feel like I have been given so much more than I give. Maybe that is the spiritual secret of self-surrender.