Thursday, March 09, 2006

Listening to Jesus enter the Prayer of God

I’d like to go back to Chapter One in Hauerwas’ Cross-Shattered Christ because I was struck by Hauerwas telling that in listening to the words of Christ on the cross, we are in fact overhearing, as it were, the Second Person of the Trinity intimately addressing the Father; in other words we are listening to a conversation within the Holy Trinity. Quoting Herbert McCabe (whose collected sermons I recommend), it is suggested that at the cross we are listening to “nothing less than the interior life of the Triune God made visible to the eyes of faith.” Such a remarkable insight. It means that we are privileged to hear God talk to God. At one time in my life I couldn't imagine or entertain such a notion. I can remember when I was a freshman in Fort Wayne, Indiana, college that I ran across what Saint Paul says in in Romans and Galations:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (8. 26-27)

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father" (4.6).
Years ago I couldn’t make sense of these Pauline insights because they seemed to imply that I was somehow an automaton, not entirely in charge of my life; as a Christian, it looked as though I was somehow a puppet of God: God did the praying, God did the saving, God did the interceding; and I did nothing. As a freshman in college, I wanted to do something! At least let me pray by myself, I thought. I didn’t want to hitch a ride with the Holy Spirit; I wanted to drive my own car. I couldn’t image God the Holy Spirit coming into my life and praying to God the Father. But some years later I found these strange words in Luke:

In those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in the “prayer of God. (6.12)”
It looked to me as though Jesus himself enters "God’s prayers." Now granted, that’s not what most English translations say (they usually translate the phrase as “prayer to God”), but when reading the New Testament in Greek, it’s obvious an exact translation of proseuxe tou theou requires one to read the generative case tou theou as “the prayer of God.” Here the all-night-praying Jesus goes into "God’s praying." Quite frankly I never quite imaged God having prayers and Jesus entering into such prayers and therefore I kept the notion rather privately to myself; that is, until recently when I was reading the letters of C. S. Lewis where time and again, he says that God prays within Himself. (I don’t have the citations here at the lakehouse, but trust me, Lewis is quite clear about the matter.) Slowly it all began to make Trinitarian sense; our God is truly a living and loving community of Three Persons even as the famous Ruble Icon of the Trinity makes abundantly clear. What this means is that Hauerwas' suggestion--we are listening to the Second Person of the Trinity, the "cross-shattered Christ," address the Father!--makes for a wonderful understanding of Jesus’ words. Now when I hear and read them, I see how the Holy Trinity, our holy and immortal God, is working within Himself together to reclaim the world in suffering love. I even am beginning to think that the Holy Spirit is praying within our Lord in his weakness. As a consequence, I now think of my prayer life as one that is united with the prayers of God. By my baptism I have been invited to participate in the conversation of God. I not only prayer to God, but I pray with Him. I will never be able to listen to the cross-shatted Jesus again without somehow eavesdropping on that conversation. As Hauerwas says, " We are made members of the kingdom governed by a politics [that is, a kingdom codes, customs, and courtesies] of forgivness and redemption" (31).


Blogger Mason Smith said...


I really like the point (see above) of the Persons of the Trinity communicating among themselves.

I'm reminded of certain computer networks in which one processor contacts a subprocessor every few milliseconds, exchanging data to keep the system operating correctly. Without the internal communication, the system would not operate.

Along this same line, there's an interesting comment in Hauerwas's Chapter 1 about Jesus's cry which is the "first word" from the cross in Matthew and Mark: "Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani" (26).

This is, of course, the opening lines of Psalm 22. Hauerwas says, "There is amble precedence in the Psalms for expressions of being abandoned by God, but we think the Psalms express our despair, our feeling of abandonment, not God's abandonment. We assume . . . it is not seemly for God to pray the Psalms" (27).

When we pray the Psalms we're entering that conversation that God once had with God. In this scene, the conversation was from the cross.

Once again, we see the internal conversation--and we can in a sense, join it. We can pray with God, not just to God.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Thursday, 09 March, 2006  
Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Thanks, Mason, for your insightful comments! Among many Christians who pray or sing the Psalms on a regular basism there a confidence they are indeed entering "The Prayer of God." Thus when you note that "When we pray the Psalms we're entering that conversation that God once had with God," they say that "We're entering the conversation that God continues to have with God" That is, they understand that God in Christ and with the Holy Spirit still prays the Psalms and we with Him.

Here, for example, is how Francis Cardinal Spellman in "An Incentive to Prayer," put it almost sixty years ago:

"The Breviary [that is, the Prayer Book containing the Psalms] can best be described as the daily prayer of the Church, beginning with morning prayers, called Matins, and ending with night prayers, Compline. From dawn till dusk, and into the black watches of the night, the Church prays by the Spirit of Christ; Christ, too, prays through "his body", the Church. The Breviary, is, thus, in very truth "the prayer of God" (Luke 6:12).

Friday, 10 March, 2006  

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