Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pray toward Vulnerability
In the fantasy novel series Eragon, a young boy is bonded with a dragon and becomes a "dragon rider." This gifts him with certain powers of perception and magic. But these powers are new to him. He is not accustomed to feeling them inside him, or able to control them before they come out of him.
There's a moment when his mentor takes him away into the forest and asks him to sit on the ground, be still, close his eyes, and be quiet. He resists. It feels silly. It feels pointless. The mentor invites him to try and coaches him to open himself to what he senses and feels around him. At first, it isn't working. Eragon is too self-conscious. He is more focused on what HE is feeling (silly), and what HE is thinking (pointless).
Then, something relaxes just a bit, and his feelings and thoughts extend away from him. He senses the birds in the trees nearby. He senses a few ants crawling along the ground.
At first, the perception is like going to a party and meeting lots of new friends. "Oh, hi bird! Nice to meet you ant." In his joy, he loosens up and extends himself a bit more.
WHOOSH! He suddenly feels every life force in the forest. He feels the desperate work of ALL the ant mounds. He feels the bending and swaying of every tree against the breeze. He feels the hunger of the predators and the fear of the prey. He feels every sprouting seed and every falling leaf, every birth and every death.
Ergon opens his eyes, leaps up, screams, and is crying. He says something like, "Its too much! I can't stand it!"
Sometimes, when I am encouraging or coaching someone to pray, I feel like Eragon's mentor.
I believe we were all created with the giftedness and magic to sense and feel connections between God, creation, and each other. We begin resisting or denying that ability. Then, if we persist in the disciplines, we might find a beautiful space of joy where connection is made to life itself, all around us, and to the source of life, God's own self. In that early opening to prayer, we are warmed with awe, wonder, and joy. That joy might encourage us to open even more.
In so doing, we will begin to sense all the pain, sin, and hatred, the racism, hunger, and disease. We will notice it in ourselves, our neighbors, and strangers on the other side of the world. We might even sense the frustration and pain in God.
That's a scary moment in practicing the disciplines of prayer.
Honest, sincere prayer invites us to pure vulnerability, where we are open and honest about ourselves before others, and all other beings and creation itself are invited to be open and honest with us in return. The full depth of our own thoughts and feelings are exposed before all the world, and we feel the full volume of their joys but also their pains, their hopes but also their fears.
A common reaction to this phase of prayer is retreat. It can feel like too much. It can scare us so much we never want to go that deep in prayer again. Some might even try to find a way to limit their vulnerability in prayer so they stop at the joy and wonder phase without going deeper to the truly vulnerable space.
That's not the answer. Stopping short of full vulnerability and honesty will never satisfy the longings of the human soul. We ache for fullness and wholeness of connection.
The goal of prayer is not to find just joy and wonder. The goal of prayer is to find our way to full vulnerability without fear or retreat. Can we remain and breathe as we feel the honesty of joys and sufferings of all our sisters and brothers? Can we remain and hear the pains and pleasures of God's own spirit over the wild ways we use our wills for or against God and God's creation? Can we remain and absorb the beauty and the groans of creation itself, celebrate the wonders and confess the damages?
Where are you in your prayer routine? The goal of prayer goes beyond personal to others, beyond my joys and pains to all joys and pains. Prayer pulls us alongside God and each other and all creation in full honesty and vulnerability.
May your prayers today point you toward that peace.
Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert