I began reading Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William FitzGerald. It’s a fascinating book and I am highlighting too much. I thought I might put it in some of the things I highlighted that I want to ponder more. Maybe I can do that here in this space.
â€œthe most profound problem we face with respect to prayer is not that it goes unanswered but that it goes unsaidâ€ (28).
This, I think, is the most important. God, teach me to pray. And when I pray, let my words and my thoughts be shaped into who you want me to be.
â€œGod grants requests appropriately performed.â€ (2) ?Really? Or is he saying, perhaps, that we feel that this is so. If we can figure out the formula we will get the cave of wonders opened and we will be rich beyond measure.
â€œwords and deeds communicate an essential attitude of their performersâ€ (4).
That’s a scary idea because, unfortunately, too often my words and deeds do not connect with the person I want to be and the person I see myself as. (Think of the grumpiness with the whiny student who sends texts about every assignment, two or three or four, and on my day’s off as well.)
â€œprayer serves as a counter to rhetoric, perceived as insincere or self-serving speechâ€ (5).
If you believe like Plato that rhetoric is so much hot air, then prayer is the opposite. It’s not hot air let loose, but used to blow up the balloon or the air mattress. It’s focused. Even if the focus has become as rote as “doing the right thing.”
â€œprayer aspires to ascend the ladder of language to discover a purer language, even transcending language altogether to achieve a state of perfect, wordless communion between human and divine beingsâ€ (6).
Yes. This is why when my student wrote and said that no one believes in dream visions anymore I wanted to write her back and say that I do. But I didn’t, because I am a coward and because I didn’t want to crack a golden calf or fracture the foundation of her temple–one of those.
â€œrhetoric distilled and abstracted to allow for its application in extraordinary contexts. It designates core functions of discourse that make communication possible, and it acknowledges the impulse toward purity and perfection in prayer. Indeed, â€œprayerâ€ is a name assigned to practices of a better rhetoricâ€ (6).
I love the idea of prayer itself as an extraordinary context. Prayer is a situation in which we place ourselves to find/create/revel in communication with God.
My work involves studies that relate to prayer:
â€œinvocation, or the calling upon some unseen presence or power, is prayerâ€™s definitive speech actâ€ (9)
â€œidentifies prayer as a rhetorical art of memoryâ€¦ argues that prayer is a socialized craft of both communication and commemorationâ€ (9).
â€œNever are we more ourselves as linguistically enabled, embodied beings than when we perform appeals to our counterparts in diving beings as manifestations of the realâ€ (10).
â€œprayer is a complex encounter with the real through the virtual, the spiritual through the materialâ€ (10).
God is real; this life is the virtual. (Ha! Platonic reality. God is spiritual; I am material.
Where we belong
â€œprayer is appropriately understood as the most intimate and honest means through which an understanding of our place in the universe can be achievedâ€ (Wirzba, â€œAttention and Responsibilityâ€ 88)
Oh, wow. The most honest way to figure out where we should stand and how we can stand there. I love that as a definition of prayer.
When I am praying for my friend’s marriage, my place in the universe is as an intercessor? as her shield wall? as the gap-stander? as the words for when she is too weary for them? as the faith when her faith has emptied?
â€œIn the case of prayer, the objective is not to discover the available means of persuasion in a given situation, but, rather, the situation itselfâ€ (12).
Yes. We seek in our prayers to reach an understanding of God’s will. It is why we struggle to say, “Heal him” when we know that healing may mean his death. It is why we struggle when others say, “God healed her.” and we wonder why God did not heal her. But really for one God gave temporary healing and for the other, God gave permanent healing.
â€œprayer expresses a sense of place in an ordered cosmos by negotiating between different orders of existenceâ€ (21).
â€œthe understanding that prayer in general situates human and natural events in a larger drama by acquiring perspectives even more accurateâ€ (like Serenity Prayer) (26).
â€œA summons to prayer, even at its most informal, marks a ritual momentâ€ (13).
â€œNot least among prayerâ€™s purposes is to mark occasions as significantâ€ (13).
Before we eat, when we pray, we are pausing at a ritual moment to be grateful. When we stop and pray with a friend at a meal out, we are saying that this is a special, significant time–a time which needs a rite to grace it because it is so important.
We pray at weddings. We pray at funerals. We pray at baby blessings. People pray at football games and memorials and standing in God’s living room at the foot of a mountain.
Modernity, Impossibility, and Prayer
â€œRahner identifies the situation of modernity: for many, prayer, a language of possibility, has become impossibleâ€ (15).
â€œRahner imagines a kairotic opening in a radical receptivity to Godâ€™s love. Experience of need opens one to prayer, and prayer becomes an experience of blessing. Discovering prayer is equivalent to discovering our real situation in the worldâ€ (15).
See also the note on page 12.
Functions of Prayer
â€œprayer performs ceremonial functions associated with the epideictic in expressing shared values and forging collective identity; the critical functions of the forensic in discerning causes and conditions; and the persuasive functions of the deliberative in influencing future actions of people and of deitiesâ€ (16).
So we celebrate in prayer, coming together at AA with the Serenity Prayer, at church with sung prayers, at home with bedtime prayers.
The forensic I will have to think on more.
I think for the deliberative, God is most likely to use prayer to change me; as I think about how to express what I want to say, I am forced to reveal why I want to say it and sometimes the how shows flaws in my thoughts and hopes and I see that all is not well with my soul because I am trying to move it in the wrong direction.
â€œprayer is at once a communal act â€¦ and a dramatic rendering of a universal condition of dependencyâ€ (19).
â€œâ€™Standingâ€™ articulates a devotional commonplaceâ€”one always stands in the need of prayerâ€”to be given lip service or embraced as an experiential truth. Such commonplaces are an inventional resource for discerning and performing situationsâ€ (20).
Sometimes what I sing is not true, but it calls to me to remind me, perhaps, that it should be true. It is a self-summoning to the reflective aspects in prayer elicited from the corporate worship with prayer and God uses it to speak to me in the bass/tenor/alto/soprano of the church.
â€œprayer is itself a frameâ€”a space we may enter and leave and within which we may abideâ€ (21). I Thess. 5:16-18
â€œprayer is more state than statement, a matter of ongoing conditionâ€ (21)
â€œâ€™The express activity of formal prayer overflows to communicate a quality of prayer in the whole of oneâ€™s lifeâ€™ (21). John Wright, qtd in Giardini 336
genuine, ongoing, not a last resort â€œPayer is thus imagined as a basic orientation toward the source of oneâ€™s beingâ€ (21).
â€œThe charge â€˜to pray without ceasing,â€™ to be fully present in any communicative act, requires considerable effortâ€ (21).
â€œprayer is a timeless space irrespective of immediate occasionâ€ (21)
â€œprayer is bounded as discourse performed in timeâ€ (21)
â€œthe call to pray without ceasing is a call to inhabit an alternative frameâ€”an extraordinary space (with otherworldly beings and distinct rules of engagement)â€ (22).
I really want to think on this more. Pray without ceasing. Let the words of my heart and the meditations of my lips be acceptable in thy sight. Every move I make, every step I take, I’ll be loving you.
Prayer forms us
prayer = a childâ€™s imagination, â€œto play in this way is not to pretend; it is to imagine through topoi of possibilityâ€ (23).
â€œPrayer takes place in a space of performance essential to the formation of individual and social characterâ€ (23).
When we pray, we are changed. God changes us in the context of our prayers, in the situation of our contemplation of our words.