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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

"How to Pray"

A very long piece in the New York Times Magazine by Zev Chafets explores The Way We Pray Now.
(Because our relationship to God is different than in other places and than at other times in the past 200 years? No, I'm just snarking at the Times's "Way We Live Now, Way We Spend Now, Way We Think Now, Way We News Now"-speak)

As to validity, I can only comment on his comments on, and quotes from those involved in Catholic prayer.
I know that it is virtually impossible -- despite the gotcha style of many writers, bloggers (no, I'm not going to link to anyone, even the most egregious polemicist or snarker on either, or should I say "any?", of the Seamless Garment's fringes,) , etc. who speak and act as if it is -- to make sweeping generalizations about the "progressives", or the "traditionalists", or the "VCII generation", or the "Reform of the Reform crowd", or the"JP II priests"... the members of the Body, of the OHC & A form a continuum.
That said, despite the Here Comes Everybody character of the Church, I think I have discerned a flaw, or at least, a contradiction in the thinking of .... okay, not a wing, (does the Body of Christ have wings?) but a moderately cohesive chunk of the Church.
“People once learned to pray from priests and ministers and rabbis,” Liz Ellmann, executive director of Spiritual Directors International, told me.... “A lot of people today don’t have that training,” Ellman said, referring to traditional prayer. “They want to learn how to pray, but they feel awkward in a house of worship.”...

Once it was all simple. Catholics prayed in Latin for salvation in words and ceremonies dictated by the One True Church in Rome. Protestants prayed in fancy English for the expiation of sin and a place in a decorous heaven. Jews prayed in Hebrew to the One God who had inexplicably chosen us for a private destiny and saddled us with commandments.

And then, in the time it took to go from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles, these ancient taboos and walls began to crash. Prayer changed, too. For Catholics, the key event was the Second Vatican Council. “Vatican II was a course correction when it came to Catholic prayer,” says ...a professor of theology who is old enough to have personally experienced the change. “Emphasis shifted to the centrality of the Bible for Catholic prayer.”

Part of this populist shift involved better exposing laypeople to a centuries-old method of Biblical exegesis and meditation called
lectio divina...

“Priests and women religious have always been taught to do this, but Vatican II called for ‘full and active participation’ by all Catholics. Part of that was praying in the vernacular. Another part was introducing
lectio divina to laypeople.” After Vatican II the practice became widespread among the laity.

Catholic prayer has not only become more accessible to the laity, it seems; it has also become more private and personal. [One Sister of Mercy says] “Women religious have been very active in promoting deeper contemplative, mystical prayer. Until Vatican II, that was reserved for the very few. Now it is becoming the ordinary expectation for people with a regular prayer life.”

... the Eucharist remains the defining source of Catholic spirituality, but that you can have authentic spiritual experiences not mediated by ritual. “Most people don’t live in churches. And these days, most laypeople tend to do more contemplative prayer and less confession. The sacrament of penance has radically diminished since Vatican II.” .... There is a renewed popularity to the mystical component of prayer, and it is found especially in the retreat movement.

What I think I am reading in this and in much else recently, (please correct me or tell me what you think I am missing here,) as a brave front is put on in the face of incontrovertible bad news, a de facto embracing of the smaller, purer, (leaner, meaner?) Church that Benedict is, unjustly I believe, often accused of working toward, of wanting.
I say "unjustly" because while it is true that the Holy Father undoubtedly longs for a purer, more faithful Church, I think it certain that he views the loss of any members, any souls from the Body of Christ as deeply tragic collateral damage, not an aim in itself.
Just because he is not willing to scamper after those who reject Hard Sayings, (how does that go in John,"No, no guys, come back! I didn't mean it, it's just a METAPHOR!"?) doesn't mean he doesn't mourn every single lost sheep, and i think he has proved that with his efforts at reconciliation on all sides.

But it seems to me that some of the same people who decry the Pope's supposed eagerness to jettison the heterodox as if they were dead weight, (which I do not concede for a moment that he is,) try to make lemonade of the lemons of the hemorrhaging of the actively, (actuosa?) practicing that has beset the Church in the last few decades.

How else to explain obviously intelligent people claiming:
“Vatican II was a course correction when it came to Catholic prayer...Emphasis shifted to the centrality of the Bible for Catholic prayer.”

It is wishful thinking to pretend that the emphasis in prayer, in practice, as opposed to theory,) went anywhere other than to... well, to not praying.

And what evidence is there of this:
"Part of this populist shift involved better exposing laypeople to a centuries-old method of Biblical exegesis and meditation called lectio divina... After Vatican II the practice became widespread among the laity."

"Widespread"?????
No
practice of prayer or worship or study became "widespread" among the Catholic laity in the wake of Vatican II, and most good practices that had previously been widespread became more unusual.

And finally, “Women religious have been very active in promoting deeper contemplative, mystical prayer. Until Vatican II, that was reserved for the very few. Now it is becoming the ordinary expectation for people with a regular prayer life.”

I would posit that a mystical experience of prayer may actually less common now, less sought after by ordinary Catholics in the wake of vigorous attempts to de-mystify liturgical prayer, to denigrate the supernatural aspects of the Faith, and to discourage the private prayer and devotions that were most liable to lead to a transcendent experience of communicating with the Almighty and the blessed who already enjoy the Beatific Vision full-time.
...................

Oh, and a complete tangent, but can I just say all men have more in common than we sometimes think we have?
“Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, they go to church to pray,” [Rabbi] Gellman went on to say. “Why else would they be there? But Jews are different. People come to temple to identify with other Jews, or socialize. The writer Harry Golden once asked his father, who was an atheist, why he went to services every Saturday. The old man told him, ‘My friend Garfinkle goes to talk to God, and I go to talk to Garfinkle.’ There’s a lot of that.”

“At least they come,” I said.

“Sure. But when you have a large percentage at a religious service who aren’t actually praying, it dilutes the quality of the entire experience.”

“Like subprime mortgages on a bank’s balance sheet,” I said. “Toxic Jews.”....
“I think it’s important to use Hebrew, saying the traditional words, even if you don’t exactly know their meaning,” he said.

“Praying in English is like kissing through a veil,” one of the young assistants said.

“In the old days,” [another Rabbi] said, “cantors made the women cry. Now they just want to do performance pieces. And congregational singalongs aren’t the Jewish way of praying. Our prayers are meant to be chanted rhythmically.”

..................
Oh, and one other thing -- prooftexting from a reader-commentor?
For the Christians of the world, I believe some fellow named Jesus of Nazereth left pretty explicit instructions on how to go about praying in Matthew 6:5-13:
1. Don't make a public show of it. Do it privately. It's between you and God.
2. Keep it short and pretty simple.
3. Focus on what God wants, not what you want.
Hmmm...
I'm pretty sure that same Fellow suggested that people gather in His Name, because where they did, you know, in groups of "two or more"...?

It is good to remember, the OHC & A Church? It is a Church of "both/and."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah, this is the mandatory NY Times article that appears around the High Holy Days and again around Passover, designed to enrage conservative (note the small "c") Jews. It explains to them how "times have changed and everybody who's 'in the know' is doing something else."

I used to watch for these every year when I had to read the Times daily.

Scelata said...

"Times have changed and everybody who's 'in the know' is doing something else."

Yes, that is the tack the Ephemerists in the Catholic Church try to take -- everybody does this now/is fine with this now/thinks this now/worships like this now.

Trouble is, look around! look at the empty pews, emptied convents, declining stats on marriage communion and confirmation - nobody much is doing anything much.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

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