Is prayer selfish and delusional?


Last week I wrote a bit about Henri Nouwen’s suggestion that we try to avoid recognising our mortality and our limitations by thinking of ourselves as immortal, invulnerable beings. (He wrote about this in his book Reaching Out.) If we trick ourselves into thinking we can completely control our environment and the people around us we end up doing violence to them.

I think the way we’ve often thought about prayer has been as a way to control things, like a religious version of the law of positive attraction. It can be just another way of pretending we’re in control of the universe. A while ago I knew a guy who repeatedly asked me why I prayed. He saw it as a selfish thing to be asking God for things. I think I get where he was coming from.

Nouwen’s challenge is to try and pray without an agenda. He describes this as waiting on God rather than rattling off a shopping list. It’s making space where God’s presence may (or may not) show up. He suggests paradoxically that we find God in God’s absence. Our experience of God’s absence leads us to search for God. That search for God is what prayer is. This approach comes across to me as a lot more humble. It’s not pretending we have God on call.

I don’t what to throw out the idea of asking God for thing either though. I think those kind of prayers do seem pretty selfish when if it’s a wealthy person asking God for more stuff, expecting the universe to revolve at our convenience. I don’t think it seems like that when people who are in serious trouble ask God for help (not knowing if God is even there) because there is no other option available. For those of us in more comfortable situations, we might find ourselves praying in that way too, if we open ourselves up to people who are suffering.

Presence

Earlier in the week I noticed Kaitlin Curtice’s blog post, ‘People Who Hold Space Will Heal the Church’, and I’m interested in what she says about holding space. She basically says that the church (and I think a lot of other institutions too) like to try and manage people rather than holding space where transformation could occur. (Reminds me a lot of the stuff I’ve been re-reading in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out.

On a similar theme, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be present to someone.

Sometimes it just means what some of us might regard as trivial bullshit. Talking about the weather, exchanging friendly banter, talking shit…

But we need to be alert to when that’s not what’s needed, when our guest has something deep they need to talk about – illness, love, death, family…

We’ve also got to be attentive to when someone just needs silence or space.

Sometimes presence means sitting with someone. Something it means banter. Sometimes it means politeness. Sometimes it means eye contact. Sometimes it means (thank God) no eye contact. Sometimes it means depth. Its just being present to the person and situation and responding as appropriate.

The illusion of immortality

I’ve recently written a few posts about Henri Nouwen’s three movements of the spiritual life, as related in his book Reaching Out. In the third section of the book talks about our efforts to avoid death, pretending we can control of our life, that we have no limits. When we’re under this illusion, solitude and hospitality can become just achievements that we show off to others to show how great we are. Having an arthritic condition that’s previously put me out of action for a long period of time, I should be aware of my limitations, but I still fall for this illusion. At the moment I’m needing to let go of some of the things I feel like I could be doing (or should be doing). It’s about trusting that it’s okay to be limited and for some things to be undone.


This probably isn’t what we’d think of as prayer, because we’re used to thinking of prayer as a religious practise where we ask God for things. But Nouwen talks about this as a movement toward prayer.

OneNote for D&D

For a while I’ve been looking for a decent digital tool to organise notes for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I’ve tried Evernote, Obsidian Portal and Scabard, but none of them have really clicked. (Actually, they’ve all seemed pretty unwieldy.) I think I’ve now found the right tool, and it isn’t the one I was expecting.

A couple of years ago when I returned to using PCs, I found that Windows was now coming with a program called OneNote, which it desperately wanted me to adopt, but failed to explain why I would want to. A couple of months ago I stumbled on this reddit thread, which includes a number of people explaining how useful they’ve found OneNote as a tool for organising D&D notes.

So I tried it out (I now have it on my tablet, PC and phone) and started adding interesting content I found that I might use in D&D Planescape adventures. Last night I used it to run an adventure for the first time and I found it very helpful. It’s very easy to the the coloured tabs to create sections for locations, non-player characters, monsters, spells and then fill each of those sections with the items you need. (I moved some of the items I knew I would need to the top of the list in their sections, so they’d be easy to find.) I found it pretty easy to move between different items I needed in the filing system. By splitting the screen in could have the 2nd Edition module I was using alongside my own notes (including 5th Edition substitute stats).

The one thing I would say against OneNote is that in the tablet version of the app that I’m using it is hard to connect different notes with hyperlinks. I need to spend some time at my PC interlinking a whole lot of the notes, and if I do that it’ll make navigation easier again. (There may be a way to do this on my tablet, but if there is I can’t work it out.)

Silence in hospitality

Yesterday we opened up our house for a discussion about the idea of hospitality as ‘making room’. I think when we’re talking about making room it’s important to think about how we demonstrate that in the discussion. I think that in our society we often try to fill quiet space with words and activity, and that if we allowed spaces to remain quiet and empty, we might hear voices we’d otherwise miss. For that reason I want to get comfortable with preparing less (or being okay not to use eveything I’ve prepared) and leaving more space in discussion for silence.

How do you feel about the place of silence in hospitality?

Onward Christian spammers

acl spam

Having a big mailing list isn’t as important as having the right mailing list. Normally, you also want to make sure that you’re making the most of the emails you send.

Earlier this year I started getting mail from the Australian Christian Lobby. (I’m not sure how they got my details.) ACL was sending me identital emails each week, and every now and then a letter that said almost the same thing. (I personally think this is part of a strategy to promote fear among more fearful Christians, particularly in relation to the Safe Schools program.) I emailed them back a couple of times to discuss the subject of the email, but I didn’t hear back. (I found a while back that they’d blocked me on Facebook, so no opportunity for conversation there.) I ended up unsubscribing from their email list because I don’t need their repetetive emails clogging up my inbox. A few days ago I emailed them asking to be taken off their postal mailing list too, but I haven’t heard back. Hopefully they get that it’s wasteful mailing people who haven’t signed up.

Four sentence emails

IMG_2279
I’ve had trouble with email.

Emails take me too long to read. Often emails take me even longer to write.

I end up putting off reading emails, but I end up putting off responding to emails even more because I feel like there’s a lot I need to say.

I’ve been finding four sentence emails (which Andreana introduced me to) really helpul. The idea is that you commit to a four sentence limit on emails you send, as a response to the problem of ‘continuous inbox overflow’. While I can’t control the length of the emails I receive from others, I have found that sticking to the four sentence limits means my emails are a lot quicker and easier to write. It should also mean that it’s easier for folks to read and get back to me quickly.

When Andreana brought this idea up with a group we were involved in, someone asked what you do if you need to talk about something that will take more than four sentences. I think Andreana said that if you have something bigger to talk about it, you probably need to talk about it face to face. I think that’s a good idea. I can think of a lot of blow-ups that have happened because someone communicated something big over email, which could have been better communicated face-to-face.

How do you find managing e

Gastvrijheid: freedom for the guest

In Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen talks about hospitality as ‘freedom for the guest’. (He says this is the literal meaning of the Dutch word for hospitality, gastvrijheid.) This means that we aren’t welcoming the guest in order to try and change them. Instead we’re welcoming them into a space of emptiness, a space where transformation might happen, but where we don’t know what the transformation might look like. It’s not a space where we’re seeking to influence them to take on our ideology, religion or way of life. It’s not a space that the host tries to fill with themself. It’s a space where the host and guest can discover each other and potentially be transformed by the encounter.

IMG_2277

Containing Facebook

I logged off Facebook on my phone yesterday. I’ve done this a number of times when I’ve realised I needed a break. Today it was the judegemental ranting of someone I agreed with that told me I’d had enough.


I’ll keep Facebook on my tablet because i find it less distracting on there. I find its easier to use with intent on my tablet.

How do you keep healthy boundaries around your use of social media?