Rethinking Prayer – Len Baglow, APCV

Reproduced, with permission, from A Progressive Christian Voice Australia and Len Baglow.

Goanna Prayer

Recently I had a camping trip to Wombeyan Caves. It was at the campsite that this picture of a goanna was taken. On seeing this photo, one of my friends asked, “Were you using a telephoto lens, or were you very close?” My initial answer was “A bit of both.” In fact, when I lifted my eyes from the viewfinder of the camera I went “Oops, I’m a lot closer than I thought I was.” Initially the goanna had been much further away. I had not moved but had been concentrating on taking photos. Slowly the goanna had been moving toward me and the photos had been getting better and better.

A few days later I was reminded of Abraham Heschel’s comment on prayer that often we are mistaken in thinking that we must search for God, rather it is God who comes to us and it is we who must respond. Often in prayer we are tempted to keep God at a distance. We don’t like the experience of “Oops that was a bit close” because prayer opens us up to the dangerous and to the unexpected, at least as far as our self-centredness and our fantasies of our self-importance are concerned. Prayer may often be reassuring and comforting, but it never loses its underlying “goanna” edge.

Often progressive Christians struggle with the notion of prayer. Many progressives have rejected the idea of an omnipotent powerful God, who micromanages the universe on our behalf if only we have enough faith, are persistent enough or pure enough. However, the question is often left open as to how God responds, or even does God respond, or perhaps can God respond to prayer. These are complex questions which have been asked well before modern times. In a sense these are questions which each person must struggle with and formulate their own answers.

Yet, I think the progressive Christian movement could have given more guidance. Too often the questions on prayer have been quickly dismissed as infantile. Yet they are among the deepest and most meaningful of questions.

With this is mind, I was heartened to hear a fascinating podcast on petitionary prayer in which the author, counsellor and theologian Mark Karris was interviewed by the eccentric broadcaster and theologian Tripp Fuller.

Mark Karris proposes that when we seriously petition God, we should think of it as “conspiring” with God. Conspiring has the sense both of “breathing with” God, but also being subversive to injustice and evil in the world. In this sense, when we petition God, it is not we who are waiting on God to act, but God who is waiting on us. God has already acted and is acting in the world. God’s love is already in the suffering and hurt and pain that our prayer has spoken of. It is we who must enact that love. What are we are going to do? This is why Karris calls petitionary prayer, “beautifully dangerous.”

Karris goes on to criticise the petitionary prayers that we often hear in churches. He claims that they mar the image of God. They do this by putting all the responsibility for changing the world on God. In so doing they distance us from God and let us off the hook. We lose the opportunity to conspire with God, to breath together.

This is a challenge for nearly every church. The prayer of petition should not be the section in which we quietly go to sleep, but the section in which we go “Oops, that was a bit close, how must I respond?”

About APCV:

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) is a group of Christians who wish to contribute to public debate by promoting a generous and future-focused understanding of the Christian faith.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Understands Christian opinion to be more diverse and broader than that portrayed by the media.
  • Is dedicated to contributing insights from progressive streams of the Christian faith and community.
  • Seeks to minimise the effect that powerful lobby groups have on public discourse.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Is therefore concerned with promoting public awareness of the diversity of Christian opinion.
  • Welcomes fresh and challenging contemporary insights into the interpretation of the Christian scriptures and tradition.
  • Does not speak on behalf of any Christian denomination, congregation, community or organisation.

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8 thoughts on “Rethinking Prayer – Len Baglow, APCV

  1. Anne Price

    Thank you for this post. It is a beautiful and very helpful contribution to the topic of prayer. I agree that some progressive folk of various persuasions are prone to be dismissive of the topic, and of those who speak of it (not a loving way to behave!) Prayer is such a natural thing, coming as it does from the very depths of our being in response to those ‘God nudges’ that can arise at the most unexpected times.

  2. Peter Marshall

    Since I have become serious about engaging with the GOD question, about 11 years now, I have wondered why churched people avoid their responsibility and expect GOD to do their work, that is improve the situation of the world and all in it. They twiddle their thumbs and wait for a sign as to what action to take, when all along they know what to do, or al least have some idea of what they can attempt. This expectation of the church that GOD will look after everything is a main reason why it is very difficult for people to have much confidence that the church is a force for good in the world. Certainly Jesus did not sit idly by expecting his Abba to step in and do the work required to improve the world. He drew strength from GOD for sure, but set about doing what he determined was best to move mankind to a compassionate and beautiful way of living.

  3. Jill Ward

    Love Goanna Prayer – Thanks Len. Hope you don’t mind if I send it to others.
    God is right here, right now.

  4. Rodney Eivers

    To Peter Marshall,
    Very much my understanding of the Jesus story, Peter. Thank you.
    I should add though, to Jill, Len and others that prayer may well have a place, It depends on what we expect of it. It may be, as Michael Leunig seems to be saying, that it can be thought of as an in-depth conversation with oneself.

  5. Mark

    Hello, this is Mark, the author of Divine Echoes, from which the post is referencing. I am very excited this book is making an impact all over the world! For those who are interested, and who purchase the book or audiobook, the publisher has given me permission to give away the workbook selling on Amazon for free. Just let me know if you bought it, and I will email you the workbook with over 100 questions of reflection. Many are using the workbook individually and in small groups. I also love to field questions or just know your experience of the book, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Peace, Mark

  6. Paul Inglis Post author

    Good to hear from you Mark. I will make this widely known. Regards, Paul

  7. Peter Marshall

    For Rodney Eivers
    A good thing we connect on the forum Rodney as I have been trying to contact you re a book that seems appropriate for me. My recollection is not precise but the author is Dr. Lorraine Parkinson I think and the book had a title something like The best possible world according to Jesus. Probably I should call up some reviews of this book first to see if it might meet my needs; however I thought you were selling it at one of the Explorer seminars, possibly Caloundra, where Dr Parkinson and I think her husband presented at about 5 years ago. I am trying to build a stronger connection with the spirit of Jesus in regard to building compassion on a daily basis leading to expressions of loving kindness, concepts and practices I am exploring now through the Buddhist tradition. It is easy to find really good useful material on these concepts through Buddhist writings, but as I consider all the wonderful concepts and practices promoted by say, the Dalai Lama, I comment to myself that these things were also promoted by Jesus. So where possible I am trying to find material, such as briefly described, that has a strong link to the Jesus story. Anyway I thought this book by Dr Parkinson might fit the bill; do you still stock it?
    PS I can’t connect over Facebook and that is why I haven’t contacted you earlier

  8. Rodney Eivers

    Yes, Peter, I’m glad to know you are keeping in touch and making good use of our UC Forum website. I am, perhaps, not the best person to offer suggestions on the meditative aspects of the spiritual life. My “religious” life tends to take me in more pragmatic directions. I find this satisfying enough. On reflection, I think that this may be partly because my spiritual direction was set very early in life and there has been no further need for “searching” at this level.

    I have also been influenced in later years by Don Cupitt’s insistence that there is no hidden “real” self to be discovered. We are what we are because of all the, experiences and observations, pluses and minuses which beset us through life (with probably some influence from genetic factors). This means, of course, that our “selves” are constantly changing.

    In relation to Lorraine Parkinson’s books, you will be referring to “The World According to Jesus”. I have read that title but cannot remember much about it. Her more recent book is “Made on Earth – How Gospel Writers Created the Christ”. Of many books I have read with a “progressive” Christian inclination, this would have been one of those which most impressed me. This is because although academic enough in its precision it is still readable. It works its way systematically through each of the gospels demonstrating how the traditions and experience of the four writers conditioned what they recorded as per the Bible. I have copies of “ Made on Earth” available and can probably get hold of “The Word According to Jesus.” The price, allowing for postage etc. would be about $35.”

    In regard to what you are seeking I am not confident that “The World According to Jesus” would meet your need. Some of our other visitors to this website may be more helpful. Numerous books on non-supernaturalist spiritual life and practice have been published.

    Some of them may be listed on the Progressive Christianity website

    There is one book, however, which comes immediately to my mind. This is by our own Jenny Tymmns, former General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Queensland. It is called, “Deep Work – Spiritual Practice in our Workday World”. I hope to have copies available in due course. Despite the specific orientation towards a “working” life, this may be just up your alley.

    All the best with your ongoing spiritual exploration.
    Rodney Eivers

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