photo: Steve Bell
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a retreat to a small group of businessmen who meet regularly to deepen friendships and to help each other to grow in character and faith. These were all very successful, triple A personality types who carry loads of responsibility and manage myriad, dynamic details I can hardly imagine. Yet, they believe it important to occasionally pull away from the fray of pursuit and duty in order to reflect, restore and reset so that their pursuits and duties might perhaps bear fruit more in keeping with the good (as dimly as we are able to perceive it) than otherwise.
And here I need to interject a little aside: I do, because of my work, get to occasionally spend time with the very wealthy: those much aligned 2% who, according to some narratives, are almost solely responsible for all that is wrong with the world. Certainly there are pitiless scoundrels among them—I’m just not convinced they exist in higher percentages among the privileged than in any other segment of society. It may well be a naive convenience to assign guilt “out there” when it may be more honest to humbly confess, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously penned, that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
This is not to say that we shouldn’t engage in sustained and thoughtful public conversation about privilege, power, class, wealth distribution, poverty, social alienation and the like, but only that totalizing statements about “the rich,” or any other segment of society for that matter, are not only unhelpful, but untruthful—certainly from my experience.
Anyway… one of the themes of the retreat that came up was the question of prayer, and how difficult it is to settle the soul and free it from obsessive distraction (even of good things) so that it may quietly, and consciously breathe the breath of God that is prayer. Is it even reasonable to hope that we could in our age of frenetic busyness be still, attentive and open to the in-spiration of the Holy Spirit when there is so much on our plates, never mind the darker distractions of our inordinate passions and desires that we don’t dare to voice openly?
I didn’t have much that was helpful to offer the guys—other than to nod my head in experienced solidarity with their fragmentation. I offered a couple of techniques that have helped me somewhat…but even as I did that, I noticed internally, with a resigned smirk, that I was thinking of entirely unrelated things at the same time. Gah…
Today I read a prayer from a book by Walter Brueggemann (a favourite author/theologian of mine) called Prayers for a Privileged People. The book begins with several prayers riffing of the Collect Of Purity, which is, in the Anglican tradition, prayed at the opening of most worship services:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It’s worth reading slowly, considering each line. It’s worth singing as well, as melody has a way of penetrating deeper into our souls than words alone. Here’s a song version I recorded a few years back (written by my friend Gord Johnson):
Bruggemann’s prayer below takes off from the line “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.”
Consider that “inspiration” here is not meant in the modern sense of a good idea or brainwave, but rather its more archaic meaning: in-spire (breathe into) —suggesting that God’s Spirit is the good air that fills our lungs and allows for our souls to breathe.
Here’s the prayer. It’s well worth pondering as I/we hope to learn how to turn off the merciless voices in our heads so that a profound and attentive stillness may yield an awareness of God’s Spirit, and the possibility of conscious concord with the One whose Thought (as opposed to our thoughts) is the very ground of prayer. The effort, I believe, is imperative. For it is the stilled soul that can hear the “still small voice” of God and perhaps offer something of wisdom and love to a world of shrill voices that lead nowhere and offer no peace.
CLEANSE THE THOUGHTS
by Walter Brueggemann
Every time we meet,
we pray that you would “cleanse the thoughts of
our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit.”
We present ourselves for that strange interface
between our thoughts and your spirit.
We covet our thoughts that do not stay focused
about getting out of church on time and
errands to run after church and
meals to purchase and folks to see;
our thoughts reflect our excessive busyness
that leave us little time for our life with you.
And beneath busyness our thoughts are preoccupied
with hopes that linger in disappointment
with hurts that refuse to be healed
with guilt that does not easily yield to pardon
with estrangements that cut deep and remain open
with can-do confidence about power and energy
We think a thousand thoughts a minute…
of money and sex and control
and loss and death and
cell phones and loneliness
and good food.
And then you…
you who give light and wind and life,
you who watch over us with sustaining power
and disciplining presence;
you will us well and whole
and by stealth turn our lives in freshness
We present ourselves
seekingly…grudgingly…that you will
equip us to relinquish our thoughts that
we have thought too long and too often
seeking that you will restore to us the joy of
seeking that you will make things new
in our stale, weary lives.
What we seek, only you can give;
What we ask, we cannot find ourselves;
What we want is a gift
and the open graciousness to receive it
on your terms.
Come Holy Spirit!
Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers For A Privileged People can be viewed and purchased HERE…