Feelings and Prayer

anger-photoEvery now and then, our discussion group may take a different direction than originally planned. That’s okay and it’s why we decided to state that we are a “discussion” group. Please note that this is a discussion that is still in progress.

I post an angry picture here because I mentioned discussing the power of praying our anger. My goal at the time was not to focus on anger, but for us to talk about ways to redirect our feelings in prayer so that we can live more intentionally.  In Spiritual Practice, we also want to give our feelings and thoughts to God.

Because of my youth, I have always been aware of emotions that occur during or because of prayer. I remember men crying as they prayed in our Baptist church. Our youth director taught us the joy of prayer. Staff at the summer camp taught us about silent prayer. As I grew older, I learned through the Lutheran church the value of accepting grace in prayer. While grace is not defined as a feeling, the grace received in prayer can cause all kinds of feelings to arise. Feelings we may not want or expect.

When we hold our feelings in, whether happy or sad, our feelings can get trapped and become a hindrance to prayer. In fact, the example of anger I used was about how I wassad-boy-1226964_1920 allowing anger at my helplessness to interfere with my prayer life. During seminary we attended a prayer retreat and the director talked to us about learning to pray our anger. She pointed out that praying our anger is important because God can take our anger. She then pointed to the Psalms and how they are often angry prayers.

“…there’s a danger to the temptation we feel to distance ourselves from these psalms of lament (which make up fully one-third of the psalter!), and the danger is that we’ll ignore a simple truth: we actually feel this way. Enacting violence is unjustified, but without allowing anger and pain to burst forth around God we can communicate, especially to the young, that such feelings are abnormal, that we shouldn’t feel anger or pain. This is not good.”  ~Brendan Busse, SJ

Why is it important to pray our anger, our lament, our blame, our feelings of helplessness? Because it is in these feelings that we recognize our helplessness and feel the most human. While my tendency (Robin) is to say these are bad feelings, they are not “bad” per se, they certainly aren’t fun. We all would rather feel powerful and happy. Of course, in those times we often ignore God and in worst case scenarios, begin to act like gods ourselves. When we are at our most vulnerable however, we realize that we need God and that we often need each other.

Some questions to consider as we discuss this further:

  • Why do we need each other if we have scripture and God?
  • What did Martin Luther mean when he said “sola scriptura” (scripture alone)?
    • Despite the diversity of viewpoints and the complexity of the many narratives contained in the Scriptures, Lutheran Christians believe that the story of God’s steadfast love and mercy in Jesus is the heart and center of what the Scriptures have to say.  ~ELCA – Scripture, Creeds, Confessions


This Essay by Richard Rohr seems to be a vital part of this conversation

True Conversion Never Stops

Friday, February 10, 2017

A consistent practice of contemplative prayer is essential for rebuilding Christianity from the bottom up. Over time, repeated, faithful practice sets us on a new foundation. Actually, it was always objectively there, but we were not awake to it and actively drawing upon it. Contemplation helps us to naturally tap into “the mind of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). This new perspective and foundation allows us to see things for what they really are—and for what they are not. It is indeed a radical perceptual shift, metanoia, or conversion. For most of us, conversion is not a one-time event; it happens again and again throughout our lives at ever new levels of insight. I am almost 74, and it still seems like a daily event.

Contemplation helps me begin to enjoy all things in themselves rather than in terms of their usefulness, importance, or threat to me. “I” stop being the significant reference point for everything—or anything. This awareness gradually deepens on the cellular level, impacting my breathing and all my senses. The thinking level will normally be the last to “fall” because it overstates its own importance and represses the other sources of knowing. That’s why most resistance to God, most ideological agnosticism and atheism, is expressed in very heady and highly theoretical language.

From this mature and wide awareness, I can later do what needs to be done, but my contentment is not dependent upon my actions or their outcome. There is less and less room for compulsivity, fanaticism, trumped-up excitement, or even hopelessness. If I am personally identified with my private viewing platform, every event has the power to snag, grab, and control me. This could be called unawareness, the unawakened state, or blindness. Through contemplation, I stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them without letting them “possess” me.

This is presence, or what Simone Weil (1909-1943) would call “absolutely unmixed attention.” [1] Such simplicity of vision brings quiet joy and contentment. Equanimity is the very nature of the soul. Jesus called it the peace the world cannot give nor take away (see John 14:27). I am now on a solid viewing platform, above the low level excitements (positive or negative) of the small self. Now I can begin to see things in their infinite character. This is the beginning of nondual thinking—the mind of Christ. As Paul put it: “Be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way in the goodness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24, JB).

Henceforth, I am a living paradox: at one and the same time utterly connected to everybody else in a compassionate, caring way and absolutely free to be my own self. My identity comes from within. I will want to love and serve others, but I do not use them or need them to define myself either positively or negatively. This is surely the freedom of the children of God (see Romans 8:21, Galatians 5:1).

Gateway to Silence:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 2:5


[1] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Arthur Wills (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1952), 170.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 136-139.



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