Prayer as Echo Chamber

For reasons that are entirely a mystery to me, I receive regular emails from the “Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.” When the emails started appearing in my busy inbox, I was tempted to figure out a way to unsubscribe—as, by a brief scan of the first few, I realized that I was not in agreement with much of anything that appeared to concern them. On second thought, I decided not to unsubscribe and that it would be more interesting to read the emails from time to time.

And it has been very interesting.

In a recent e-newsletter, the CPCF listed a series of links to longer stories on a range of topics ranging from the Supreme Court confirmation process to Christian (referred to mostly as “religious”) practice in the armed forces to the hostility toward “religion” in the U.S. (again, all of the examples shown were all Christian). Most of the topics that appear in the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation’s emails have something to do with attacks on (Christian) prayer in various public spaces and/or gatherings and with the organization’s efforts to encourage those who read their materials to pray for various issues: certain outcomes in particular judicial cases or legislative bills; for others on the “religious liberty front”; and, for “those that oppose us.”

The emails I receive from the CPCF leave me puzzled, and even alarmed, at the sense of prayer that exists in a sort of a vacuum or worse, as an echo chamber. There’s little care or consideration for prayer as religious and spiritual practice, as sacred space through which one opens oneself to the presence of God. Instead, prayer seems only to be one more weapon in the culture wars of the present day.

For the CPCF, prayer is synonymous with “Christian.” The CPCF advises its readers to “continue praying consistently and fervently for the successful passage of legislation that effectively protects our Judeo-Christian heritage and religious liberty.” Is it possible to claim that prayer belongs only to Christians? And, more than that, is the CPCF endeavoring to do the work of God or is it the other way around?

I’m certainly not opposed to prayer, but I wonder about the sorts of prayers, and attitudes toward prayer, that the CPCF is promoting. Prayer, it seems to me, should not be a catalog of requests from the petitioner, a litany of wants and desires to fulfill one’s personal, political and/or cultural yearnings or aspirations. Prayer ought not be a sort of religious sounding “one-way” street, where one’s own views and perspectives conveniently become God’s desires for creation.

Prayer is a sacred place for dialogue with one’s Creator, a place not only to lift up gratitude and praise as well as the burdens that one carries, reaching out for assistance and assurance. Prayer is also where one discovers the grace to open one’s heart for that still, small voice of God. Prayer is a pathway for re-acquainting ourselves with the unknowable aspects of faith and of the God we worship.

Jesus offered simple, yet profound, guidance when it comes to prayer. The CPCF could probably use a refresher course:

Matthew 6:6-7: “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

Luke 6:12-13: “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles . . . “

Prayer ought not be a path through which our own work be done, but God’s, and this is a much trickier thing than I think the CPCF appreciates. God’s outlook on matters of politics and public policy is not as simple and clear as the CPCF suggests. Otherwise, to whom are we praying—God or  or ourselves?

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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