From Intercessions to Prayer

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Before I start, I must make as clear as I possibly can that there is nothing wrong with intercessory prayer. It is not lesser, it is not unworthy, it is not broken, it is not an indication of a stunted prayer life, it is not in any way to be demeaned. I say this as a precaution because in the context it is possible that I will slip and make it sound as though I think people should not engage in intercessory prayer. This is simply not the case at all. Every time we turn to God for even a moment, He uses the opportunity to encourage us to approach more nearly. God blesses intercessory prayer even when He does not answer it in the way that we think He ought.

One common problem I've encountered is that for some people intercessory prayer = prayer as a whole. That is, the are unaware that there is anything other than intercessory prayer. If they pray the Rosary, they pray it for intentions and don't really reflect on the fact that proper prayer of the Rosary entails meditation upon the mysteries. It is the idea that intercessory prayer is all that there is that can become problematic. Remember, the line is "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." In any conversation there must be time for speaking and time for listening; otherwise you do not have a conversation but a monologue.

If one is faithful to one's intercessory prayers, but does not do much more, how can one move into the wider field of prayer? How can one grow from listing concerns to hearing what is on God's heart (as it were)?

I'm afraid the answer is one that you've heard here time and again, and I'm going to trot it out again because I haven't read on any blogs recently the tremendous breakthroughs that have come as people adopted and started to faithfully used the tried and true methods of Church tradition. So, here it is one more time--Lectio Divina. For those from a protestant background, you'll know what I mean when I say, "Get into the Word."

I like that Protestant expression because of its productive ambiguity. Indeed, Lectio is "getting into the Word" in at least two substantive ways. In one, we read and pray the Bible to learn to love God, and in the other, by doing the former we "put on Jesus Christ." When we get into the word, we perforce get into the Word. When I pray the Bible, I begin to understand humility--who and what I am before God and what is required of me as a servant of the Lord and a member of the body of Christ. Reading scripture apprises me of where I am in the Lord, and when that happens in a flash of metacognition, I realize that indeed I am IN the Lord. I have "put on Jesus Christ."

Lectio is one gateway that moves us from intercession to the depths of prayer. It is not the only gateway, but it is one that is too poorly used in the Catholic Tradition. The more cradle Catholics I talk to the more surprised I am at how many are only very slightly aware of the Bible. They know that parts of it are read at Mass, but there does not seem to be a real comprehension of the depths of the scriptures and the necessity of reading and studying them. In fact, I am all the more surprised because many of these people are well versed in the writings of the Saints and of philosophers. They argue cogently and coherently certain truths of the faith, but they seem disconnected from the roots of some of these truths. They know vaguely that they come from the Bible, but were one to press the point they wouldn't be able to articulate where or how.

Because Catholics have had a twofold magisterium of Scripture and Tradition, there has been a tendency to honor one above the other. Unfortunately all too often what has been honored is tradition not Tradition, with the net result that many Catholics can't find their way around the Bible. When I was teaching a class a few months ago, I had to guide many to realize that Daniel was in the Old Testament, in the latter half where one found the Prophets. That lead to a whole discussion about the classical division of the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets and to New Testament divisions. This ignorance is understandable, but it is neither invincible nor is it laudable nor long excused once one is aware of it.

Now, I'm not a "read the Bible in a year, every year" sort of guy. But everyone owes it to themselves to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the overall outlines of the books of scripture. That is, one should know that Isaiah is the source of a good many Messianic prophecies, that Jeremiah is the "weeping prophet," etc. The purpose of understanding your general whereabouts in scripture is to know where to turn if you have a particular problem or are seeking help with a particular difficulty. Having trouble trusting God, meditate for a while upon Jonah. . . you get the idea.

The prayer of scripture in Lectio is not about studying to fill your head with more facts. Continuing the discussion of some days past, all of our actions are about loving and glorifying God. If this is not the end of what we do, then there is no reasonable or viable end--there is merely a stopping point. Lectio is reading to love, not entirely reading to learn (although that can and must happen as well if we are to grow in love.)

So, from intercession to other prayer--one step is reading the Bible. The practice is considered so beneficial that if one were to spend a half-hour each day reading scripture (under the usual conditions) one could get a plenary indulgence each day. This is one way the Church announces as clearly as possible that it considers the reading and praying of scripture as paramount to the person seeking to live a Christian life. Do not underestimate the efficacy of reading scripture for even five minutes at a busy lunchtime--the alteration in you day is likely to be dramatic!

So, why are you still here reading this? You could be spending the time with scripture. Start here if you have no other plan. Yes, it is the ghastliest of translation, enough to make a Cornishman gnash his teeth--but it is the Word of God, holy and true--even in a linguistically mangled state.

[Orthographical Note: On this one entry, I managed to find at least two different ways to mutilate the spelling of intercessory--my fingers are accomplished actors all on their own!]

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It is shameful that some -- not all -- Catholics ignore Scripture. What treasures they pass by! For a good read on the classic way of Lectio, see this page at the Fish Eaters Website: Lectio Divina. Note the link to the text of "Scala Paradisi," too! (and the poem about the monk and his cat!)

Great post (I found you through Dappled Things).

The plan that I use for reading each year is Luther's lectionary--I find it a useful practice both for becoming more familiar with Scripture, and, as you say, for deepening the practice of prayer.

Dear Gregory,

Thank you for the comment and link. And you are right, it is a shame that some have not yet been lured by the riches of scriptural reading. But then, if everyone already did it, I wouldn't have much to encourage people to, would I?

Dear Chris,

Thanks for stopping by. The lectionary is a very good idea; however, it is probably wise to insert a caution that we should not be so driven by keeping on schedule with the lectionary that we give short shrift to the prayer part of Lectio. Some people once scheduled are so rigorous in their application that in order to make certain the get through the entire reading, they do not linger over the words or ponder them.

True, it is very easy to both use a lectionary, keep to a schedule AND do lectio, but for some it is nearly a compulsion to complete the passage. (I speak from hard experience.) But a routine of prayer with a "goal" that is left open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, is a very valuable aid in doing the reading every single day.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 18, 2006 12:25 PM.

"Our souls. . . fail God." was the previous entry in this blog.

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