PRAYING IN 3D: Awake in the Spirit

Last year on Pentecost morning a group of jet black vultures had settled under a spreading oak tree in our front yard. Never had I seen turkey buzzards, as they are known around here, except at their grisly work in nature’s final cleanup operation. Here they were at rest. I wondered what to call them, since there are long lists of fanciful group names for birds -such as, the parliament of owls, a gaggle of geese, and my favorite, an exaltation of larks. Of course vultures could be called your basic flock; but it occurred to me they might better be a wake of vultures- so silent, but alert and ready, and dressed funereally for the occasion. I guessed they were waiting for a scout bird to call them to their next grim mission. Looking this up on an internet bird list, I found they have several suggestive names, including a congregation of vultures, and yes, a wake of vultures, especially descriptive of this group. So it seemed to me, these birds were awake for their mission.

Still looking, and wondering, I counted -eleven, plus the one on that low tree branch. It’s the twelve Apostles of the Lord. My eyes widened. They’re waiting for the Holy Spirit as instructed. The one in the tree must be St. Peter ready to hold forth. This is getting weird. It’s almost 9 AM! Then the scout bird arrived and they flew into the reality of their instinctive task somewhere down the road. And I went off to church -awake, to congregate, dressed clerically in black, and feeling Pentecostal.

The buzzards just know, because they are birds, what their task is, what is the purpose of their very existence. And they know instinctively which bird is the leader, and how to follow. Not so, for Christians, since we are human and must act spiritually with freedom and choice. The only thing that makes our spirituality Christian is the Holy Spirit. So at the start of every consideration of the techniques of prayer we must remind ourselves to ask,and to keep asking: Come, Holy Spirit (“Send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior has gone before…Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his comfort.” -Book of Common Prayer, pp.226-227) This is why Christians should always follow the old saying, Pray as you can, not as you can’t; because, no amount of technique, discipline or good intentions will help us to grow and develop. Christian spirituality is the operation of God, a gift to us that should inspire every practice. This does not mean no effort is needed on our part; but that effort should always be cooperation in response to God’s prior gift. We humans always seem to want to do things on our own; waiting seems a lazy waste of time. Beware. Waiting should always come first. Keep awake.

Before plunging into the consideration of some powerful prayer techniques, here are scriptural reminders for the self-directed, the impatient or the overly zealous- which pretty much includes all of us:

  1. The Holy Spirit is sent to empower us. A lamp may be plugged into the power source (Baptism), but it still must be turned on to give illumination. Here are some Bible verses to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest:” Begin with Acts 1:8
  2. The Holy Spirit will be present, on our side and at our side, the Paraclete. John 14:16-17 and John 16:7-11.
  3. We never know how to pray on our own, nor do we need to. Real prayer will be a process we don’t initiate. We join and participate in energies already present; go with the flow. Romans 8:26-27. (This is especially important for intercessors.)
  4. We need to ask, and keep asking, for the Spirit. “Ask, search, knock” Luke 11:9-13. Sometimes, its the Giver we should seek, sometimes the gifts. Matthew 7:7-11.