Thursday, September 5, 2013

Caring Prayer versus Curing Prayer: Slow Down When You Pray

Caring Prayer versus Curing Prayer: 
Slow Down When You Pray

     Our English word "prayer" is derived from the Sanskrit word "prashna" which means "to question". The Prashna Upanishad is one of the "primary" sacred teachings in Hinduism. In the Prashna Upanishad six students bring big questions to their Guru; questions like, what is the soul, why do we dream, and what is the goal of meditation? Their teacher tells them to be patient, and to spend the next year in solitude and a deep contemplative study of their questions before bringing them back to the master teacher. At the end of the year, the questions have been resolved by simply patiently caring for them.

     There is a lesson in "prashna prayer". In this form of prayer one merely cares for the problem in the presence of the deity. The surest way to find an "answer" to a prashna prayer is to slow down and approach the concern consciously and carefully. 

     Too often I view prayer as a method to find quick answers from a higher authority--demanding instant cures and snappy remedies. That is curing prayer--and it is a valuable form of prayer. But if the cure doesn't come, it may be time to experience caring prayer.

   Curing prayer focuses on fixing the problem Caring prayer focuses on recognizing and sitting with the indispensable existence of the problematic people, emotional concerns and external situations that move me to prayer. Curing prayer begins with the assumption that I ought to be completely healed right now. Caring prayer begins with the assumption that I am incompletely whole right now. Caring prayer means that my current state of inquisitive fragmentation and discontent is wholly divine in the sense that there is no place where the numinous Presence is not active. Curing prayer sees God present only in the healing. Caring prayer recognizes that there is something holy occurring in every life situation--even the crooked and terrifying experiences. Stephen Mitchell's translation of Tao Te Ching 22 captures this perspective:
"If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty."
    Caring prayer recognizes that there is something weighty occurring in every life situation--even in the crooked and empty experiences. Caring prayer sits with the awful experiences in prayer as a parent does with their sick child. 

     Consider a story from the Hebrew Bible found in Numbers 21. The Hebrews have just escaped Egypt and are traveling through a sweltering desert. There is little food and the going is rough--so they scream at Moses and his God. The story says that the LORD sent toxic snakes to bite them. Now don't get caught up in the literal, pay attention to the symbolism. The poisoned and dying people ask Moses to get them some help. Moses asks God what to do and this is what God says:
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
     How odd is that? The very thing that is killing them contains the antidote! The solution to the life threatening problem is in looking at the problem itself--considering it, taking care of what is right in front of them. This NOT dwelling in the problem, but on the problem. There is a huge difference. To dwell in the problem is to focus on the pain of the snakebite; to dwell on the problem is to focus on the purpose of the snakebite. In this view, every pathology, addiction or problem contains a purpose--an angel, insights, messages, revelations. Like physical pain, psychic suffering signifies the need to care for the problem. Pain is purposeful. Carl Jung writes: "Every chronic neurosis is the result of not attending to the initial emotional suffering." Caring prayer suggests that we look at the poison snakebites in our lives as mediators not only of pain, but of solutions. 

     Even more fascinating is that Jesus uses this homeopathic illustration to describe how his toxic crucifixion would bring salvation (wholeness) to those who pondered its significance:  "You must be born again...Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3)  It is through crucifixion that resurrection arrives; it is through our fragmentations that reintegrations occur.

     Caring prayer realizes that the answer is in the question, just like the Hindu students who spent a year caring for their questions (prashna) before the answers could arrive--staring at the toxic conundrum facilitates the healing solution.

     To practice caring prayer, identify the most problematic or toxic snakebite, or troubling question (prashna) in your life. Spend five minutes caring for that issue each day--looking up at it. Caringly pray with each problem--yes, with the problem. Pray with the money that is missing or the health issue that is assailing you--don't pray to have it "fixed" but pray to see in what ways it is "fixing" you as you pay attention to it. Pray with the person who is driving you mad--don't pray to have them removed or fixed, but see how they are fixing you

     Ruminate on any words, insights or ideas. Hold the name and face of the person you despise, care for the emotions you are feeling, the item you don't have enough of or want more of. Listen, watch, sketch and write down any images, insights or revelations that "pop in". Research any words in a dictionary, or images online. Care for them as a sculptor cares for the clay s/he is molding. 

     Quite often, like the serpent on the pole, these words and their images mediate the solutions to our questions and the answers to our prayers. They will come when cared for, attended. Jot down insights. Draw images. Write poems. Put it to music. Dance it. Talk with it. Engage with the problem. Get acquainted with these profane and ordinary annoyances as "imperfectly perfect" manifestations of the numinous. Each event and relationship is potentially a container of soul-making activity. 

     However, this does not mean passive acquiescence to intolerable circumstances, nor does it mean surrendering to the will of some bully, human or divine, but rather conscientious and contemplative engagement with those things we often hastily pray to have removed or fixed. 

     Caring prayer suggests that I set aside instant cures, and focus on gathering what is right in front of me for careful attention--until it answers the question or provides the insights. Once that occurs, it will then leave of its own accord when, and if, it is done. In its own time, not ours. Some of these snakebites last a lifetime--but if cared for, will provide a lifetime of divine revelations and astonishing psycho-spiritual transformations. 

Or not...

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