Don’t freak out on me. I’ve used Alex Grey’s work to illustrate points before. His work can be weird and unsettling, but he’s also impossible to get away from once you contemplate it a bit.
I’m into another Benner book: Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life. I may get around to sharing a passage from it in a separate post, but for now I wanted to share something which reading his book brought to the surface for me.
Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the rule of praying is the rule of believing”) is an expression Christians have long employed to emphasize prayer’s primacy in and over belief and doctrine. Traditionally, it was liturgy (or worship) which led to theology. Theology and doctrine served liturgy as a way to express the meaning of the gospel’s transforming power in life and our celebration of it. One way to apply this to belief and doctrine is to measure the weight and implications of belief in terms of the effects they have upon the lived experience of prayer. Can I pray this doctrine? Can it inform, enrich, and expand my living as an act of prayer? Or—if you’re Fr Aidan—Can I preach it? It’s the same practical-existential concern.
People inevitably want to know what relevance a belief has for their day to day concerns. What difference does it make? And where people fail to see the practical relevance such questions have for life’s relationships, decisions, and vocations, they fail to engage those issues in a meaningful way for any length of time. So in focusing on the implications which a belief has for our understanding of prayer, we bring belief to bear upon one of the most practical everyday concerns of religious persons and thus have an opportunity to judge the existential support for truth-claims. For me, this is what lex orandi lex credendi gets at. Prayer becomes the primary existential stage upon which any theology may be examined and judged. Evagrius (Egyptian monastic of the 4th century CE) expresses it well: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly, and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”
More specifically, I want to know if all our living can become prayer, if we can, in the totality of our being and acting, at all times and in all circumstances, become an uninterrupted act of prayer. By this I don’t mean to ask if we can manage to carry on a conversation with God that runs continuously alongside all the day to day conversations and activities we attend to at home and work, like a software program running alongside other programs, as though these are different and competing spheres of engagement we juggle without letting either compromise the other. On the contrary, to say “life is prayer” or “I am become all prayer” is to say the mundane day to day conversations and activities are prayer. They are where I converse with God, and my conversation with God can enfold all those activities within its embrace.
This is only possible, I think, if God is embraced as the transcendent summum bonum, the end of all desire, whom we desire in desiring anything at all, even if we desire imperfectly. Learning to make God the end of all our conversations and actions begins with seeing God in all our actions and conversations. That vision then transforms all our living into an unending conversation with him, and we become all prayer. We see and converse with Christ perceived in all things. I respond to others in the belief that Christ is receiving the words I say, the actions I do. Is this imaginable? St. Paul seemed to think so. “Whatever you do,” Paul writes (Col 3.23), do it “as for the Lord rather than for men.” Does this mean only that our motivations are observed by Christ as a third party and that our actions, if motivated properly, are counted as ‘good’ because measured by Christ as the measure of the Good? I think he’s saying more, namely, that we can consciously make Christ the object of all our actions, so that what we say and do to others becomes the means of a more fundamental relating to Christ.
This is more than pretending that Christ is truly present in all things and acting accordingly. It’s relating to Christ in all things as offering himself to us and so transforming the mundane into the sacred. If I feed the hungry, I feed Christ. If I do harm to my neighbor, I harm Christ. If I befriend and do kindly to the homeless, I am kind to Christ. And in an important sense, I’m only rude, or kind, or helpful to others because Christ is, first and preeminently, present receiving my saying and doing. God measures our actions as summum bonum by receiving them, not by observing them as a third-party.
So if prayer is a conversation in which I recognize, converse with, and offer myself to God in Christ through the Spirit, becoming all prayer appropriates all created contexts as an extension of that conversation. We don’t pray alongside doing other things. We engage God directly in engaging anything. Again, this is more than seeing God in all things conceptually (which may be just an academic recognition of the truth that everything in our world is being sustained by God). It is meeting God in all things, conversing with him in all things, as personally as we meet him in ourselves, because the God we meet in ourselves is in all things, and how can we not converse with God wherever we perceive him?
All that is real on thee depends
and from thy breath of love extends;
With thee infused all is;
To thee alone all sends
its praise back.
Beautiful. You are so beautiful,
in all things. I see you in their eyes
and deep within their depths I find
eternal surprise after surprise.