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Individual Spiritual Practices: Understanding Prayer

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1 Individual Spiritual Practices: Understanding Prayer
James A. Van Slyke Individual Spiritual Practices: Understanding Prayer

2 Perspectives on Prayer
Prayer mainly associated with the Christian tradition (also Hindu and Buddhism) Petitioning God Meet basic needs (food or clothing) Meet Spiritual needs (forgiveness, purity) Ascent of the mind or soul towards God Plotinus Inward turn towards God Conversation with God

3 Perspectives on Prayer
Expressive prayer Sharing our emotions or desires with God Usually involves speech (spoken or inner) Praise (Kataphatic tradition) Contemplative prayer Letting Go Creating space for God to speak Silence (Apophatic tradition)

4 Teresa of Avila (1515-82) Christian mystic and nun
The Interior Castle (1577) Prayer should be a transformative experience Changes our perspective on the world Moves us away from illusion Liminal state – stuck between two states Guilt and forgiveness Provides space for transition

5 Relationality Moves us to a state of trust and dependence on God
More attuned to the needs of others Connects us more deeply to others Continual activity (“pray without ceasing”) Provides a connection to God throughout the day Sensing the relational presence of God

6 Prayer in the Christian Tradition
Prayer was an essential element of spiritual practices in the early church Early Christians were a minority Developed unique practices based on several sources Jewish Religious Tradition Circulation of early New Testament writings Helped form the basic spiritual practices that define the Christian experience

7 Movement to exile When Christianity became a state religion practitioners moved outside of society Felt that state religion weakened the spiritual practices of the church Desert Fathers (3rd century) Monastic movements Evagrius of Pontus Maximus the Confessor

8 Spiritual Growth in Prayer
Three Stages to developing a mature prayer life First Stage – Praktike – lifestyle changes, letting go of sinful attachments; gain virtues Second Stage – Natural Contemplation – Seeing the work of God in the world rather than exploiting it; rejecting selfish desires (sin) Third Stage – Theoria – Spiritual contemplation – Seeing God; ineffable experiences; participation in the divine reality

9 Ascetic Practices Training and Exercises that cultivate spirituality
Connection between physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life Embodied Spirituality Increased concern on the role of the body and emotion in spiritual practices Religion not a “disembodied” experience

10 Ascetic Practices Practices
Simplicity of Diet Fasting Prayer retreats Manual labor Simplify life in order to allow more room for God Controlling and moderating desire (Not eliminating it) Increases Freedom Purifying Desire

11 Contemporary Resources for Ascetic Practices

12 Martin Luther and Prayer
Prayer was the most important spiritual practice “the lifting of the heart or mind to God” (Luther 1519) Helped in the discernment of the scriptures Reason alone was insufficient for knowledge of God Required spiritual experience through prayer

13 Martin Luther and Prayer
Meditatio – prayerful reading of the scriptures Oratio – Encountering the Holy Spirit Promises of the Bible strengthen our faith Recognize our need for God Through prayer our hearts seek after God

14 Martin Luther and Prayer
Tenatio or Anfechtung (Distress or testing) A feeling of need (poverty of the spirit) Increases our hope and faith in God Genuine prayer should lead to right attitudes and actions The primary subject of prayer should be God or others

15 Modern Views of Prayer Friedrich Heiler (1932) Two primary categories
Focused mainly on expressive forms of prayer Prayer is mainly a conversation with God that involves an awareness of dependence and trust Emotional; an outpouring of the heart Formulaic or impersonal prayer dissolves this awareness Two primary categories Mystical (Subjective; individual) Prophetic (Active; calling upon God)

16 Modern Views of Prayer Ann Ulanov Jungian psychologist
Primary Speech (1982) Prayer is a response to God of our inner emotions and desires Begins in infancy It is the primary expression of our true selves

17 Modern Views of Prayer Ann Ulanov
Dishonesty with ourselves detracts from honesty in prayer Fear or doubt of God’s acceptance can limit our ability for spiritual growth in prayer Must be willing to express our true selves Anger, aggression, sexuality Willing to confront distorted images of God or the self

18 Modern Types of Prayer Among US population (Poloma & Pendleton 1989, 1991) Meditative – individual listening; attunement Ritualistic – reciting prayers; liturgy Petitionary – Asking for things from God Colloquial – Conversations with God

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