Daily Reflection
October 6th, 1999
Eileen Wirth
Department of Journalism
John 4:1-11
Psalms 86:3-6, 9-10
Luke 11:1-4

As I meditated on today's readings about how to pray, my mind leaped back to Sister Jean Martin's 5th grade classroom.  Once more I was mechanically rattling off the answer to the Baltimore Catechism question:  "What is prayer?"  Answer:  (I hope) "Prayer is the lifting of our hearts and minds to God."

Along with the catechism, we memorized numerous prayers full of high flown language not commonly used in Nebraska City, Neb., in the 1950s.  I think particularly of the poetic  phrase in "Hail Holy Queen" - "Oh clement, oh loving, oh sweet Virgin Mary."  Who was "clement" and what did he have to do with the Blessed Virgin?

Kidding aside, at least those years formed in many people a habit of prayer.  They may not have understood the all phrases but they had a ritualized method of talking to God which seemed to work.  Now we're not so sure what prayer is or how to pray.  Today's readings suggest different models that may guide us in developing a  prayer life.

Psalm 86 is a comfortable model of prayer because it resembles the approach we often take in communicating with superior beings.  First we adore God, then we get down to our REAL business, which is asking Him to pay attention to our needs.  Then we finish off with some more adoration, like we're trying to get on God's good side so He'll grant the request in the middle.  Parents and teachers often receive this mixture of affection, flattery and begging for favors.  More often than not, it works.  I suspect God enjoys it just as we parents and teachers do -although He, too, knows what's going on!

There are elements of this model in Luke's version of the "Our Father."  Jesus, however, adds several other elements which deepen and enrich the prayer:  the need to ask forgiveness and our obligation to forgive others.

In the "Our Father," we're reminded that prayer should link us to a community and that we can't entirely separate our relationship with God from our relationships with other people. This is a prayer that is grounded in our very ordinary daily needs:  the need to earn a living and the need to get along with other people.  This prayer recognizes that God is part of these essential, mundane aspects of life.  This model of prayer encourages us to talk to God about what's going on in our daily lives- whether it's to thank Him that Suzie got a part in the play or to offer up a difficult situation at work for a good cause.  Here we relate to God as both parent and friend.

The final model of prayer from the Book of Jonah is one that many of us raised to be nice people may find a little shocking.  It's a prayer in which God is so real that we can argue with Him and even be angry with Him.  Unlike the Psalmist, Jonah isn't into flattering God.
Jonah is angry with God and he says so.  "I should be better dead than alive."  Jonah clearly feels extremely secure with God's love or he wouldn't risk God's vengeance.  He trusts God to understand and cope with his anger in much the same way that teens often trust their parents to cope with hostile or unreasonable behavior.

This, too, is comforting because there are times when life is awful and we need to tell God so.  We can't always be sweet like the psalmist or comfortable visiting with God about daily life.  Sometimes we have to vent our anger and hostility in order to move beyond them.  The reading from Jonah gives us permission to pray this way when we need to.

And so I go back to that 5th grade classroom and the Baltimore Catechism definition of prayer.  The three models of today's readings are very different but they all conform to that simple definition which generations of us memorized.  They all involve the lifting of our hearts and minds to God.  Sister Jean Martin would be pleased!

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