And heaven and nature

When people ask me for prayer, sometimes it bugs me. This morning, after years of my feeling this way, Meister Eckhart offers me an explanation:

People often say to me: “Pray for me!” Then I think: “Why do you go out of yourselves? Why don’t you stay within yourselves and grasp your own blessings? After all, you bear essentially all truth within yourselves.” (Sermon 14)

Just as Jesus refused to grant his generation’s request for a sign except to give them the sign of Jonah, so we might refuse someone’s request for prayer except to pray the prayer of Paul. Paul often describes his prayers for others in great detail. But those prayers don’t fix the future. And they don’t seem to happen when people ask him to pray. Here’s a sample:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)

Paul here prays that the Ephesians “may be able to comprehend” what’s already in them in God. This, I think, is true intercession. It is the prayer of Elisha – “open his eyes”:

And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, forthose who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

A couple of observations about Elisha’s prayer:

  • Elisha doesn’t pray for something that’s not present. He prays that the servant would see what’s already present.
  • Elisha doesn’t pray because the servant asks for prayer. Indeed, the servant doesn’t ask for prayer but for direction. Elisha, however, gives no direction. Instead, he prays. Situationally triggered prayer seems to have a spontaneous, spirit-led aspect to it.

These two observations are joined. To see what’s already there is always to experience the spontaneous and unpredictable. In other words, to see what’s already there is to wake up, which is disorienting to the dreamer. This seeing or waking is spontaneous and unpredictable. As Deepak Chopra puts it, “let me underscore how extraordinary waking up is, and how unpredictable” (Metahuman, p. 155).

Elisha and Paul here point to true intercession, which is participating in the birth of what God has previously conceived, and not of what we have conceived or what has previously “entered into the heart of man.” When Paul intercedes in prayer, he sees himself as a mother with child: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Gal. 4:19). God’s prayer, really, is this birthing, this unpredictable “natality” (as Hannah Arendt puts it), this “waking up” (as Chopra puts it), this seeing (as Elisha and Jesus put it), as opposed to the mortality of dualistic, mechanistic thought and prayer. God’s prayer is life itself, a prayer “without ceasing.” Matthew Fox on Eckhart:

Living itself, so long as it is so deep that it is without a why or wherefore, becomes the ultimate prayer, the ultimate act of experiencing and giving birth to God. (Breakthrough)

Anything smaller than this prayer of giving birth to God amounts to looking for answers outside of ourselves. When Eckhart responds to people requesting prayer with “Why do you go outside of yourselves?”, Fox understands Eckhart to reject dualism:

This wayless way [of God] is also without a why, a wherefore, or a reason. From this spiritual foundation you ought to accomplish all your deeds without a reason. This doing away with goals for loving God extends to religious goals such as heaven or eternal happiness, however well intentioned, because to operate from such goals from outside oneself is to act out of dualism. It is to forget that heaven and eternal life are already here. It is to forget that we are already living the divine life. What kind of life is this divine life? How does God live? It is a life without a why. The life of God is “without a why.”

More Eckhart on “without a why”:

If anyone were to ask life over a thousand years, “Why are you alive?” the only reply could be: “I live so that I may live.” This happens because life lives from its own foundation and rises out of itself. Therefore it lives without a reason . . .

Dualism begins with the question, “why?”, which is a question rooted in fear and limitations. It pits heaven against earth. (As Chopra points out, this heaven-versus-nature dualism is shared by both today’s scientists and today’s religions.) Dualism strives to bring heaven to earth (huge, negative political ramifications), but Jesus said, “No one goes up to heaven except the one who comes down from heaven” (John 3:13). Or as Eckhart says, “Height and depth are the same thing.”

There is no “meaning of life.” There is only life. There is only, as Chopra puts it, “the sheer exuberance of creativity” (Metahuman, p. 199). How do our purposes in Christ fit into any grand scheme? I’ll die without knowing. Meanings, I think, are part of the clutter, space junk we strike when we start to fly. As Chopra also says, “Each of us was born into an interpreted world. Previous generations spent their lives giving everything a human meaning” (295). Those composite meanings help create the false world our ego enjoys, the “virtual reality” Chopra points out that we are born into.

But this birth, as well as the creativity inherent in our birth, is our answer to God’s prayer in us. Our birth challenges Chopra’s “virtual reality,” which is analogous to Hannah Arendt’s ruinous “automatic processes to which man is subject.” These processes, Arendt points out, “occupy by far the largest space in recorded history.” We can act against this pervasive falsity, but only if our actions are miracles (that is, only if they are expressions of our true selves). She explains:

Every act, seen from the perspective not of the agent but of the process in whose framework it occurs and whose automatism it interrupts, is a “miracle” – that is, something which could not be expected. If it is true that action and beginning are essentially the same, it follows that a capacity for performing miracles must likewise be within the range of human faculties. (Between Past and Future, pp. 167 – 168)

I don’t think Eckhart or Chopra would disagree with Arendt. Prayer is life because “action and beginning are essentially the same.” Miracles, Arendt writes, “always must be, namely, interruptions of some natural series of events, of some automatic process, in whose context they constitute the wholly unexpected.” That’s why, when Israel needs its biggest miracles, God doesn’t act the way we might expect but interrupts with a beginning – gives birth to a son or daughter (e.g., Moses, Jesus). It’s why Paul intercedes like a woman in labor until we become the Christ we already are.

In this kind of “praying always,” we are the unexpected answer to our own prayers.

Feature image by Thomas Altfather Good. Used by permission.