A Particular Sort of Prayer
In our ongoing conversations with God, prayer takes many forms. There is formal, structured, liturgical prayer. I am an Episcopalian, and we as a rule are pretty good at that form. There is a book we use, entitled "Common Prayer" that contains all sorts and kinds of prayers that cover all sorts and conditions of need and/or want for prayer. Some are old as the Church itself. Others are relatively new. Some have a formal, even poetical format. Some are rather informal, presuming on an intimacy with the Almighty. Almost all have a component that relates to, or derives from, scripture.
But that is not the particular sort of prayer we are talking about today.
Another form of prayer is found on a contemplative's path to God. In the moments between the light, heat and noise of daily life and work we attempt to carve out time to dwell in the Great Silence of God, the places where the white noise of our worries and distractions dial down to a low susurration and with practice we strive to open our selves up to the quiet, the wisdom, the depths of God's love for us as it ebbs and flows around us as do the tides of the oceans, pulled and tugged by the moon's traverse across our skies.
But that is not the particular sort of prayer that we are talking about today.
Another form? Expulsive, near epithet, prayers that erupt from us when our tempers flare. We name God, but not as balm or as benevolent intercessor.... God's name being invoked is usually just a way for us to push out anger or frustration. At worst, it is to condemn or damn.
And that is not the particular sort of prayer that we are talking about today...and so, what form are we wondering over?
The form we note today is Jonah's prayer. I call them "cobbled prayers" in that they are prayers offered to God when we find we are in great need, but perhaps lack the peace of mind for contemplation, a handy prayer book for inspiration or the energy to maintain a hot temper in order to invoke condemnation. These are the prayers we offer when we are in the places in life as Jonah finds himself when in the belly of the fish. We need God, we want God...and we know that we are by our own will in a place that is far from God. The prayers we offer then are simple: we name our state, acknowledge our brokenness and announce our willingness to wait on God for what release might come our way. It might be obilivion. It might be salvation. In any event, we are at such a point that whatever the release, we are open to it because we are finally open to letting God take the tiller of the vessel of our lives.
Jonah is done running. He is past the end of his strength. He is being slowly digested in the belly of the fish. He can't fall much further, can he? All the same, he is willing to pray--ready to allow that he is in God's hands and at God's disposal. His pride and willfulness are vanquished. He is a tabula rosa and prepared for God to write a new thing in him, and to begin a new work through him.
His prayer? "I am here, Lord. I am no where else. My mind and my heart are no where else, but here. I am here because I chose my own path, and I know it. I am here and if I am to go anywhere from here, then I need you. I want you...and I accept your will as my will. Whatever that looks like, it is from here that I am willing to begin my walk in your sight...if it is your will...."
And that prayer is offered up while he lies confined and digesting in the belly of a fish.
Now, that's a prayer. It's not a form of prayer we would choose to make a habit of; but when we need it, we are VERY glad it is there for us. God bless Jonah for setting, at least in this sole instance, a good example for us of reacting to God's hand being upon him.