Year C Proper 12 Luke 11
You Do Have a Prayer
This leads us to ask then… "How do you pray?" "Why pray at all?" "When do you pray?" "Is there a special formula or a sacred language that should be used?" One thing is clear. There are many questions and there is much misunderstanding about how you pray and why. In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown is kneeling beside his bed for prayer. Suddenly he stops and says to Lucy, "I think I've made a new theological discovery, a real breakthrough. If you hold your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you pray for."
Prayer must be more than an emergency magical lamp rubbed in a crisis. The truth is that many people give up on prayer because they never understand what prayer is. Much that passes for prayer is irrational, superstitious, and self-centered, and is therefore unworthy of the pattern of the prayer that Jesus offered to us his disciples.
How do you pray and why? We are not the first to ask. The disciples of Jesus came to Him one day and said, "Lord, teach us. Teach us to pray!" Notice something here. When did the disciples ask for this? When did they make this request? Was it after Jesus gave a lecture on prayer? No! Was it after Jesus led a seminar on prayer? No! Was it after Jesus preached a powerful sermon on prayer? No! None of these. Remember how it is recorded in Luke 11… "Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he finished, they said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.'" They saw the power of prayer in Him. They saw how important prayer was to Him. See the point. Harry Emerson Fosdick stresses it in his book, The Secret of Victorious Living. "Note that this awakened interest in prayer came not at all from new arguments about it, but from a new exhibition of its power. Here, before their very eyes, they saw a personality in whom prayer was vital and influential! The more they lived with him, the more they saw that they could never explain him or understand him unless they understood his praying and so not at all because of new arguments, but because of amazing spiritual power released in him by prayer. They wanted him to tell them how to pray."
The disciples sometimes were slow on the uptake, but at this point they were quickly and precisely on target. They saw in Jesus the answer to this question: how do we pray and why do we pray? And they learned from Him (as we can) what the elements are that lead to a meaningful prayer life.
- Jesus Prayed Regularly.
- Jesus Prayed Sensibly.
- Jesus Prayed Confidently.
If you've listened to fairy tales, or if you've watched early classic Disney cartoons, one thing becomes unsettlingly clear: a lot of "poor little" princes and princesses shared a common family tragedy. In an overwhelming number of these stories the mothers were gone, dying long before the child in question could be influenced by them or even remember them. The single dads in these tales almost always had dreadful taste in women the second time around — bringing a whole host of evil stepmothers onto the fairy tale scene.
Sadly, until later in the twentieth century, the chances of children losing their mothers and being raised by stepmothers was common. The overwhelming threat to a woman's life was childbirth, especially if any sort of infection set in after delivery. For example, John Milton's first 2 wives, Mary Powell and Katherine Woodcock, both died in childbirth. Among upper middle class in 17th century London, one mother died for every 40 births. By the early decades of the 20th century, things hadn't changed much. In 1929, the wife of the Prime Minister of England, Lucy Baldwin, pointed out that pregnant women were as likely to die as soldiers had been in the trenches in the 1914-1918 war. When a woman gave birth, she said, it was just like "going into battle – she never knows . . . whether she will come out of it alive or not." (As quoted in A. Susan Williams, Ladies of Influence: Women of the Elite in Interwar Britain [Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 2001]). The single father raising motherless children was an all-to-common occurrence.
Single parent households are even more prevalent today, but for different reasons. Most single parents raising children on their own today are women. Medical advances have made childbirth safer, and have raised women's life expectancy above that of men. But good hygiene and antibiotics haven't helped keep families together. In any given American classroom a conservative estimate finds at least one-third of those kids living in a home without a father. Whether by death or divorce, choice or chance, more and more children are growing up in a home that has no consistently present father figure.
Along with the abuse of sheer absence, which is bad enough, there is the worse abuse of presence. Although child abuse is not confined to one gender, an abusive father figure has a huge affect on children. And a father who is "occasional" as well as "abusive" magnifies all the negatives of his influence.
Why is the lack of positive father figures such a critical issue for the Church?
Consider this: the prayer Jesus gave to his disciples, the prayer we are all taught as children, begins with the audaciously familiar "Our Father." What happens to our images of God when our images of "our fathers" are so tattered and torn?...