We are searching for bigger words than ‘prayer’ and ‘worship’ ; fumbling in the cloisters of Christian experience for a noun that recognises the depth and diversity of divine encounter beyond the neatly stacked boxes of our habitual vocabulary.
For instance, when we say ‘worship’ we almost always mean music. It’s a sort of code. And when we say ‘let us pray’ we would be very surprised indeed if someone threw back their head and began to sing. But the Psalms, which ebb and flow between adoration, intercession, and grumbling, were spoken as often as they were sung. Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with spoken worship ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,’ and to conclude them with petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ He didn’t play guitar.
When you say ‘Let us pray’, Pentecostals raise their hands and their voices while Quakers sit down and fall silent, Jesuits reach for their bibles and many charismatics open their hands to receive from the Holy Spirit. All these responses are good and all of them are partial.
This lazy word ‘prayer’ can confine us to the myopia of our own tradition. Most of us are bored: craving other forms of encounter; looking for a fuller menu that combines the contemplative with the intercessory, militant spiritual warfare with mystical encounters, irreverent lament with ancient liturgy, the Lectio Divina, Examen and the philokali with confession, meditation and tongues. Second generation charismatics are currently devouring liturgy. Many of them think that everything in Latin is true. And all the while the members of ancient denominations are discovering the Holy Spirit, laughing like children at the freedom they are finding from the restrictions of tradition.