Monday, January 26, 2009

Praying to the People

Recently I learned about an Episcopal priest who wants to do something a bit unusual with prayer. At an intergenerational meeting, this priest wants to gather all of the youth and then encourage the Church to listen to their prayers. So far so good.

But then things get nutty. After encouraging us to really listen to what our youth pray for, this priest then wants us to pray to the youth "as if they were God." The priest's rationale? Since "they are in fact the body of Christ," this is "not that much of a stretch."

"Prayers of the People" I know, but "Prayers to the People"? We pray with other people in the liturgy (hence the Book of Common Prayer). But praying to them?

When questioned on the wisdom (much less theological integrity) of doing this sort of thing by a clergy colleague, this priest's response was basically to say: "I think one of the biggest mistakes the Church has made was when it was decided that we can only pray to God and not to the people, also."

I must have missed the Church council that made that historic decision.

To make matters more interesting, this priest also claims to have been teaching and modeling this theology of prayer for the past three years to the congregation he currently serves. And no one objects. So it must be okay, right?

Wonders never cease ...


plsdeacon said...

I'm like you, Bryan. Words fail me. How did someone with such mixed up anthropology let alone such deficient knowledge of the Trinity or Incarnation get confirmed, let alone ordained?

Phil Snyder

Peter Carey said...

Please tell me this is a joke, pleeaase!


In Christ,

Peter Carey+

Joe Rawls said...

This is straight out of Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, where he reduces religion to society worshiping itself. On the other hand, I'd sooner pray to kids than to many of the adults in the Episcopal Church.

Bryan Owen said...

Good morning to all!

I wish this was a joke, Peter. Sadly, it is not.

And I'm with you Phil: how in the world does someone with such theological confusion make it this far? This sort of thing speaks volumes, not only about failing Christianity, but also about problems with the discernment process that leads to postulancy and candidacy for Holy Orders.

And I think you're on to something, Joe, with the reference to Durkheim - that religion is society writ large. Perhaps there's there are also traces of the anthropology of Ludwig Feuerbach in here as well, for whom "God is nothing else than man: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of man's inward nature."

It doesn't surprise me at all when atheistic critics of religion take this line of thought and use it to argue that religion is nothing more than an exercise in narcissism. But when the anthropology of a priest starts moving in that direction ...

BillyD said...

This seems like the logical progression of the sort of "prayer" that you can see on display at US public events, where the obvious aim is not communion with the Almighty so much as it is to get a message over to the audience/congregation.

Bryan Owen said...

You may be right, BillyD. But isn't there still a difference in that, at such public events, the person praying at least still addresses "God" or some Being that is purportedly beyond ourselves, rather than addressing those gathered (or part of those gathered) as if they were God?

BillyD said...

Yes, they are different in that way. They seem to be the same, though, in their cluelessness about what praying really is.

Michael said...

I loved this! I put a link to it and posted it on a pub blog some friends and I from Church recently started to discuss a few pending matters. We wanted to discuss a Prayers of the People/Faithful, by the people and for the people... the concept of to the people was too funny to pass up putting in the mix. I hope you don't mind.

Bryan Owen said...

I don't mind at all, Michael. Enjoy!