Yesterday, I blogged about the problem I have being able to interact with God as if he were an external friend with whom I could have a social relationship. You can read that post here.
Today, I am going to describe the way I approach prayer. I am an INTJ (weak on the I. I’m almost exactly in the middle between E and I) and I am an external processor. For those who don’t know much about Myers-Briggs, here is a link describing my personality type. It gets a few things wrong—most notably, it insists that I like to live in my own head, which I don’t—but it is mostly accurate.
I believe—very strongly—that my way of thinking and my personality contribute significantly to the way I pray. And, additionally, I believe that God honors our personality differences and interacts with us according to the way he made us.
As an INTJ, I tend to find patterns in the world. It is very easy for me to see a myriad of interweaving connections when I look at the world. I tend to develop overarching systems that explain—in a logical way—why. This is one reason that I am captivated by narrative theology which creates an overarching story explaining the world. I tend to see a bunch of concrete details and then spin out several abstractions which connect and interrelate those details.
So, for instance, when Amanda asked me a couple of weeks ago how church was for me, I mentioned that Randy talked about the importance of epistemological humility. Which was cool because that is related to the notion that the Kingdom is about inclusion, which means we can’t hold our beliefs too tightly or we might find ourselves opposed to someone else. And, at church, one of the youth ministers (Sarah) shared the communion thoughts while one of the middle school girls read scripture. This, of course, demonstrates the sort of inclusion that Randy was talking about. And—at this point in the story—I started to get teary-eyed because I was so moved by the fact that, at Highland, these middle schoolers are learning that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, which is not something I saw growing up in my church. I then connected this to Highland’s vision of Restoration and then to N.T. Wright’s stuff about God re-creating the cosmos and making all things new.
So church for me was about another example of God’s restorative grace. For Amanda, it was about holding beliefs too tightly, and which beliefs she is holding too tightly. Which, by the way, was Randy’s whole point.
But that’s not how I see the world. I stand ready to attach grand meaning to the mundane because, for me, all things mean because all things have an author. And, by the way, the fact that I am an external processor means that I didn’t think through my response to church until Amanda asked me about it. I was not consciously aware that the feeling I had was connected to God’s restoration plan for the world until it came spilling out of my mouth at lunch that day.
So what does this have to do with prayer?
Well, essentially, my personality colors the way I pray. Because I am an external processor, and because I tend to see connections everywhere, I pray differently than one might expect.
When I say “prayer” I do not mean the act of talking to God, asking him for stuff, or begging him to help you find your lost wallet. We all do that pretty easily.
What I mean by prayer is sensing God’s presence (and so feeling like you are actually interacting with an intelligence) and sensing his response.
When I discussed this yesterday, I mentioned that the way a lot of evangelicals are taught to pray is by treating God as a human friend with whom one can have a social relationship. This requires spending a lot of time imagining God-as-a-person into existence.
Yesterday, I said that I cannot do this because I do not have the ability to live in my head for that long. I also do not have the imagination required to construct a thought/image that I perceive to be God.
Instead, prayer—for me—does not require an imagined relationship to sense God’s presence. Because, for me, God is present everywhere. He is not so much an individual sitting next to me as he is the mind present in all of creation.
Here are some examples:
While someone might ask God to give her joy, and then she might be joyful, I instead see a grandpa playing with his granddaughter. And the smiles on both their faces. And I know God is present there.
And when I watch Les Mis I know that God is present because Grace has been enacted, and I feel it in the depth of my soul.
And when the sun slowly brightens the room every morning. . .
And when Amanda leans in for a kiss. . .
And when I have exhausted myself with my schoolwork and curl up with a cup of coffee in the soft darkness of my living room. . .
And when Aragorn calls Faramir out of the blackness by name. . .
And when a starving child has MANA on her lips. . .
And when Jesus dies on the cross for his enemies. . .
Then I sense God’s presence because Grace, Hope, Mercy, Faith, Love, Truth, Beauty, Justice and every other good thing is enacted. And God has interwoven himself—inextricably tied himself to—these acts. These sacred acts. And these acts bring Heaven to earth, and make manifest the rule of God.
And prayer, for me, is attuning myself to the world to notice the presence and activity of God within it so that I might know this mind.
In addition, I do pray through the Liturgy of the Hours as well as through a lectionary. These texts allow me to project my emotion about God in a more specific and and explicit way. But they also train my heart and mind to be attuned to the activity of the Spirit in the world because they bear witness that this God I trust in acts in this fallen world.
And that, I think, is the response of God. That he would supply me with the knowledge that all of this means.
And that is a God who meets me where I am at.
And I am so thankful that he made me the way I am.