Archie Smith on Pastoral Prayer

The message that comes across is that prayer is private and limited to satisfying immediate needs or personal wants. Very seldom do such prayers include a quest for love of neighbor and care for the perceived enemy. Only rarely do such prayers include justice in community. Only infrequently do present-day personal prayers include an embracing of mystery, self-examination, facing our illusions, or an earnest search for God’s will (and not our own) to be done in our inner and social or public lives.4 It is even more rare to pray on behalf of those who scheme to entrap or have already have wronged us. Prayers that are all about “me,” self-maintenance, and personal or private fulfillment typically neglect care for the world. The private and self-focused prayer is seldom about interpersonal responsibility, social and mental illness, or practices of forgiveness and wider justice. It seldom concerns all sorts and conditions of life. A wider sense of justice would include care for the natural environment and the strength to build up the beloved community (which includes the perceived enemy). Such is part of an ancient and ongoing conversation.

From Smith, A. (2018). Thoughts Concerning the Pastoral Prayer. Pastoral Psychology, 67(1), 85-97.

Soul Stuff: Learning, Abandoning Dreams

I’ve decided to try my hand at writing one post around some of the things I’m reading or thinking. It feels like this type of post will stand with but a little bit away from what I’ve been able to do weekly in my mishmash focus. We’ll see. We’ll try. I’ll try.

That said, I’m reading a book about liturgy and late modernity, two phrases I don’t immediately connect with the general way I blog. I am learning how, perhaps, to see a lot of what I write, think, and say as a liturgical expression and as a part of my relation to modernity, but that’s another post for a later time. In the early part of the book I’m reading (Worship As Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity), the writer outlines an historical intellectual summary as a way to build his main point.

In outlining that history, Graham points to how modernity–a period in history when philosophers began to question things in explicitly scientific ways–was a quest for understanding, a quest for knowledge, and a quest for purity. Purity was a way of discussing how things made sense. Purity meant that life was sensible and understandable, able to be collected and reduced to something that could be put into words.

With the shift in how people thought (and I do think that people were thinking critically before some of these sho-nuff smart people started thinking about how they were thinking) and as modernity turned, that quest for purity had to be abandoned. Hughes named it as “the abandonment of the dream of purity.”

By that, I think he means that the structures that people had for thinking–“This is how you learn this. This is how you show that you know things.”–had to be abandoned. Their dreams for certainty and assurance that they knew the answers that others didn’t. Their certainties with their conclusions. Their findings as the findings as opposed to someone else’s findings. Those dreams shifted.

The shift in thinking involved a corresponding shift in dreaming. In abandoning not only how those folks thought, they also relinquished aspects of their dream life. This grounds continuing education for me in a way I’m opening to because I’m learning that learning means shifting. Learning means movement and that movement is never, solely, intellectual. It’s psychic. It’s emotional.

When I learn, my dreams change. When how I think shifts, how I dream shifts too. I’m not sure a person can learn too much. I am an educator among the many names I’m called. What I do know is that whatever you learn has consequences. What you see and read and take in both informs you and, simply, forms you.

Graham makes this point in a quick fashion and for specific purposes to be sure, but what he says can relate so well to soul stuff. When one part of you turns, other parts do too. Be forewarned: thinking has consequences. Pursuing an understanding will open you up to both possessing new ideas and to abandoning old things. Take heart for what’s next.