Prayer is and God is and....
A reflection on the readings for Proper 12C: Hosea 1:2-10; Luke 11:1-13
Mechtild of Magdeburg, who lived in the thirteenth century, was the first German woman to write poetry and spiritual texts in Middle-High-German instead of Latin. Little is known about her except that she must have been of noble descent. Her adult life was spent with a group of unmarried women who lived together caring for the poor and the sick. Mechthild lived first in Magedeburg and then at a convent in Helfta.
Here is one of her poems:
How God speaks to the Soul
And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together
There love is perfected
God speaking into the souls of human beings and in and through us is at the heart of our readings this morning. These earthy, bodily focused readings point us beyond ourselves to God who is ever faithful and always present.
In the Hosea reading God’s relationship to humanity plays out in the metaphorical relationship between Hosea and Gomer. Hosea, as God, is the ever faithful lover of Gomer. Gomer represents us, the often unfaithful partner of God.
If you listen carefully to the text you will notice Gomer’s mute passivity in this reading. We know nothing about who she was or how she interpreted this experience. This silence offers us a clue that this text is really referring to God’s experience of human beings and NOT our experience of God, nor even our experience of our own lives. [i]
Hosea reminds us that in the early Judeo-Christian tradition, God is passionately committed to Israel. God has delivered Israel, taken sides, given Israel a good and bounteous land, invested heavily in this people. Nonetheless the Israelites wander between God and the pagan religions of their day. Therefore they are rather offensively labeled as adulterous, prostitutes, and harlots. [ii] A people unfaithful to a God who is endlessly committed.
The infidelity of Gomer to Hosea, of humanity to God, may encourage us to look carefully at how we are living our lives. Where might we be unfaithful to the God who loves us and will never let us go?[iii]
Mystics, like Mechthild understand that God is relentless. Dorothy Soelle, a theologian and poet who lived through Nazi Germany, taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and lived her life as a peace activist in the 1960’s, writes on this same concept regarding God who is deeply wedded to humanity.
This idea resonates as well through our reading from Luke. Here the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Each instruction Jesus gives the disciples invites them to enter into a relationship with God.[iv]
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray and for what to pray. Prayer was an integral part of his life. Luke’s Gospel points out that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (5:16) and at other times “he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” [v]
(6:12; also 9:18). Jesus prayed before he chose his apostles (6:13–16) and when he fed the five thousand (9:16); he prayed the night before he died (22:39–44) and from the cross itself (23:34, 46). Prayer was a constant part of his life. [vi]
Mechthild’s poem that I shared at the beginning of this homily has three parts. Here is part two, which echoes Jesus’ teaching of prayer:
HOW THE SOUL SPEAKS TO God
Lord, you are my lover,
My flowing stream,
And I am your reflection.
As Jesus taught the disciples so our prayers can be similar: we can call on God to be God. We can implore God to work through us to bring justice and peace to our world. We can pray for basic needs such as food, forgiveness, and fidelity. The petitions in the prayer we call The Lords’ Prayer, name what is essential for life. But prayer is more than asking God to give us something. Prayer is how we invite God into our lives and nurture and sustain our relationship with God.
Ultimately it may be most useful to understand that prayer is its own end and not so much a means to achieve or acquire anything else. Mechthild’s third part of the poem says this well:
HOW GOD ANSWERS THE SOUL
It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself.
It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.
God’s love never ends; rather God’s love is endlessly faithful. Through a practice of prayer, in whatever form prayer takes in us, with words or in silence, through music or art or nature, we can live faithfully in God as God lives in and through us. For God is love itself.