Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Prayer in Words and Deed.

Prayer is generally understood to be of a single form. A verbal appeal to the Divine for aid or some sort of favor. It can move to also include other spiritual beings (I class saints among spiritual beings though they were at one time human.) and imploring these being to act as intermediaries on your behalf with the Divine. It is, in modern time, almost always a petitioner asking something from the Divine and they who represent the Divine. It is a curious thing that did not always be the case.

Many people object to the phrase that a person is 'working with the gods' because they see this as hubris on the part of the individual who is declaring they are in that type of relationship. The only form of relationship between humans and the Divine that is considered acceptable in Western society is that of the abasement of the petitioner and begging the Divine for favor. Much of this is couched in terms of how we must remember how little we are compared to the gods, how the gods exist beyond our capacity to understand, and that our very existence is an indulgence of some sort by the gods. It is something that does not promote the often claimed experience that the Divine loves us. Indeed, the very dynamic that this sets up is one of emotional and psychological abuse when we see it arise within human relationships.

It may seem that I am delving into this material when the title of this post is "prayer in words and deeds" and it is presumably the focus of my post this evening. Please humor me for just a moment longer and I will show you how all of this relates together. In antiquity, if we look at what record we have of the practices of prayer, we find that there are far more modes of prayer than verbal appeal. It ranges from the sacrifice of wealth to the dedication of buildings to the establishment of rites of celebration to the naming of children to the presentation of commissioned works in the Divine's honor. Could we possibly say that these practices are present in today's modern life of worship for the average person?

I don't think we can. These are not deeds that were done in secret. They were done in public view and the practices were accepted as part of how you were to engage in worship. You did not cry to the Divine with a list of demands. You approached them and engaged in a transaction of sorts, giving them something in order to receive something. Some people were clever and made their request, stating that the offering to be given was on contingent of the Divine answering their need. You approached the Divine with a sense of awe for the tremendous windfall of good fortune that came to you, offering some of that largess back to them as an expression of gratitude. You approached the Divine to demand that they cease harrying the ones you have an interest in, lest you refuse to give them something of substantial wealth. Or you approached them to ask it to cease and give that offering of substance as a bribe.

So many people look at the worship practices of our ancestors and they're regularly scandalized by it. Offering a live animal to a deity? What about what that animal means to the economy and the people? Human sacrifice? It must have been done out of pure savagery! I could go on, but these are two of the examples upheld the most with great horror and pearl clutching. If we take a moment to step back and view these thing in context, offering that live animal is no different than putting a good sized donation into the church's fund and offering something that your livelihood is tangled up in, if not dependent on. That can be money. It can be time. It can be your skills or services.

The bull that was sacrificed to the gods was not an exercise to inflict agony upon the creature to please the deity. (If you look into the history of animal sacrifice, this is actually the case on a really small subset of the incidents it has happened and even in those cases an effort is made to kill the animal in a humane fashion, or at least as humane as conditions will allow.) It is giving up something of substantial worth to the Divine, and for the support of their liasons upon this world. The bull that is sacrificed is not simply thrown on the midden heap. It is roasted and the meat served, in many cases, to the priesthood and the people present. All parts of it that are ritually permitted to be used are. Thus, the bull's hide may be tanned and fashioned into drums for rituals. The horns are turned into cups, bracelets, carved into items, or even musical horns. That which is ritually not to be handled by human hands is cast into the fire and turned wholly over to the gods.

Is there a cognate to this in our modern lives? Perhaps. I don't know enough about what people who have a lot in resources could do for this sort of thing. What I do know, however, that abasing yourself before Deity was not the only way to pray. Verbal prayer was not the only mode exercised by our ancestors. Why must we limit ourselves to formulaic prayers?Dedicating deeds to the Divine is a mode of prayer that has been done since antiquity. Composing new prayers in word and music (lest we forget the greatness of composers such as Hildegarde Von Bingen and others) is a valid mode of prayer with ancient roots as well.

Communicate with the Divine and the spiritual beings in your life. Do so by what ever means is most effective for you. In the end, that is what prayer is about. It is communication and companionship. The Divine's hand is always opened towards us. We need only reach out and grasp it.

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