by Glenn Loewen
Jesus provides a welcoming invitation to our home, the heart of God. Foster states, “The key to this home, this heart of God, is prayer.” There are several important theological realities about this key identified in his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, which assisted my positive response to this wonderful invitation of Jesus to the Father’s heart.
The first of these theological realities is the phenomenal breadth of prayer. Foster’s book is a presentation of twenty-one different forms of prayer, which he does not claim to be exhaustive of the wide scope of prayer. Such breadth is a contrast to a narrow caricature of prayer, illustrated in my own paradigm, as prayer is equal to “intercession”. The Psalms demonstrate the vast array of forms that prayer assumes through all of the experiences of life. In Soulstream Intensive #2 the phrase “our life is prayer” was used to describe this breadth. Though, at least at this time, I may not be prepared to fully accept the radical breadth of this phrase I have nonetheless significantly broadened my conception of prayer.
I find a liberating freedom in this movement from a narrow to a broad understanding of prayer. For example, I recently read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence in which he describes his attempt to consciously continue in the presence of God while at the same time being fully involved in his kitchen duties. I have enjoyed personally trying to emulate this practice, albeit woefully inadequately. The point here is that I have been able to embrace this experience as the practice of genuine prayer even though it varies dramatically from “intercession”. This understanding of the breadth of prayer provides an expanded horizon of prayer opportunity in my own life.
The second of these theological realities concerns the depth of prayer. Prayer is deep in terms of its profound origin. My misconception of prayer has been largely limited to that of prayer as a discipline. With this inadequate paradigm the primary origin of prayer is skewed to be the human individual, who is thus responsible to exercise the discipline. However, prayer can only begin with God. He is the Originator and the Initiator. Thus the human responsibility is not to originate prayer but rather to respond to God’s work already begun in our hearts. Foster states, “In the Prayer of the Heart there is work for us to do, even though it is really only a reflex action to the Spirit’s prior initiation upon the heart.” The Triune God has already assumed the fundamental responsibility for prayer. I find a security in the faithfulness of God to stir prayer in my life that often seems so devoid of prayer.
But prayer is also deep in terms of the human personality. In discussing unceasing prayer Foster states, “The fourth step comes as prayer permeates the whole personality. It becomes like our breath or our blood, which moves throughout our entire body. Prayer develops a deep rhythm inside us…this reality they often call “divine union.” Because prayer has this depth in the human personality it also is important to deep transformation from the inside out. This understanding was significant to me in terms of conceptualizing the art of spiritual direction as primarily a prayer experience as contrasted, for example, to a counseling experience. This particularly enhances the place and value of prayer in my theology of spiritual formation. Both of these cognitive responses are invitational toward personal experiential engagement in prayer.
The third of these theological realities is the relational nature of prayer. Foster states, “this book is about a love relationship: an enduring, continuing, growing love relationship with the great God of the universe. And overwhelming love invites a response. Loving is the syntax of prayer. To be effective pray-ers we have to be effective lovers…Real prayer comes not form gritting our teeth but from falling in love. This is why the great literature on prayer is frankly and wonderfully erotic.”
In His love God pursues, invites, and enables us to enter relationship. The theological term perichoresis describes the mystery of “the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one another, and (by extension) the sharing of the divine life and communion that God shares as God with humanity through the Holy Spirit.” Through God’s eternal and continual outpouring the believer is brought into dynamic participation with the Triune Community.
This perspective provides a profound reversal of common evangelical theology that calls for our devotion to pursue and please God, a theology that naturally spurs activism. In the perichoresis viewpoint the pursuer of reciprocal relationship is the Great Lover of our souls. God as love describes more than His motive for the atoning sacrifice of John 3:16 which then becomes a creedal reality that we are called to believe. More fundamentally, God as love describes a relational God Who calls us to community.
Therefore, perichoresis presents a radical theological shift away from activism and toward intimacy. God invites delight as contrasted to duty. God invites silence as contrasted to noise. God invites solitude as contrasted to crowds. God invites prayer as contrasted to programs. God invites waiting as contrasted to hurry. God invites communication as contrasted to commitment. God invites abiding as contrasted to activity. God invites rest as contrasted to work.
At the Soulstream Intensive #1 I was challenged by the presenter’s concept of God as the Lover of our soul, pursuing us. At that time I reacted negatively to this idea. However, I have found that this notion is becoming a more rooted theological reality, at least cognitively. This love relationship is central to the Christian spirituality. I believe it is becoming more of my spirituality.
If home is the heart of God and prayer is the key to that home, there are many ways in which I feel as if I am the prodigal son. That is, I find prayer a significant struggle in my Christian experience and thus often feel far from the Father’s heart. This book was welcoming, invitational, and instructional to continue the journey toward home.