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On Death, Resurrection, and Prayer

11/06/2011

Warning: I have been reading a lot about mysticism lately, so my existential crisis meter is rather high. Derran

I have noticed, in myself and in the church in general, that we are a people who desperately want resurrection without having to go through crucifixion first. We want to find life without having to lose it first. There are at least two reasons for this, one theological and one sociological.

First, the most common view of salvation is cross-centered, in so far as it is Jesus’ death that saves us. This gets reduced to the idea that Jesus died (past event) so that we can we will live (future event). However, the problem is that the cross becomes something only Jesus has to endure, and it is for our benefit. He gets the cross; we get the resurrection. Our view of salvation allows crucified with Christ to become nothing more than a symbolic act on our way to resurrection. No actual dying has to take place in order for salvation to happen.

Second, most of us enjoy a relatively comfortable existence where death and suffering are anomalies, not the norm. Thus, it doesn’t seem necessary to die in order to gain life. Life actually seems to come fairly easily, even to the point where we might feel entitled to it. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for resurrection to come at a minimal cost to us. It is that to which we are accustomed.

Thus we want our resurrection, hold the crucifixion.

We want our new life without death.

Victory without defeat.

Glory without shame.

Healing without pain.

Faith without doubt.

Blessing without sacrifice.

What this eventually can do is train us to think we are entitled to resurrection—it is a guarantee. We begin to maneuver ourselves in order to get resurrection. But, the Christian witness says that the only thing we can maneuver towards is crucifixion. We choose death, the way of the cross; it is God who maneuvers us towards resurrection. Like Jesus, we have no control over being raised. But, we can control whether or not we will lay down our lives with faith and hope that God will do what only God can do.

I want to say more about this as it relates to various aspects of life, but I particularly am wrestling with this in the context of the contemplative life. I have often struggled with the practice of encountering God in solitude and silence. I feel like I approach prayer and contemplation with a sincere heart, seeking the presence of God. But, it is absence that I frequently experience.

I wonder if part of the problem is that I constantly hear people talk about retreating in prayer and, sure enough, they hear the voice of God. Seek God for a few minutes or hours, and God will certainly speak up. (I am in no way saying that God doesn’t do this at times, but it may not necessarily be the norm.) The immediacy in which God apparently shows up creates an expectation, in those who hear of those experiences, for an assured appearance. We are accustomed to immediate gratification, and we often treat prayer and contemplation in the same way.

And yet, throughout the Christian tradition, exemplars of the contemplative life report of long periods of time where all they heard was silence—a dark night of the soul, if you will. It is almost as if something had to die before they heard a voice.

So, here is my question (and I really don’t have an answer yet). What is the proper posture, or mindset, or expectation when engaging in the practices of silence and contemplation? Should we approach these practices with the expectation that God will speak to us? Is that, in some way, claiming that we have some control over whether or not God speaks to us in those moments? Or, should we approach these practices with no expectation other than making ourselves available? Thus, our participation in that moment is primarily that of dying to ourselves. We will have to do the hard work of shedding all the thoughts, behaviors and concerns that keep us from sanctification. Our task is to face our demons and lay ourselves out bare. And we do this knowing full well that we could quite possibly be left there for a bit. For, once again, the ability to bring resurrection is out of our hands.

Therefore, when the periods of absence and silence and death come, we will not be anxious. Nor will we feel the need to manipulate an experience, a pseudo-resurrection. We can be non-anxious during those periods because we will get the only thing we have power to get—death. And the good news is that we will not be distracted or seduced by some “spiritual experience”, or pseudo-resurrection. We will then, when God chooses to do what only God can do, experience resurrection–that is, the real presence of the living God.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for a thoughtful piece, Derran. I am often bothered when we speak as if God will come in and rescue us from all unpleasantness…we tend to teach our kids this inadvertently because we want them to know about God’s power and love and we explain these traits in concrete but one-dimensional ways. Unfortunately later, when they encounter the reality of pain, death, and suffering in our fallen world they think that God is not present or not real.


  2. Adam and I were both inspired by your words today. You are awesome, Derran!



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