I continue in this conversation about the use of repetitive prayers. When Jesus commended the particular prayer known as the Lord's Prayer, did he mean for us to repeat the words as they are or to use them as a guide for our own improvising? Modern, Western culture prizes a heightened individualism—or I should say, an untethered individualism. We who've drunk deep of its intoxicating brew will need to turn more toward the tradition rather than away from it. Praying with firm connections to our spiritual heritage doesn’t mean a mere rote and empty repetition of prayers like the Lord's Prayer. Rather it means, as in jazz, that we learn our scales so well that we can then improvise properly and freely when given a chord chart or lead sheet.
The Lord's Prayer (like the Jesus Prayer) is a lead sheet, as are the Psalms. From a prayer like this we can playfully and confidently improvise.
Too many of us modern people want to improvise in prayer like jazz musician, Miles Davis, plays the horn but without the long, hard apprenticeship in the tradition. That would be as silly as a teenager picking up a horn, stepping onto the stage and thinking she can imitate Miles Davis.
The saints and mystics would all tell us that there is power in the words, as-they-are (like scales to Miles Davis, they are non-negotiable). So take up the words of the Lord's Prayer or Jesus Prayer. Pray them over and over until they play in the heart, until the heart is alive with them, beating out the rhythm of the words, and the mind is no longer thinking them. Only then will you approach the only kind authenticity that matters.
Continued next post...