The Shadow of the Reformation :: A Short Series on Why Protestants Have Trouble With Prayer

Part Six

To understand what happened following the Reformation, consider the difference between a magazine article about a sunset and a sunset itself. Words can quite easily take on a magical quality; they can cast a spell over us. Once we name something, label it, or describe it, we can find ourselves believing we’ve captured it. A living, mysterious thing like a sunset or a flower or a person is reduced from the wild thing it is to ideas in our head and words on a page. But those ideas and words are not the thing itself, only symbols of that thing. They are abstractions.

Over the years, I’ve talked to thousands of people about prayer. When I ask them to describe prayer, their first response is nearly always to describe prayer as the words we speak to God. True, sometimes there’s a person who will say something like, “Prayer is intimacy with God,” “Prayer is listening,” or “Prayer is silence,” but by and large, the shadowy legacy of the Reformation—its heavy emphasis on thinking and the power of the words we use to label, describe, and capture what we’re thinking—has dominated Christian spirituality.

Consequently, nearly all of us pray from above the neck—with our brains and lips; our pursuit of God is largely a head-trip.  For many of us Protestants, God is a mere idea to be believed, debated, and defended, not a real, living Presence that stops us dead in our tracks, who renders us absolutely speechless.

To be continued . . .