Prayer and Rhetoric

I began reading Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William FitzGerald. It’s a fascinating book and I am highlighting too much. I thought I might put it in some of the things I highlighted that I want to ponder more. Maybe I can do that here in this space.

“the most profound problem we face with respect to prayer is not that it goes unanswered but that it goes unsaid” (28).
This, I think, is the most important. God, teach me to pray. And when I pray, let my words and my thoughts be shaped into who you want me to be.

“God grants requests appropriately performed.” (2) ?Really? Or is he saying, perhaps, that we feel that this is so. If we can figure out the formula we will get the cave of wonders opened and we will be rich beyond measure.

“words and deeds communicate an essential attitude of their performers” (4).
That’s a scary idea because, unfortunately, too often my words and deeds do not connect with the person I want to be and the person I see myself as. (Think of the grumpiness with the whiny student who sends texts about every assignment, two or three or four, and on my day’s off as well.)

“prayer serves as a counter to rhetoric, perceived as insincere or self-serving speech” (5).
If you believe like Plato that rhetoric is so much hot air, then prayer is the opposite. It’s not hot air let loose, but used to blow up the balloon or the air mattress. It’s focused. Even if the focus has become as rote as “doing the right thing.”

“prayer aspires to ascend the ladder of language to discover a purer language, even transcending language altogether to achieve a state of perfect, wordless communion between human and divine beings” (6).
Yes. This is why when my student wrote and said that no one believes in dream visions anymore I wanted to write her back and say that I do. But I didn’t, because I am a coward and because I didn’t want to crack a golden calf or fracture the foundation of her temple–one of those.

“rhetoric distilled and abstracted to allow for its application in extraordinary contexts. It designates core functions of discourse that make communication possible, and it acknowledges the impulse toward purity and perfection in prayer. Indeed, “prayer” is a name assigned to practices of a better rhetoric” (6).
I love the idea of prayer itself as an extraordinary context. Prayer is a situation in which we place ourselves to find/create/revel in communication with God.

My work involves studies that relate to prayer:
“invocation, or the calling upon some unseen presence or power, is prayer’s definitive speech act” (9)
“identifies prayer as a rhetorical art of memory… argues that prayer is a socialized craft of both communication and commemoration” (9).
“Never are we more ourselves as linguistically enabled, embodied beings than when we perform appeals to our counterparts in diving beings as manifestations of the real” (10).

“prayer is a complex encounter with the real through the virtual, the spiritual through the material” (10).
God is real; this life is the virtual. (Ha! Platonic reality. God is spiritual; I am material.

Where we belong
“prayer is appropriately understood as the most intimate and honest means through which an understanding of our place in the universe can be achieved” (Wirzba, “Attention and Responsibility” 88)
Oh, wow. The most honest way to figure out where we should stand and how we can stand there. I love that as a definition of prayer.

When I am praying for my friend’s marriage, my place in the universe is as an intercessor? as her shield wall? as the gap-stander? as the words for when she is too weary for them? as the faith when her faith has emptied?

Prayer defines
“In the case of prayer, the objective is not to discover the available means of persuasion in a given situation, but, rather, the situation itself” (12).
Yes. We seek in our prayers to reach an understanding of God’s will. It is why we struggle to say, “Heal him” when we know that healing may mean his death. It is why we struggle when others say, “God healed her.” and we wonder why God did not heal her. But really for one God gave temporary healing and for the other, God gave permanent healing.

“prayer expresses a sense of place in an ordered cosmos by negotiating between different orders of existence” (21).

“the understanding that prayer in general situates human and natural events in a larger drama by acquiring perspectives even more accurate” (like Serenity Prayer) (26).

Prayer Marks
“A summons to prayer, even at its most informal, marks a ritual moment” (13).
“Not least among prayer’s purposes is to mark occasions as significant” (13).

Before we eat, when we pray, we are pausing at a ritual moment to be grateful. When we stop and pray with a friend at a meal out, we are saying that this is a special, significant time–a time which needs a rite to grace it because it is so important.

We pray at weddings. We pray at funerals. We pray at baby blessings. People pray at football games and memorials and standing in God’s living room at the foot of a mountain.

Modernity, Impossibility, and Prayer
“Rahner identifies the situation of modernity: for many, prayer, a language of possibility, has become impossible” (15).
“Rahner imagines a kairotic opening in a radical receptivity to God’s love. Experience of need opens one to prayer, and prayer becomes an experience of blessing. Discovering prayer is equivalent to discovering our real situation in the world” (15).
See also the note on page 12.

Functions of Prayer
“prayer performs ceremonial functions associated with the epideictic in expressing shared values and forging collective identity; the critical functions of the forensic in discerning causes and conditions; and the persuasive functions of the deliberative in influencing future actions of people and of deities” (16).

So we celebrate in prayer, coming together at AA with the Serenity Prayer, at church with sung prayers, at home with bedtime prayers.

The forensic I will have to think on more.

I think for the deliberative, God is most likely to use prayer to change me; as I think about how to express what I want to say, I am forced to reveal why I want to say it and sometimes the how shows flaws in my thoughts and hopes and I see that all is not well with my soul because I am trying to move it in the wrong direction.

Singing Prayers
“prayer is at once a communal act … and a dramatic rendering of a universal condition of dependency” (19).

“’Standing’ articulates a devotional commonplace—one always stands in the need of prayer—to be given lip service or embraced as an experiential truth. Such commonplaces are an inventional resource for discerning and performing situations” (20).
Sometimes what I sing is not true, but it calls to me to remind me, perhaps, that it should be true. It is a self-summoning to the reflective aspects in prayer elicited from the corporate worship with prayer and God uses it to speak to me in the bass/tenor/alto/soprano of the church.

Ceaseless prayer
“prayer is itself a frame—a space we may enter and leave and within which we may abide” (21). I Thess. 5:16-18

“prayer is more state than statement, a matter of ongoing condition” (21)

“’The express activity of formal prayer overflows to communicate a quality of prayer in the whole of one’s life’ (21). John Wright, qtd in Giardini 336

genuine, ongoing, not a last resort “Payer is thus imagined as a basic orientation toward the source of one’s being” (21).

“The charge ‘to pray without ceasing,’ to be fully present in any communicative act, requires considerable effort” (21).

“prayer is a timeless space irrespective of immediate occasion” (21)
“prayer is bounded as discourse performed in time” (21)

“the call to pray without ceasing is a call to inhabit an alternative frame—an extraordinary space (with otherworldly beings and distinct rules of engagement)” (22).

I really want to think on this more. Pray without ceasing. Let the words of my heart and the meditations of my lips be acceptable in thy sight. Every move I make, every step I take, I’ll be loving you.

Prayer forms us
prayer = a child’s imagination, “to play in this way is not to pretend; it is to imagine through topoi of possibility” (23).

“Prayer takes place in a space of performance essential to the formation of individual and social character” (23).

When we pray, we are changed. God changes us in the context of our prayers, in the situation of our contemplation of our words.