Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 2010
Rejoice! Shake the rafters with the power of prayer
In ancient Israel, the harvest appears to have been a time of great joy. The Old Testament tells of the young women of Shiloh dancing in the vineyards (Judges 21.21) and of the harvesters treading their grapes with shouts of joy (Jeremiah 48.33). Singing and shouting was such a central part of the harvest that there was even a special cheer during this time to let the community know the grapes were ready for picking - "the vintage shout" (Isaiah 16.10).
The vintage shout was actually a model for how the psalmists and prophets believed the people should pray. "Clap your hands all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy" (Psalm 47.1).
Silence in the vineyard was a sign of gloom over the land. "Joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field; and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no shouts are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; the vintage shout is hushed" (Isaiah 16.10).
All of this provides a noticeably different model of prayer than that of quiet contemplation. The dominance of contemplation as the highest mode of prayer comes out of our monastic tradition. There, the time spent in the fields was surely a way of doing the Lord's work, but was secondary to the hours in the chapel.
Last month, the WCR presented a report on a talk by Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo who emphasized the therapeutic value of quiet prayer. Such prayer can bring healing and renew the connectors in the brain, he said.
So far, so good. However, Puhalo maintained that more exuberant forms of prayer, such as those found in Pentecostalism, tend to agitate the spirit, "cultivating a kind of insanity."
Puhalo and professor Tim Parker of the Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta were rightly wary of religious obsessiveness, which might show itself, for example, in efforts to control God through prayer or in an unrelenting concern with one's sinfulness.
But we should be slow to downplay exuberance in prayer - the shout for joy, the loud praising of the Lord. What do we have to offer youth if we tell them they must stifle their energy before they can enter a meaningful relationship with the Lord? Is not that energy a God-given grace rather than a prelude to insanity?
In the Acts of the Apostles, after Peter and John were released from prison, they met with their friends and praised God for the signs and wonders he had worked through them. "When they had prayed, the place in which they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness" (4.31).
Today we need that boldness of proclamation more than ever. And if the prayers of the faithful proclaimers resemble the vintage shouts of old and if the house is shaken by the power of the Spirit, so much the better.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.