Imagine you're out in a paddock on a cold morning, with the sun warming your back as you kneel in the grass to pray. Before you even shut your eyes, you see the ominous figure of a storm cloud rolling over the knoll towards you with a vengeance. With one knee ready to stand, this thing is over you, screaming like a possessed Viking waning from Valhalla, as if you needed a reason to pray. Out of the thick, rainless black cloud, a voice emanates through your chest and into your feet,
"Get out. Go. I don't want your prayers. I don't want the empty words from your cracked lips. Leave me now."
You run, crying, terrified and confused as to whether you met Zeus or accidentally rubbed a magic mushroom. Even so, even if you had conjured this beast from the catacombs of your imagination, you know exactly the impetus for its vile slather. It's no secret; it's not even surprising. You get back in your car and drive off, as the black cloud dissipates under the Autumn sun.
There is this story in Mark where Jesus is instructing his followers on the life and times of prayer. Within the Jewish tradition, prayer was often an act of piety. It was ritualised and aesthetic, which on the one hand led to deeply meaningful and relevant prayer, but at the extreme, superficial and vapid utterings to noone. So, as Jesus does, He pulls out his cloth, spits on it, and begins the process of bringing the shine back to an oft dead tradition.
In reading this account, one line held me down. It thrust me into that field as a stark wake up to the reality of what it means to live a life of faith. Jesus says that if you a problem, a quarrel, a disagreement, a conflict, heck, even an ill feeling towards another person, and you're in the middle of praying, get up, leave and go sort your mess.
Jesus, God on earth, tells the people that if you have a problem with anyone, and you're praying, pack up your stuff and bounce. When I read that for the first time I didn't really know what to do with it. What if I'm literally praying about the person I have a problem with, do I go and sort it out? I thought back on my life, to the people I had hurt, and wondered if I should have asked for forgiveness if I hadn't already, or start spamming my contact list to see if anyone had a problem with me I was unaware of?
This insight by Jesus highlights a primary aspect of my broader thesis for life. An insight that speaks to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. What binds you to God isn't how you love introspectively, but how that love is embodied within your relationships in and with the world. So much of Christian praxis is self-serving, especially prayer, and in this beautiful tender moment, Jesus is reminding you that the real life of faith is lived in the world. Where the metaphysical is made known in the physical. Where love is made know in people, where purpose is made known in action, where passion is made known in expression, where truth is made known in speech, where potential is made known in work ethic.
Pray, pray as much as you can, but know that the totality of faith is embodied. It exists on the road, on the climb, in the streets, in your career, in your family, in your school, in your heart, in your speech, in and around everything you do.