One of the greatest drummers of all time is Animal from the Muppets. Animal also happens to be one of my favorite Muppets because he reminds me of my one of my favorite stories of Jesus.
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus encountered a man who is bound in chains and in just plain crazy to the point of self mutilation and community isolation. He is demon possessed and has become very strong to the point that no one could subdue him. He shouts and lives among the rocks and caves. He is scary and thought to be untouchable.
For reasons that Mark make in the entire Gospel, Jesus is able to overcome this crazy chained man's demons and upon the healing the man returns to a state of affairs. We can imagine that the scars this man walks with the rest of his life are very visible and sometimes you have to wonder if he ever was affected by the residue of the demons.
Animal from the Muppets is a very primal being. And while no longer chained to the wall (see the pilot episode of the Muppets) he still has the chain around his neck. Animal is affected by the residues of his experiences and, from time to time, goes crazy. The one thing that brings him back to self is to play the drums.
When Animal is playing harmony of the Song he is no longer affected by the chains of his past. Sure they are still there, but they do not control him when he is in the Song.
For all the things Jesus is, (Bread, Living Water, Resurrection, Light, etc.) perhaps Jesus missed an opportunity to teach that he is the Song of the universe.
So if we are like Animal, let us find our place in Dr. Teeth's band and play along with the Song.
For the past few weeks I have been reading with a small group of men at the church A Man's Field Guide to Prayer: Discovering and Developing This Ancient Practice by Rev. Dr. Steven Bell.
Many imagine God more like a characterture than what Christianity has understood. God becomes like that of an unseen man in the clouds who interacts with creation in a like an abusive parent who says they love you one moment but then will wipe out creation with a flood or fire the next. When this is the image of God, then there are a couple of responses to prayer: refuse to pray or pray to change God's mind.
Many others imagine God less like a crazy parent and more like that of a song that hums throughout creation. When we see God in this way, prayer becomes something different. It is less about changing the song or ignoring the song, and more about learning the tune and how to harmonize with it.
As Kierkegaard said, "The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather change the nature of the one who prays." When you learn to harmonize our lives with the song of God then it will turn our voices from a cacophony to a symphony.
There is a teaching from Jesus in Matthew 6 which goes like this: "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
This line has been used by many to critique any sort of public prayer. Within many of the circles I move in and out of, this teaching is understood not as a prohibition of public prayer but of a critique of the prayer intent. Put another way, many Christians interpret this text as Jesus saying if you are praying to be seen then that is not in the spirit of prayer.
I admit there are times that I pray with the hopes of being seen.
Sometimes I align my prayer time when I know that my kids are home in the hope that they will catch me praying. Because I am convinced that if they do not see me praying they will not come to believe that I think prayer is important. For the same reason, I make sure that there are times my kids see me brush my teeth and watch me clean the kitchen or fold laundry.
Sometimes I align my prayer time to let my community of faith know that I pray. Again, you have to practice what you preach and if you say, "you should pray" but no one ever sees or hears that you pray outside of your "duties as a pastor" then it is easy to see prayer as task for my job not a lifestyle posture.
I know this is not what Jesus is talking about. I understand that there is a difference in modeling prayer and "showy prayer". However, it sometimes is forgotten that when we pray it is more than just shaping my relationship with God. Prayer also shapes the relationship with those around me, prayer shapes our relationship with the world.
So yes, there are times that I align my prayer time in the hopes that those I love and help lead will see me in the hopes that they will join in the prayers of the ages. And so the next time someone prays in public it may be worth asking why are they doing that. Is it to model or be "showy"?
Is it possible to know?
In this spirit a little antidote from Anthony de Mello:
A man got into a bus and found himself sitting next to a youngster who was obviously a hippie. He was wearing only one shoe. “You’ve evidently lost a shoe, son.”
“No, man,” came the reply. “I found one.”
It is evident to me; that does not mean it is true.