From The Blog

Mission Monthly – January 2005

“Prayer is the most creative activity of man.”

Sister Magdalen, Conversations with Children

I remember one of the first things I read about Orthodoxy was a book or booklet called,The Art of Prayer. It has been such a long time since I read it that about all I can recall is its title and the impression it made by its name. I do not recall being impressed in a way that drew me into prayer as an “artful” expression of creativity. In fact, when in my early twenties I began praying as Orthodox Christians are instructed to pray, what I recall is feeling that there isn’t much creativity at all in the action of Orthodox prayer. Everything was practical and “set” in its order. Virtually all the words were given to me. All I had to do was pray them; how much creativity does that take? I considered the “art” of praying to be mostly about the discipline or rule of prayer, or maybe about the style of the words being prayed; I did not think of prayer in any terms of personal creativity.

As a person with somewhat of artistic nature I believe I have some understanding of creativity. In general I’ve felt that creating something involves starting with nothing, just an idea, a blank sheet of paper, and the willingness to explore. Art, writing, and music are probably the most obvious examples of creativity, but there are also the many examples of science, technology, economy and even athletics that involve great works of creativity. Names like Shakespeare, Mozart, Edison, Pasture, Gates, and Jordan all are associated either with classic or contemporary creativity; and in general human terms, we all stand in wonder of their achievements. And yet here Sister Magdalen tells us that prayer is the most creative human act of all.

I am also a person who at various times of my life might have been considered “outdoorsy”. One great memory I often recall is when in my early thirties I spent many hours cycling the back roads here in Madison and where I lived in Ohio. The area surrounding the Akron/Canton water reservoir just blocks from where I lived was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever enjoyed. Most of us have had moments of deep appreciation for nature. My hours on a bicycle in Northeast Ohio were some of the most beautiful nature moments of my life, continually filled with amazement at God’s creativity. Whether spring, summer, fall or winter; whether morning, afternoon or evening; whether sunny, cloudy, wet or dry, this was a beautiful place, filled with all the “diversity of color, taste and fragrance”, where one had to conclude that there is a God.

These were very personal moments revealing so tangibly the absolute, personal nature of God. The personal nature of God is very important as we explore the creative aspects of prayer. Orthodox Christian prayers, though “set”, are not words that are said or chanted with any sort of inanimate or vague “target” in mind. Our prayers aredirected to the One, True God, Eternal and Ever-lasting, the “Maker of all things both visible and invisible.” Our prayers are a response to God’s invitation into His life, the Life of the Holy Trinity, and if prayed with a heart of love and a soul of humility and repentance, indeed one will be drawn into that holy, life-giving place. Here is where we find the answer to our question, “How is prayer creative?” In human terms, it is so much easier according to one’s ability to invent or discover something, to sing a new melody or draw a new line, to innovate a new gymnastic element on the balance beam or put a ball through a hoop, than it is to enter into the Life of the Holy Trinity, the Creator of all things created!

These are awesome thoughts. I confess that even in my own life they sometimes seem so awesome that I wonder if it’s even worth my trying. I confess that sometimes when I read about how some of our great and holy Saints prayed, and how deep their communion was with God, I wonder if I am even in the same Church with these great men and women. Well, I know these thoughts to be temptations of the evil one who tries to keep men away from God. And I know that God does not hang unreachable goals in front of His children as some sort of cruel joke. The truly awesome thing about this is that prayer does draw us into the very Life of God; and God, being the Creator of creativity, is the very Life to which we are being joined and this life is a (new) creation in and of itself.

Sister Magdalen goes on to say, “By prayer we are in direct contact with out Creator, and we freely open ourselves to be re-created, to become, as St. Paul said, a new creation (Gal. 6:15) We are on the way to becoming truly personal when we pray, ‘Our Father’ Christian prayer is not a ‘spiritual exercise’; it is always hypostatic, a meeting between persons, divine and human. Prayer involves all of our being; [through prayer] each one can meet the Other.”

In this way every man, woman and child can be truly “creative” and deeply personal. In this beginning of the new year let us resolve to seek this challenge of true creativity. No one has ever said that prayer is easy, but it has been said that it is often easier to do anything else than to pray. Maybe it can be the awareness of this fact alone that will lead each of us to a greater desire and effort to respond to God’s invitation to seek the height of creativity—prayer.