From the Book of Psalms:
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.
From the Book of Job:
Job answered: “But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Job 12:3; Psalm 26:2 – September 4, 2012)
This morning I was struck by the absolutely opposite attitudes displayed in these two readings. The morning psalm invites God to try the worshipper; the first reading of the day demands the right to try God. I think these poles really do represent the spiritual pendulum on which most humans swing; they circumscribe our ambivalent and ambiguous relationship with the Almighty.
At least they describe MY relationship with God! Some days my prayer life, my ministry, my personal life, my bodily feeling, all of it just seems great. “Bring it on, God! Whatever you want my to do today, I can handle it!” The next day I can feel just like Job: “Why me, God? I have been truly put-upon; I have been emotionally mistreated.” I come before God with the words of Moses:
Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? * * * I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once – if I have found favor in your sight – and do not let me see my misery.” (Numbers 11:11-12,14-15)
I’m just like Job; I want to “speak [with God] and let come on me what may.” (Job 12:13) And so I do; I talk to God!
It’s called praying. Prayer comes in many forms. Whether I am telling God to “bring it on,” to test me, or whining about how hard it all seems and pleading my case, what I am doing is praying. Praying isn’t all praise and hallelujah; praying isn’t all supplication and intercession; praying isn’t all thanksgiving and gratitude. Praying runs the gamut of human emotion. Praying, at its best and most honest, is a conversation with God, baring the soul and the psyche in whatever condition they may be, trusting that God will handle them with love, gentleness, and care, sometimes tough love, sometimes a rough gentleness, but always with care.
This means that prayer is often difficult. It isn’t easy to bare the soul, to open the psyche, because there are things I’d rather not face. When I was in seminary, one of our classes in church history included a discussion of the ancient practice of nude baptism. Following that class, a group of us had some t-shirts made with the words “Pray Naked” emblazoned across the chest; they were certainly conversation starters when we wore them in public! They were a joke, but like most humor there is a kernel of seriousness buried therein. In genuine prayer we strip ourselves of all those things in our souls, our psyches our hearts which keep us from true openness before God, from true fellowship with Jesus.
Whether we are challenging God to try us, challenging God to be tried by us, pleading with God, praising God, thanking God, crying before God, or laughing with God, our souls, our hearts, the whole of our being should naked before God. Wherever you may be in the pendulum swing of your ambivalent and ambiguous relationship with God, pray naked!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.