Prayer as Relationship with God (IV)

This is the 39th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Relationship with God (III).

Archbishop Anthony Bloom in his writings challenges us to think deeply about what prayer is, and what we should not reduce it to.

“When we read the Gospel and the image of Christ becomes compelling, glorious, when we pray and we become aware of the greatness, the holiness of God, do we ever say ‘I am unworthy that he should  come near to me?’  Not to speak of all the occasions when we should be aware that He cannot come to us because we are not there to receive Him.  We want something from Him, not Him at all.  Is that a relationship?   Do we behave in that way with our friends? Do we aim at what friendship can give us or is it the friend whom we love?” (BEGINNING TO PRAY, p 5)

What are we seeking in prayer?  What do we want from God?   We become spiritual beings when we want a relationship with the God who created us rather than simply wanting things from Him, or for Him to do things for us.  Archbishop Bloom says:

“First of all, it is very important to remember that prayer is an encounter and relationship, a relationship which is deep, and this relationship cannot be forced either on us or on God.  …  The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us.  We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned.  … ‘Crisis’ comes from the Greek and means ‘judgment’.  To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment I our lives, and thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because ewe might not be able to endure such a meeting.  Remember the many passages in Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity.  Therefore, the first thought we ought to have when we do not tangibly perceive the divine presence, is a thought of gratitude.  God is merciful; He does not come in an untimely way.”  (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 2-3)

Because prayer places us in a relationship with the Holy God, we in encountering His holiness are made ever more aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness.  Prayer places us in contact with divine power, so it is not something to be taken lightly.  For to come into contact with God is also to enter into judgment for we are exposed completely by One who knows our true nature and is not deceived by our efforts to hide our true selves.

God desires that we approach Him in prayer, so He calls us to this great activity, knowing we are sinners.  We in response recognize the need to be humble in his presence and we recognize our need for His great mercy.  Thus we call upon the Name of Jesus to invoke God’s own mercy.

“Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer (Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner), with all the power that you possess.  It will draw you together, giving you a sense of strength in the Lord, and will result in your being with Him constantly whether alone or with other people, when you do housework and when you read or pray.  Only you must attribute the power of this prayer, not to the repetition of certain words, but to the turning of the mind and heart towards the Lord in these words – to the action accompanying the speech.”    (St. Theophan the Recluse, THE ART OF PRAYER, pp 90-91)

Next:  Prayer as Relationship with God (V)

Of Democrats and Republicans

This is the conclusion of a two part blog that began with Political Campaigns: The American Way.

I did learn a bit of history about how the thinking of Democrats and Republicans on big government and taxes have evolved through time.

President Jackson

Robert W. Merry in  Where They Stand offers Democrat Andrew Jackson as being the proto-small government president, whose ideals are much more aligned with modern conservative thinking:

“This is correct and immensely significant. Jackson’s populism, by contrast, was fundamentally a faith in ordinary citizens to conduct their own lives, unimpeded by government or elites aligned with government, and a faith in the citizens at large to manage the national economy.”  (Robert W. Merry,  Where They Stand,  Kindle Loc. 731-34)

President Lincoln

Merry claims it was Kentucky’s Henry Clay, a Whig, who promoted government growth to meet the needs of a growing country.   President Lincoln who became a Republican when the Whig party disintegrated claimed in his presidential campaign to be the true successor to Clay.

“Kentucky’s Henry Clay, who wanted the power of federal Washington brought to bear boldly in behalf of domestic prosperity. Clay crafted a philosophy of governmental activism and devised a collection of federal programs and policies he considered essential to American prosperity—construction of roads, canals, and bridges; creation of a national university; high tariffs; sale of federal land at high prices to plenish government coffers and fund federal programs. Clay called it the American System, and it would become the bedrock of his Whig Party, which played a major role in American politics for more than two decades and galvanized the political sentiment of many leading politicians, including the young Abraham Lincoln. Jackson, on the other hand, abhorred any degree of concentrated power in Washington, which he believed would lead inevitably to corruption and invidious governmental actions favoring the connected and powerful at the expense of ordinary citizens. He wanted political power to remain diffuse and as close to the people as possible. The catchphrases of his political ethos became limited government, strict construction of the Constitution, low tariffs, fiscal discipline, hard money, and westward expansion.   (Kindle Loc. 623-32)

Thus by Merry’s read of the presidents Democrat Andrew Jackson’s tradition is inherited not be FDR but by Ronald Reagan.  Rather FDR carries on the thinking of Henry Clay who was claimed as a hero by the first Republicans.

“The progenitor of Franklin Roosevelt is not Jackson; it is Henry Clay. Jackson represents a separate political tradition, best exemplified in the twentieth century by Ronald Reagan. The Jackson-Clay rivalry represents an inevitable and ongoing tension in American politics—the tension between those who wish to consolidate more power in the federal government in order to strengthen the American democracy; and those who believe such power consolidations weaken the ties of democracy. This tension has ebbed and flowed in the country’s civic life since the beginning and seems to be at a particular state of intensity in today’s political environment. It should be viewed as a healthy political agitation that helps define the American experience and also sometimes determines the national direction.”  (Robert W. Merry,  Where They Stand,  Kindle Loc. 740-46)

Andrew J. Polsky commented that one of the problems that plagued war President FDR was the economy.  At least in a claim that was amazing to me, Polsky says of FDR:

“Meanwhile, economic recovery stalled and reversed, due in part to the president’s ongoing fixation on balanced budgets.”   (Elusive Victories:The American Presidency at War, Kindle Loc. 2428-29)

I’m not sure how many think of FDR has a budget balancer, but that is Polsky’s claim.  Then in words that sound all too familiar to our 2012 problems, Polsky says:

“Unemployment had remained stubbornly high throughout the 1930s, despite many New Deal initiatives. Increased government spending on relief and public works had not sufficed to offset the loss of aggregate spending power.”   (Elusive Victories:The American Presidency at War, Kindle Loc. 2723-25)

History has a way of repeating itself.

I also read Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) and found this passage about the struggle the Democrats in congress faced in the early 1960’s:

“They believed the $11 billion tax cut would, by putting more money into people’s pockets, stimulate the economy and thereby increase tax revenues, and the money the government would have available for these programs. Conservatives, uneasy about an expansion in government’s role and about the proposed new programs, were opposed to the deficits that would be produced by the higher spending, and believed the deficits would be increased by the tax cuts.”   (Kindle Loc. 9726-29)

I also found the following quote from Democrat LBJ to be interesting because today some might think it a conservative ideal as it reflects a notion that the government can’t solve every problem through creating programs but can create an atmosphere in which people are enabled to work for their own dignity:

“Civil rights are a matter of human dignity,” he said. “It is outrageous that all people do not have the dignity to which they are entitled. But we can’t legislate human dignity—we can legislate to give a man a vote and a voice in his own government. Then with his vote and his voice he is equipped with a very potent weapon to guarantee his own dignity.”   (Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson), Kindle Loc. 2202-4)

Lastly, a somewhat critical note about modern presidents and the tendency to think the military is our only or best foreign policy tool.  Andrew J. Polsky in his book evaluating the war presidents of our country offered this:

“We should note, too, a disturbing trend: even as the United States increases its military advantages over all other nations, effective presidential wartime leadership has been declining. This is due to the mismatch between the tools of war at a president’s command and the kinds of wars the United States fights. If nothing else, this decline should feed healthy and justified popular doubt about the necessity of force and the viability of visionary goals.”   (Elusive Victories:The American Presidency at War, Kindle Loc. 6442-45)