As has been reflected in a few previous posts, I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about prayer lately. I have been trying to let the Lord teach me how to pray in ways that are honest, and not an attempt to manipulate or cajole Him, or an attempt to construct myself into a certain person but am simply before the Lord needy, and as myself.
I also have come to love the way that God’s Word is made for us to approach in a posture of prayer, particularly honest prayer. The Word of the Lord begs us to come with our questions and problems and our souls as we are.
And so, I’ve embarked on converting some devotional pieces I wrote for class into a ‘prayer guide,’ for myself and to try sharing with others to see what they think. These are reflections on how I feel I need to be guided in praying, in this case through the passion narrative of Mark. I hope to work on these a little bit at a time, and if others find them helpful, possibly compile them into an e-book. And I will begin compiling them in their own page on the menu bar above.
So, without further ado ‘Praying the Passion: Mark 14:1-9, Part 1’ (the next entry will be further reflections on the same passage).
Read: Mark 14:1-9
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
What is holiness? When we think of God as Holy, what do we think of? What images come to mind? Images of purity, or spotless cleanliness?
“The Holy One of Israel”
The Scriptures that speak of the beauty that surrounds God as He sits on His throne; flashing colors, marble, gold, fire. He sits enthroned in power, glory, and righteousness: wholly separate and wholly other than all filth and unrighteousness.
Pause and consider the mental images that come to mind specifically for you when you hear ‘The Holy One of Israel.”
Bleached bed sheets waving in the breeze on the clothes-line?
A sea of glass?
A perfect crystal?
The pure simplicity of a sphere?
What images reflect your thoughts or emotions right now, your view of your self?
How do the images of holiness in your mind compare? If God’s holiness is ________________ then my self today seems ________________
Grey sheets littered with haphazard stains, musty and tattered in your grandmother’s attic?
A bog of shifting and noisy mud?
A chunk of concrete against your scraped knee?
An imperceptible complexity – chaos?
What would it mean for those images to occupy the same space? Can a chunk of concrete with bits of skin and blood, be next to a perfect pearl on a cushion?
“Be Holy as I am Holy.”
Let yourself be overwhelmed by that command. It is heavy. It is exhausting. It is cause for despair: The bog must become a sea of glass, chaos must become simplicity. It cannot, can it? When Jesus goes to dine with Simon, he has been increasingly plagued by the Pharisees, those who strive incessantly to preserve Israel’s holiness, her otherness and separation from all that is sinful and dirty. But their task is overwhelming and exhausting, leading them to obsession and anxiety, incessant attempts to build and present something worthwhile before God. But they more they try and control, the more holiness slips from their fingers, and they are lost in hypocrisy and a legalism that creates more sin than it solves.
Where are they, inside of you? When you pray, does that conflict of holiness and your drab reality bring you to a point of self-construction, an incessant need for control? Do you stuff away the unsavory elements into back closets, and swept under rugs? Do you work hard at praying the right way, saying the right words, having the right thoughts or emotions, so that you can relate to God in a way that works, that is acceptable, that gets you into a relationship with Him, that allows you to occupy the same space? ‘If I repent sincerely enough I will finally be free of this sin.’ And when you find this task of self-construction impossible, when He seems further off the harder you try and your fears and sins and anxieties are only multiplying the more you try to control and manipulate your inner life, do you give up all together? Do you stop praying?
Pause and dwell upon, and try to tell God in as un-formed words as possible (give it little thought, little hand-wringing, let your first emotions dictate your words), the impossibility of sharing space with Him, the impossibility of finding your place with Him.
You sense the Pharisees inside of you. Passover seems nigh. The time of holiness draws near. But the smelly, dirty, musty, labyrinth of chaos in your soul cannot be tamed. The Pharisee inside of you is clawing, desperately trying to pull yourself together, but unsuccessfully.
Let it be.
Meditate upon the following excerpt from a Psalm. Let your soul have a voice for its anguish. Let the despair of the contrast between holiness and your reality be expressed and brought to light. God wants to hear your distress, and He has given you words for it. The Pharisee within need not guilt you into silence or into burying your brokenness, hiding it far away behind the masks we build for ourselves in order to hide from Him, like Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden. Our shame, our anguish, that irreconcilable conflict between His beauty and our pain need not be patronized or cheapened. As you repeat these words, take a walk around your heart and see what realities these words give voice to. Keep repeating as you feel the Pharisees fade into the distance, and you find the place before Jesus, who does not want our idolatrous, constructed, masked, versions of ourself – but wants the tattered, miry bog, chaos that we are.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.