Desert Wisdom: Places and Times

After beginning his book with a rather “spiritual” view of prayer (psalms, prayers, meditations, etc), Bunge turns to the “physical” dimensions.  Because we are human beings with bodies, our praying is always in relation to certain physical aspects.  Chapter Two of his book treats this dimension in some detail.

Origen described the physical aspects of prayer in three ways:  place, orientation, and time.

Bunge takes Jesus words in Matthew 6:6 as the fundamental definition of place:  “When you pray, go into your room.”

Here we must remember that Bunge is writing about prayer as a Roman Catholic, where common prayer has become normative.  Participation in liturgy and/or public devotions is the standard way in which prayer is understood, and Bunge affirms that understanding.

But he also believes that the “public” elements have sometimes caused us to forget that personal prayer is also part of the picture—indeed, it is the basis of prayer.  We are moved to pray with others because we have previously been in prayer ourselves.

Monastic choral prayer, for example, occurs seven times a day in the Benedictine tradition, but it is couched within the larger context of the personal prayer of each monk, who “prays without ceasing” throughout the day.

Similarly, Jesus prayed with others in the synagogue and in other groupings.  But he also “often withdrew” (Luke 5:16) for personal prayer.

It is in personal prayer—the “room” of our praying—where we cannot exchange images (standing on the street corners to be seen by others) for realities.  There is nothing to presume or to hide behind.  It’s “me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

But it is also in the “room” of our praying where God is most personal with us.  We do not require a secondary medium (a liturgy or devotional book) to tell us who God is; God does it directly.  In the “room” of prayer, we experience Heart-to-heart intimacy and precious conversations that are not meant for public demonstration.

God has given us two great “rooms” in which to pray:  the room of the sanctuary and the room of the heart.  We learn to pray well in both rooms.


About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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