Here we are again with the second entry in the Origen, On Prayer series. We are starting in the second chapter in the St. Vladimir's Press edition. In the on-line edition, it is the same link as last week starting at in the fourth paragraph here: But I think, right pious and industrious Ambrosius, and right discreet and manful Tatiana, from whom I avow that womanly weakness has disappeared as truly as it had from Sarah of old, you are wondering to what purpose all this has been said in preface about things impossible for man becoming possible by the grace of God, when the subject prescribed for our discourse is Prayer.
In the previous discussion, we talked about Origen's recognition of how far God surpasses our understanding and how we only learn about God trough God's grace. In this next passage, we see Origen explicitly making the connection that prayer is also one of the topics which we cannot understand on our own power, but, with God's grace, we may be led to understand. Given my own experiences with prayer, I think Origen is right here.
I remember very clearly how, when I first became Christian, I had a lot of problems trying to figure out how to pray. My first prayer was an oldie, I grant - the Lord's Prayer - as a result of excellent advice from a friend. Still, I felt that I had to figure out how to pray (which is completely an oxymoron). My mistake was a common one. I was trying to figure out how to pray with my head, not by seeking God and learning in relationship with him. I'm still learning how to do that, but I think that is what we all need to do.
Of course, this common difficulty in learning to prayer has spawned a whole industry in Christian publishing- the majority of which are vapour and abstraction. We all, I think, have read that kind of book which leaves us more baffled and confused than when we started. The problem, I think Origen would say, with these books is that they do not pray with the Spirit. Of course, that is as baffling a comment, I'm sure, as anything in these kinds of books on prayer that I've just criticized. Yet what I think he's driving at is that prayer isn't about knowing how to pray, but rather learning the practice of relating to God.
In this section, Origen sets out his plan that he would speak about for what we ought to pray and how we ought to pray. This is not necessarily that unusual in writing about prayer; these are the concerns of almost all books on prayer. What is different is that Origen continues his emphasis that we only know God relationally. That is what I think he means by saying that we cannot pray unless the Spirit prays first. We, all too often, think of prayer as merely petitions and requests to an all-powerful, but faintly remote God. Rather, it is relationship with a God who wants to interact with us, who seeks to interact with us. Perhaps this is, after all, what we mean by inspiration because God knows that, if we relied on ourselves along, our human frailty would distract us from that conversation.
So, in the next section, we start into the body of the argument. As a warning, it seems the passages which follow keep an introductory paragraph dealing with Origen's biography. Just read past that and you'll get to the part that I propose to move onto in my next installment.