Private, Prayerful Moments
Two recent events in our country make me shake my head, and wonder, about the value we place on privacy and communication in our culture.
First, we have the admission by the Bush administration that our phone conversations and emails are open territory for government surveillance. Apparently our willingness to allow our luggage to be available for search and seizure without cause, whenever we travel in our own country, gave our highest elected official a clear conscience to authorize the further movement into the private moments of our lives. Whether or not you believe national security is at stake without these activities, the general consensus is that we don’t really like the government intruding on our personal communications. Perhaps our fourth amendment rights have gone the way of an expired gift card: pretty to look at, but no longer redeemable.
Second, twelve men died in a West Virginia mine this week, and the media has offered up the men’s last notes to their families as a tribute to their lives, and the relative ease with which they died. Why do we feel it is appropriate, even poignant, in the middle of this tragic situation, to think that we have any right to these last communications among family members? As we end this first week in the new year, I am fairly certain that the only intimate communications protected from our government, the media, and our neighbors’ curiosity, are those in prayer with God.
Even though Jesus lived an extraordinarily public life, even by today’s standards, He was also keenly aware of the human need for privacy. Although his public ministry is recorded as lasting only about three years, the intensity of those three years is documented in dramatic fashion. Preaching and teaching, healing the multitudes, recruiting and training the disciples, traveling between towns on foot or by pack animal, and partaking of countless business dinners with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes. Even when Jesus thought he could have a few moments to himself, he frequently was trailed by crowds of people who would not leave him alone. Jesus, having no physical home of his own, also often relied on the hospitality of others for food and lodging. Wonderful as it is to be lovingly welcomed into another’s house, Dorothy was right: there is no place like home. Not possessing that simple pleasure, Jesus appears to have sought his privacy in secluded outdoor areas, and in his prayer life. The gospels contain many indications that Jesus encouraged his disciples to seek quiet times and places for themselves as well.
Unlike much of the religious leadership of Jesus’ time, Jesus taught that prayer was a private matter, between the individual and God. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6). ” Although Jesus’ teaching has been understood to promote modesty and decorum in communication with God, also evident is an element of relational intimacy, like that between a parent and child. If you grew up in a family with brothers and sisters, you know how important one-on-one conversations with your mother and father were. The last thing you wanted was for a sibling to overhear something personal, meant only for your dad or mom’s ear. What Jesus told the crowds that day, and what he is telling us now, is that we are best able to communicate with God in this personal way. While we are able to express ourselves, and our faith, without an audience full of opinions, we are also able to hear God more easily, more fully, and understand God’s purposes, when we don’t have people around us, eager and ready to speak on God’s behalf. The integrity, clarity, and intimacy of our relationship with God is maintained and deepened when we protect the privacy of its communications.
By extension, our relationships with family and friends, true gifts from a loving, attentive, and caring God, deserve this same courtesy and consideration. Perhaps President Bush, in his own prayers tonight, will have a moment of privacy with God to discuss the matter. But that is between him and God.