Prayer: “Angels’ Age”

This is part 3 in a series; see previous parts here.

Prayer, Herbert says, brings us into the time of the angels. Our lives seem so simple, temporally: one thing succeeds another as the present recedes into the past and stretches into the future. Prayer complicates things, though, by interjecting this orderly succession with eternity. Eternity doesn’t just interrupt time or transcend it; eternity transforms time. Paul describes the effect in 1 Corinthians 7:

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (NRSV)

Prayer, by introducing us into another temporality, suspends some features of our ordinary chronological lives. The marital status by which we define ourselves, the pangs of loss, the richness of joy, the possessions we treasure, our earthly vocations—none of these goes away, exactly, when we enter the time of prayer, but they do come to matter differently as another vocation comes to rest on our souls.

The new vocation that gradually settles on us as we pray literally changes our lives, so that the garment of time rests on our shoulders a little differently than it did before. In the time of the angels we ourselves become messengers, bearers of the gift. Our lives take a turn for the pastoral, and the care of souls begins to infuse our daily tasks. These pastoral callings take many different forms: after all, some of us are married and others are single; some of us mourn while others rejoice. Whatever shape our earthly lives are called to take, prayer alters the way we inhabit them.

“Angels’ age” should also describe the hours we spend in worship with one another. Prayer has the power to transform those, too. Mormon worship is notably low on pageantry, so from an external perspective we’re not exactly going to evoke the splendors of heaven come down, but, if angelic time means a change working on our everyday vocations from within, our plain style of worship might provide the perfect occasion for a spiritual new creation. When we pray communally, then, we should plead for the angels’ age to settle just a little more on our hearts during our time together, so that we might return to the workaday world with new and uplifted wings.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the extended meditation on prayer. Communal prayer doesn’t work for me, never has, and I thought never will. I resist the call and recognize in my resistance the possibility that I’m missing something (but probably not).
    With respect to temporality, I want to protest that the sense of rising to an eternal timeless view is not my experience. That in the best of prayer I am drawn inward to a ‘now’ without past or future or sequence. But recast as the eternal present that may be all the same.

  2. Jason K. says:

    We’re on the same page, Chris: I’m talking about the transformed “time of the now.” And I’m working through my own issues with communal prayer in these posts–trying to feel my way toward something better.

  3. your food allergy is fake says:

    “Communal prayer doesn’t work for me, never has, and I thought never will. I resist the call and recognize in my resistance the possibility that I’m missing something. . ”

    I can relate. But if an experience such as singing in the St. Matthew Passion = communal prayer, then yes you are missing something.

  4. Prayer does indeed change our lives in many ways. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. “singing in the St. Matthew Passion” — yes, my best experience with choral music is transcendent. It requires a group (community, cooperation, being part of something larger than self), a conductor (order and direction and tempo), and harmony (my limited experience with plainsong doesn’t do it for me, although it does for others).
    Related to a more traditional form of group prayer, I would respond better to “Sister Ann will lead us in prayer” than I do to “Sister Jones will give the invocation.”

  6. I’ve noticed, over the last five years, that nearly all the LDS church meetings I’ve attended where a member of the 12 has been present (outside of general conference) has had a special focus on prayer. However, they’ve focused on personal prayer as opposed to communal prayer. Perhaps this stems from a hope that a member’s sincere efforts praying on their own will carry over to other settings and that a focus on communal prayer would turn opening and closing prayers into Rameumtponized sermons. On another note, does prayer ever factor into Benjamin’s or Agamben’s writings as it deals with time?

  7. Jason K. says:

    That’s a good question, TMS. I don’t think so, but I’d love to be wrong. I think that’s where I’m plugging N. T. Wright into Agamben.