Before there was a theology of prayer, there was a prayer: the Lord’s Prayer.
In fact, before there was a Creed, there was a prayer. It was Thomas Merton who first pointed me to the fact that the first theological text for the church was the Lord’s Prayer. It was Henri Nouwen who led me to the earliest definition of theology from Evagrius Ponticus: “a theologian is one who prays.”
Bunge takes all this to mean that the essence of prayer is relationship (p. 11-12), and that prayer is both the proof and the practice that this is so.
We are made in the image of God, and this gives us what Urban T. Holmes called “the capacity for relationship.” God reveals, and we are made so that we can receive and respond to the revelation.
In its broadest definition, that is prayer—receiving God’s revelation and responding to it. We’ll have much, much more to say about this as we move ahead in the book. But for now, it is important to see prayer in this way.
It reminds us that first of all, prayer is listening—what Bunge describes as “being turned toward God” (p. 13). Jesus is the example of the best of prayer because he was “with God” (as John describes it in the prologue to his Gospel)—a phrase which literally means “toward” (facing) God. And this is why prayer is often referred to as “seeking God’s face.”
Bunge writes, “God turns toward man, calls him to himself, and wants man to turn to him also” (p. 14). We respond to the invitation, “Let us pray” by facing God and becoming attentive to what God wants to say to us. We do it together in worship, and alone in our daily devotions.