Like Bloom, I grew up in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy is a rich, historic faith anchored in beautiful liturgical prayer, and it was the tradition of my family for generations. Yet, as much as I appreciated it, as a young person, I walked away from it.
I reached a place where it no longer mattered to me whether or not this faith was true or beautiful or a tradition. I left with an overwhelming sense of, “What does this have to do with me?” Repeating prayers that someone else had written almost 2,000 years ago felt empty.
In Blooms words,
There is no prayer as long as there is a cautious, distant and chilly relationship, as long as there is ceremonial between us and God, as long as we cannot speak to Him but must go through a long and complex series of words and actions.
By God’s grace I found myself among friends who were passionate about their faith in Christ, but who expressed it in a more contemporary and personal way. (You can read more about my experience here.) I began to see my faith not as set of rituals or as an intellectual assent but as a relationship with a God who knew me and loved me.
My new found impassioned faith was initially incredibly invigorating. I could sit and pray and read and feel close to God, as if He was my best friend. Yet after a time it too began to feel stale. I began to wonder, “Am I just making all of this up? Is God just who I imagine Him to be? How do I know what is true about God?”
These questions began to drive me back toward my roots, towards a faith that could trace its belief and practice to the time of Christ.
In the last chapter of Beginning to Pray, Bloom writes
. . . prayer is obviously a relationship, an encounter, a way in which we have a relationship with the living God.
It is helpful to remember that Bloom is Orthodox and writing to a primarily Orthodox audience. He is writing to me back when I first left the Orthodox Church, feeling cold and distant. He assumes that his readers know the liturgies and have resources to recite beautiful and ancient prayers.
So he focuses on the other end of things. He stresses that we must find a way to address God that is personal. He talks about calling God by name. It isn’t that we need to find the right name, but we need to find a name that stirs our hearts and that reflects how much we love, desire or fear God, that we know where we stand in comparison to His Greatness.
“Prayer is a way in which we have a relationship,” and just as in my marriage I need to speak in truth and from my heart. If I want to approach Michael about something I have to do it with a realization of the truth of who he is. I can’t imagine him to be like my dad or my girl friend. Likewise I need to be sincere. I don’t speak to him and say “Oh my dear husband, you are so wonderful.” It is true but empty. What he needs to hear is that I love him for who he is. This is what we all want isn’t it, to be truly known and loved for who we are? It should be no surprise that God our Creator shares this.
As a Christian today I walk a line. I need liturgy, and historic prayer. I need something that is based on scripture and on a tradition that is consistent with who God has revealed himself to be. This is what allows me to pray in truth. It protects me from deciding that God is who I imagine him to be and then praying to this God of my own creation.
But I also need to, like Bloom says, find a name for God, to know myself and know Him and pray to Him sincerely.
When you begin to hear a chain rattling on the door, when you have a feeling that it will open, then come out with the words which are your own and call God by the name which He has won in your own life.