The Phenomenology of Prayer

The Phenomenology of Prayer

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Phenomenology of Prayer
    Book Description:

    This collection of ground-breaking essays considers the many dimensions of prayer: how prayer relates us to the divine; prayer's ability to reveal what is essential about our humanity; the power of prayer to transform human desire and action; and the relation of prayer to cognition. It takes up the meaning of prayer from within a uniquely phenomenological point of view, demonstrating that the phenomenology of prayer is as much about the character and boundaries of phenomenological analysis as it is about the heart of religious life.The contributors: Michael F. Andrews, Bruce Ellis Benson, Mark Cauchi, Benjamin Crowe, Mark Gedney, Philip Goodchild, Christina M. Gschwandtner, Lissa McCullough, Cleo McNelly Kearns, Edward F. Mooney, B. Keith Putt, Jill Robbins, Brian Treanor, Merold Westphal, Norman Wirzba, Terence Wright and Terence and James R. Mensch. Bruce Ellis Benson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College. He is the author of Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida, and Marion on Modern Idolatry and The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music. Norman Wirzba is Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Georgetown College, Kentucky. He is the author of The Paradise of God and editor of The Essential Agrarian Reader.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4827-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    How could there be a vibrant religious life without the practice of prayer? In both theistic and nontheistic traditions, religious followers are generally counseled to steadfast prayer—to pray “without ceasing.” Without prayer, religious sensibility would likely atrophy and perhaps die. Yet what makes prayer so essential to a life of faith?

    Perhaps the most important answer is that prayer connects us to the divine, to something beyond ourselves and beyond immediate reality. Hence we find the following prayer in Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad: “From the unreal lead me to the real! From Darkness lead me to light! From death lead me...

  4. Part I: Learning How to Pray
    • 1 Prayer as the Posture of the Decentered Self
      (pp. 13-31)

      Our neighbors were visiting a cathedral in Italy with their three-year-old son. He saw a woman kneeling in one of the pews and asked what she was doing. “She’s praying,” he was told. “She’s asking God for things.” A few minutes later his parents found him kneeling in one of the pews. In response to their query, he replied that he was asking God for—gelato!

      There is something right about that prayer. After all, Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, if not exactly gelato. But it is the prayer of a three-year-old, a beginner in the...

    • 2 Who Prays? Levinas on Irremissible Responsibility
      (pp. 32-49)

      I begin by remarking the way in which the wordprayercomes up in Levinas’s philosophical writings, especially its insistent connection with ethical language.

      RecallTotality and Infinity’s description that language, along with generosity, is the sole exception to the habitual economy that returns all alterity to the Self-Same. The relation to the other in language is said to maintain radical separation and distance. It preserves metaphysical asymmetry (the impossibility of viewing my relation to the other from the outside); it respects and affirms alterity. InTotality and Infinity,ethics happens in and as language.

      The language that accomplishes this...

    • 3 Becoming What We Pray: Passion’s Gentler Resolutions
      (pp. 50-62)

      Toward the end of his reflective philosophical journalThe Inward Morning, Henry Bugbee recalls a searing moment in the mid-Pacific during World War II when he served as captain of a minesweeper.² He recalls bringing down kamikaze pilots close enough that he and the crew of his small vessel could see the incoming pilots face-to-face. As that memory floods his present consciousness, he asks, pen in hand and eight years later, if it is not true that “we were not enemies,” though by all accounts they would have been. And he follows by asking how, if “we were not enemies,”...

    • 4 Prayer as Kenosis
      (pp. 63-72)

      Prayer, both private and public, is one of the most common of human activities. All human history records it; its roots probably go back to before recorded history. Yet when we attempt to submit its most common form, that of petition, to philosophical analysis, we run into difficulties. All too often we pray for things, such as victory or gaining a desired position, and forget that there are losers in such competitions. Prayer, here, seems caught in the “mimetic violence” that René Girard describes. According to Girard, our socialization involves our imitating others. It thus leads us to desire what...

    • 5 The Prayers and Tears of Friedrich Nietzsche
      (pp. 73-87)

      From Nietzsche’s first work to his last, one finds the intonation of prayer and the stain of tears.¹ The child who weeps over the deaths of father and brother becomes the man who sobs peering into the abyss of the tragic or encountering a horse being abused. The child who instinctively knew how to pray becomes the adult who struggles to find a new way to pray, one that follows other instincts.

      That transition from one sort of prayer to another is neither easy nor simply instinctual for Nietzsche. Both Augustine’sConfessionsand Nietzsche’sEcce homocan justly be called...

    • 6 Attention and Responsibility: The Work of Prayer
      (pp. 88-100)

      According to Aristotle (inOn Interpretation, 17 A 4–5), prayer is a logos or speech that is not susceptible to truth or falsity. Unlike declarative propositions that assume a possible correspondence between our words and the affairs of the world—a correspondence that can be checked or verified by the methods of scientific observation—prayers do not illuminate or clarify the world in the way that more or less scientific statements do. They cannot be tested according to the rigors of scientific procedure because they follow a different grammar, obey rules of use in which considerations other than truth...

  5. Part II: Praying and the Limits of Phenomenology
    • 7 Irigaray’s Between East and West: Breath, Pranayama, and the Phenomenology of Prayer
      (pp. 103-118)

      InBetween East and West, her recent reflections on the encounter between her yoga practice and her work in Western philosophy, Luce Irigaray notes that breathing and speaking are, for most people, inverse operations, using the body, the diaphragm, and the lungs in almost opposite ways.¹ The result is a split, an alienation, between the verbal and the organic rather than a mutual enrichment of the two. Irigaray goes on to warn that “a religion centered on speech, without the insistence on breathing and the silence that makes it possible, risks supporting a non-respect for life” (51). As she develops...

    • 8 Heidegger and the Prospect of a Phenomenology of Prayer
      (pp. 119-133)

      An attempt to contribute to a “phenomenology of prayer” ought to begin with the recognition that the word “phenomenology” means many different things to many different people. Moreover, it must be recognized that none of these usages has any obvious claim to being the normative one. Given these inescapable facts, it is therefore incumbent on one who would make such a contribution to define just what it is that he or she might mean by “phenomenology.”

      At the beginning of the last century, Martin Heidegger presented the world with his own views on the nature and tasks of phenomenology. Following...

    • 9 Edith Stein: Prayer and Interiority
      (pp. 134-141)

      In her autobiography, Edith Stein tells us that at the age of fifteen she “deliberately and consciously” gave up praying.¹ Perhaps the most significant experience between this decision and her return to the practice of prayer with her conversion to Catholicism at the age of thirty was her contact with Edmund Husserl and his theory of phenomenology. In fact it may be the case, as Jude Dougherty has observed,² that her religious conversion was made possible by her philosophical conversion to phenomenology. Husserl, himself a convert to Christianity, understood prayer in terms of the inward turn of his transcendental phenomenology....

    • 10 “Too Deep for Words”: The Conspiracy of a Divine “Soliloquy”
      (pp. 142-153)

      Those who interpret deconstruction as another species of nihilism believe that Jacques Derrida preys—specifically, that he preys upon texts like some hermeneutical savage, some rough beast slouching toward the arid desert of relativism, dragging behind him the Holy, the Beautiful, and the Good, in order to drop them rudely into the abyss of epistemological meaninglessness and ontological simulacra.¹ Such interpreters of Derrida would certainly never assume that he would have any sensitivity for religion, or theology, or piety; consequently, they would most definitely never hear “Derrida preys” as “Derrida prays.” Yet such a nihilistic misinterpretation of deconstruction egregiously misreads...

    • 11 Plus de Secret: The Paradox of Prayer
      (pp. 154-167)

      St. Augustine begins hisConfessionswith a prayer, a prayer that questions how and why we pray: “How shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord?”¹ Much has been said about the epistemological issues raised by prayer, which questions what can be known of God, and of the implications of confessing to an omniscient God who knows of our guilt and our remorse before the confession is given voice.² However, in addition to these individual questions of knowledge, guilt, expiation, and forgiveness, Augustine also questions the collective significance of his confession-cum-prayer and asks, near the end of the...

    • 12 Praise—Pure and Personal? Jean-Luc Marion’s Phenomenologies of Prayer
      (pp. 168-182)

      In “Education and Prayer,” Emmanuel Levinas complains that our prayer has too often become a purely isolated and individuated experience and that we have lost the social and collective dimension of prayer.¹ Prayer, he suggests, always has a liturgical and communal function. Prayer requires openness and truth and hence has ethical significance and import. Jean-Luc Marion is profoundly influenced by Levinas’s philosophy. His own account of prayer bears traces of Levinas’s thought and orients itself along Levinasian suggestions regarding relation to the other. Yet Marion’s account of prayer lacks precisely the communal, social, and ethical dimension for which Levinas calls....

  6. Part III: Defining Prayer’s Intentionality
    • 13 The Saving or Sanitizing of Prayer: The Problem of the Sans in Derrida’s Account of Prayer
      (pp. 185-194)

      In his book,The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida,John Caputo proposes the following hypothesis:

      What if theology were to confess itself no longer able to save the name of God? What if, beyond the economy of sacrifice, it were to give up the name of God to translatability without return? What if it were to pray without (sans) knowing where to direct its prayers, without its sense of destinal assurance, without trusting that its prayers up to heaven rise? What if it were to have faith without faith,foi sans foi(maybe evenfoi à sang froid), the...

    • 14 How (Not) to Find God in All Things: Derrida, Levinas, and St. Ignatius of Loyola on Learning How to Pray for the Impossible
      (pp. 195-208)

      What is meant by the phenomenology of prayer? Following Levinas, I shall argue in this paper that prayer, like ethics, “reverses” Husserl’s model of intentionality. Prayerdisprivileges the role of cognition in every act of genuine transcendence. On account of this radical reversal, I shall further argue that the face of God, whose only condition of possibility is that it never appear in phenomenal givenness,foundsprayer in the same way that the face of the other founds ethics. Like ethics, prayer originates from outside every horizon of expectation. It describes how the transcendent and ineffable presence of God becomes...

    • 15 Prayer and Incarnation: A Homiletical Reflection
      (pp. 209-216)

      In the opening chapters ofConfessions,the question Augustine broaches before all others is whether we must first beg for help from God to know who God is, or must first know who God is in order to beg for help. Is prayer, then, essentially “begging,” and is “begging” the surest avenue to the divine? Or is begging simply the final resort left to us when all other presumed resources have revealed their finitude and exhaustibility, exposing the naked truth of crucifixion? Is God precisely the crucified one who is there when nothing—absolutely nothing—else is, unveiled in the...

    • 16 The Infinite Supplicant: On a Limit and a Prayer
      (pp. 217-231)

      As if prayer (precāri) were not in a precarious (precārius) enough position, teetering at the limit between myself and the Other, prayer also has two further difficulties. The first of these two additional difficulties is that prayer is often alleged to be uttered, vocally or silently, by afiniteself to aninfiniteOther, especially that other named God. This is a difficulty, because if I am properly finite—and what is the proper if not the absolutely finite, the indivisible?—can anything I do ever get beyond myself to reach another? This is a question that recent Continental thought,...

    • 17 Proslogion
      (pp. 232-244)

      I was reading St. Anselm:

      Up now, slight man! Flee, for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time, from thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 245-292)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 293-294)
  9. Index
    (pp. 295-298)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-301)