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Draw near: Contrasts

Lynne Baab • Tuesday November 15 2022

Draw near: Contrasts

Steadfast God,
The idols of the age are glitter and dust, but you are my rock.
The idols of the mind are appearance and mirage, but you are my rock.
The idols of the marketplace are in or out of fashion, but you are my rock.
The idols of this age collapse when people lean on them, but you are my rock.
I have awakened to a new day and want to put this day in your hands. I want to
think with your thinking,
wish with your wishing, and
strive with your striving.
—Cornelius Plantinga, Morning and Evening Prayers, page 34

I gave you some prayers last week from a beautiful collection of prayers by one of my favorite seminary professors. I noticed as I read through his prayers that Dr. Plantinga uses contrasts in his prayers really well. Here are three short prayers with contrasts:

Let whatever is ugly in us become small.
Let whatever is beautiful in us become large.
Let our fears become small.
Let our confidence in you become large.

The house of my soul is small. Expand it.
The house of my soul is dark. Illuminate it.
The house of my soul is lonely. Enter and dwell in it forever.

Dim in knowledge, I call to you. Christ be my light.
Cold of heart, I cry to you. Christ, be my warmth.
Unsure at crossroads, I appeal to you. Christ be my guide.
—Cornelius Plantinga, Morning and Evening Prayers, pages 19, 22-23, and 64

We turn from the aspects of our life that are counter-productive (or limited or sinful) and return to God and God’s goodness. That turning can happen in prayers of confession coupled with receiving God’s forgiveness. We also turn when we name the dark places we are experiencing and ask God to come into those places, as the prayers above do.

Dr. Plantinga uses vivid language to set up these opposites. He contrasts glitter, dust, appearance, mirage, fashion, and idols with God as our rock. He contrasts ugliness with beauty; fear with confidence; smallness, darkness, and loneliness with God’s presence; dimness with light; coldness with warmth; and uncertainty with Christ’s guidance. Note that he always begins with the thing he wants to turn away from and ends with what he wants to receive from God. This fits with the recent research about neural pathways in our brain. If possible, we always want to end our prayers with something beautiful about God that we are asking for. That keeps God’s blessings and goodness foremost in our brains.

All the prayers above involve contrasts we might call bad versus good. Sometimes we hold contrasts together because both are true and good. Here’s an example:

We thank, praise, and honor you, generous God, overflowing fountain of good, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. You dwell beyond all worlds and stars and yet are secretly present to human hearts. You shine with purity and glory, lighting up ranks of angels and archangels, and yet you dwell in the dark places with sinners like me.
—Cornelius Plantinga, Morning and Evening Prayers, pages 18 -19

God dwells in unimaginable glory, beyond all worlds and stars, in the presence of angels and archangels. Yet God is also present in our hearts. God is pure and filled with light, but comes into our dark places. We are so grateful that these opposites are true.

I have written a lot about the blessing it has been to embrace both grief and gratitude. God invites us to do both, and we can hold these contrasting practices in two hands. In the same way, many other contrasts and paradoxes can fill our two hands simultaneously. Some additional examples of things we hold in two hands at the same time include God’s voice in both nature and scripture (Psalm 19), Jesus’ grace and truth (John 1:14-17), and Jesus’ words of forgiveness and a call to obedience to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

This week I invite you to watch for opposites and contrasts in your prayers. I invite you to consciously focus your prayers on contrasts that we might call bad and good, and also contrasts that reveal that we paradoxically hold opposites together at the same time because God is beyond our comprehension. I hope you have fun with these contrasts.

(Next week: Praying for trust. Illustration by Dave Baab: sunrise on the Coromandel Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Previous posts about contrasts and paradoxes:

My book on grief and gratitude is perfect for Advent, which begins on November 27, for small groups as well as individuals: Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life (paperback, kindle, and audiobook)

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