So, you may or may not be aware that my wacky mother is also a wacky monk. As you can imagine, the Lenten season is like her Christmas, and as usual, she’s going all out for it. As part of the process she’s asked me to write a few (few? Ha!) words about one of the spiritual practices my friends and I took part in during our youth called Hardcore Prayer. Because it had such a hand in shaping my view on spirituality and would later go on to become one of the bigger stumbling blocks that precipitated the Great Silence, I figured I’d lay things out for those that might be interested.
First, some background. I am a white guy that grew up in Suburbia. I was always a pretty good kid. Actually, that’s an understatement, I was pretty much a saint. No teenage hijinks to speak of. However, during the onslaught of puberty, something had to be done with the excess testosterone and since sports were out of the question my one option was raging against the machine. I soon developed the special kind of teenage angst that only a white kid who has never had a bad day in his life can feel. The music I listened to got progressively louder and harder (though still staying in the realm of Christian). I found myself needing a way to vent.
Simultaneously to that, I was involved with a Bible Study at my church. Typically it was really informal, but on this particular Tuesday, we decided to move into the Sanctuary and have a time of prayer. The guy that was leading the study had thrown a bunch of CD’s in the CD changer, and just pressed random. For a while, things went as every prayer meeting you’ve ever been to goes… Slow. Somber. Quiet. But then… Something happened.
One of the CD’s in the stereo was a mix album the leader had thrown together. He had forgotten about a few tracks he had added onto the CD, and just as the last notes of a Deleriou5 song ended, the discordant notes of a Project 86 song began. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Project 86 is a Christian band that tends to sit perched on the harder side of the mellow-metal continuum in the Christian realm. This was music I genuinely liked. This was music that I was able to find strength and power in. Essentially, this was the sort of music I’d listen to when I wanted to drive like a maniac.
And, as it turned out, this was the sort of music I’d listen to when I wanted to pray like a maniac. We were in a sanctuary with the lights turned off. The only lumination came from the emergency exit signs posted at the fire exits. We were cloaked in anonymity. The music was loud enough that we could yell and not be heard. It was like we were invisible… And that freedom to move or to express ourselves however we wanted without having to feel self conscious about it was intoxicating. In the course of that one song, my entire spiritual life was rocked.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Immediately after the meeting ended I went to the leader of the group and told him this had to happen again. This strange new world of exciting music and communication with God had to be examined. He agreed. Hardcore Prayer was born, and I wouldn’t be the same.
The group of us that were enamored with this thing we found was small… For a long time it consisted of me and a couple friends I’d drag along with me. (I had a key to the church, so this happened way more often than most people were aware of.) It was a powerful experience. Not every time, mind you, but often. Three or four of us would come together, and God would be in our midst.
More than anything about that time, what I remember is feeling that God was utterly, tangibly close. It wasn’t a prayer meeting, it was rocking out with God. And it was amazing. Epiphanies about life, the universe, and everything began to flow through us. The mundane problems of life began to shrink in comparison to the immense size of God. We became untouchable by all but the most brutal blows life would deal to us. Our eyes would glow with fire and our words would enact change as surely as if we were doing it ourselves.
But… There is a season for everything. This process took place haphazardly over the course of years. I began to recognize God as being just out of reach… Like something you see out of the corner of your eye, and when you turn your head, there’s nothing there. It was under that assumption that I left home to attend Johnson Bible College.
And that was when things began to fall apart. Prior to the move, I had seen that Hardcore Prayer (Later renamed ‘ROFO’ for, “ROck your Face Off”) seemed to be losing its power. More times than not we’d attend, and just sort of… Hang out in the dark listening to painfully loud music. None of us wanted to admit it, but… It wasn’t working anymore. God, it seemed, had moved on, and neglected to give us a forwarding address. I believed that his obvious hiding spot would be JBC, so off I went in search of him.
When I got there, I was disheartened to find that nothing had really changed. I still felt a growing distance between myself and God. The epiphanies and thoughts I had subsisted on were not coming. And this is what set the stage for my eventual breaking. I had known God so closely, he had been so personal, that when that began to fade, I didn’t know how to handle it. I had assumed that life like that was normative, and that anything else showed a lack of faithfulness on our part.
Knowing that I was doing my best to be faithful, but not seeing the same results I used to is what brought me to the point of cursing God. People (read: my wife) tried to tell me over and over that maybe God was done talking that way. Maybe there was something else I was supposed to be doing… But I would have none of it. If God wasn’t blatantly in my face, then he wasn’t there… And it wasn’t until years later that I learned to recognize him in subtlety.
So… Now, nearly a decade later, I think I’ve figured a few things out. I’ve come to realize that the time we had, was a gift, and nothing more. We provided God an opportunity to speak and work within our lives, and he chose to take it. It had nothing to do with the process. It wasn’t about how we were praying, it was just the fact that we showed up expectantly and God would meet us there.
Additionally, I’ve found that God doesn’t stay in one place. The moment we find something and try to plant a flag on it as being the way to get to God, we’ve already missed him. God moves. Constantly. Without limitation. You can bump into God just as easily in a prayer meeting as you can painting a picture, watching a movie, or even playing a videogame. All that matters is that your eyes are open and looking for Him.
Hardcore Prayer was good. And it worked for us. But I think, over time, we began to look at it as a sort of formula… IF we did this, THEN God would do this… And I think that was the beginning of the end. Whenever we try to boil God down into a formula, we’re actually trying to control him. Formulas don’t leave room for all the variables we live in. They’re clean, follow the rules, and are far too simple for a God as complex as we believe in to reside within.
Hardcore Prayer had its time. And it might again. Maybe I’ll even get to be a part of it. But no matter what form it shows up in, no matter how it manifests itself, never forget that it is just a tool. That is all anything we do to get close to God is. Singing songs at Church, listening to sermons, heck, church itself… They’re all just tools to try and get to know God better. If our attention starts focusing on the tool rather than the result, problems ensue.