Radical prayer

What is it?

I gave the following reflection called “Radical Prayer: What is it?” this morning at a morning of recollection at our parish. I have lightly edited the text of the talk to make it a little more readable and added some footnotes. If you want to hear the reflection as delivered, there is a link to the SoundCloud recording at the bottom of this post. I pray that this exhortation touches your spirit and encourages you to pray radically!

Come Holy Spirit. Today is the traditional feast day of St. Hilarion, Abbot, who died in the year 371, a monk of the desert.  He was noted for his fervour in fasting and prayer. That we would learn radical prayer, St. Hilarion, pray for us.  Amen.

We have discussed many types of prayer here over the last several years. Vocal prayer. Meditation.  Prayerful reading of Scriptures or Lectio divina. Recollection. Contemplation. Prayer of union. Liturgical prayer. These are all good and important parts of a well-developed prayer life. But we have not, to my knowledge, discussed radical prayer. Radical prayer is another tool in our prayer arsenal.  It is another kind of prayer. But what exactly is radical prayer? 

I can’t take credit for the name.  A friend of mine taught me about it.  But to talk about it today I have worked up a proposed definition:

Radical prayer is aggressive verbal prayer, crying out to God in the Holy Spirit, that is properly formed by Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

It’s always good to start with a definition, but let’s break it down and look more closely at what radical prayer is.

Radical prayer is based on the model of prayer we are taught in the Psalms – verbal prayer, crying out to God.

When we look at the Psalms, one theme we find is crying out to God in prayer. The official Bible of the Church is the Latin Vulgate, which was largely the result of the labors of St Jerome, who was commissioned in the year 382 A.D. to make a revision of the old Latin translations of the scriptures using the best original available texts. 

In the Vulgate, the Latin word clāmo is used 42 times in the Psalms alone1 – it means to call, cry out; to call to or upon for aid.2 Here are a couple of examples:

           I cried unto him with my mouth.3

           I have cried to the Lord with my voice.4

We also see the word clāmor is used an additional 5 times in the psalms – a cry, an earnest plea for help.

           Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to thee do I pray.5

           O Lord, hear my prayer; and let my cry come unto thee.6

This is verbal prayer, crying out to God, but as Christians we make these prayers “in the Holy Spirit”

I don’t have time for a full teaching on prayer in the Holy Spirit this morning. St. Paul teaches us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Praying “in the Spirit” is the prayer of the baptized Christian in the state of grace. It is prayer that is being led by the Spirit of God.7

How do we learn radical prayer?  We can learn radical prayer through proper formation. 

This starts by looking first at how radical prayer is modeled in the scriptures. 

Here are two Old Testament examples (there are more). Israel is besieged by the King of Assyria.  King Hezekiah is confronted by the threats of the Assyrians and prays to God for help.  2 Kings 19 recounts the king’s prayer.  2 Chronicles 32:20 describes the prayer more succinctly: Then Hezeki′ah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heavenWhat was the outcome of their radical prayers? “That night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians.”

Another example.  During a drought, the prophet Elijah goes to live with a widow and her son.  The son became ill and died.  In 1 Kings 17:17-24 we read about Elijah’s radical prayer for the son: “he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?’ Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.’ And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Eli′jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

2 Samuel 6 shows us the example of King David in a radical prayer of praise: “And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the horn.”

We also see examples of radical prayer in the New Testament. St. Paul and Silas were in Phillipi.  Paul cast out the spirit of divination from a woman, and those who had profited by her had them thrown in jail.  We read in Acts 16 that “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened.” What kind of prayer causes an earthquake?

Peter and John were brought before the council and ordered to stop preaching Jesus.  After they were sent away, they rejoined the believers.  We read their prayer in Acts chapter 4:  “they lifted their voices together to God, and said . . . ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” House shaking radical prayer!

I am sure if you search the scriptures, you can find more examples of radical prayer.  The prayers of Esther and Judith.  Even the prayers of Jesus.

We can also learn radical prayer by using the actual prayers in the Bible as our prayers. 

There are 150 Psalms, and you can usually find one that fits your prayer situation.  You can pray it out loud and intersperse the verses with your spontaneous prayers.

For example, Psalm 51 is a radical prayer of repentance. It was the prayer of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had committed adultery: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

There are Psalms containing radical prayers for protection and deliverance.

Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: and let them that hate him flee from before his face.  As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.8

You can pray the entire Psalm 91 out loud as a prayer: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”9

Ps 35:1-6 (RSV-CE) is another good one: Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, “I am your deliverance!”

We can also properly form our radical prayer by studying Tradition.

We see examples in the lives of the saints.  There are many beautiful prayers that have been written and adopted for use by the Church.  We can attentively pray along with the prayers at Mass in a missal, or pray the Divine Office along with the monasteries and priests.

Our spiritual reading will form us over time as well.  This is one reason why it is important to not read spiritual junk food.  You are what you eat, so to speak.  We want to form our spirit by good traditional spiritual reading.

All that being said, why should we try radical prayer? 

Not only because we see it modeled in the scriptures and in tradition, but also because God encourages us to pray this way.

We can have confidence in radical prayer because the Word of God promises us that God will hear and answer these prayers.

I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.  In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. . . . From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.10

When he calls to me, I will answer him,11

Our Lord Jesus also told us, in the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, “will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”12

Why not give it a try sometime?

We started out today with my proposed definition of radical prayer:

Radical prayer is aggressive verbal prayer, crying out to God in the Holy Spirit, that is properly formed by Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

We broke this down and looked at each piece of this definition today. Now that you have that foundation, where should you start if you want to try this out?

We always start by calling on the Holy Spirit. We want the Advocate to participate. – “Come Holy Spirit, lead me, guide me, show me how to pray.” Then, we come into the presence of God with praise and thanksgiving.13 Then pray about what is on your heart. Intercede for your intentions.  Pray for your loved ones. Pray for our country and for the church. Pray for God’s help in the battle you are in. 

Try it in alone in the car sometime.  Just start praying out loud! Or take five minutes at the end of your prayer time and incorporate some radical prayer.  You can pray one of the psalms, and interject your own spontaneous prayers as we talked about earlier. Or you can pray this way with your spouse or a prayer group.  One person can name the intention, and then the group can do radical prayer for that intention.

We closed the reflection with a prayer, and then had some discussion in the group about the topic. There were a number of good comments and observations. Here are a couple of them:

  • The store of Jacob wrestling with the angel through the night until he received his blessing and his new name (Israel) is an example of “aggressive” radical prayer.14
  • Radical prayer is a format as opposed to a rigid structure. You can apply the concept to saying the Our Father, for example. You start by praying, “Our Father,” and then move into your own words of prayer. Or, praying the Rosary, you can add intentions in between decades.
  • Sometimes when you are at the end of your rope, you need to cry out to God and admit you cannot do it yourself. This cry of surrender causes an inner release of the issue, which can bring healing.
  • A medical doctor commented that the process of crying verbally out loud in prayer to God will trigger chemical reactions in your body and stimulate your nervous system in a positive way — a “radical expression of the body.”

If you are looking for a good catechesis on deliverance prayer for yourself, there is a good book by Fr. Ripperger:  Deliverance Prayers for Use by the Laity. It has prayers that you can pray for yourself. The St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal has others on their website. The Release Me O Lord Jesus booklet is also anointed and helpful for praying for self-deliverance.

Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry. This article can be found here.