Prayer is a fundamental aspect of religious and spiritual practices across various traditions. It serves as a means of communication, connection, and contemplation with the divine. In this article, we will explore the concept of prayer from an open and relational theological perspective. Drawing upon the belief in a loving and responsive God, we will delve into the transformative power of prayer, the nature of divine-human interaction, and the implications for personal growth, collective well-being, and the wider theological discourse. Throughout this exploration, we will reference and cite relevant theological sources to provide a comprehensive understanding of this perspective on prayer.
Understanding Open and Relational Theology
Open and relational theology is a theological framework that emphasizes the dynamic and responsive nature of God’s relationship with creation. It recognizes the inherent freedom and genuine interaction between God and humanity, promoting a view of God as intimately involved in the world’s unfolding events. Process theology, developed by Alfred North Whitehead and further expounded upon by scholars such as John B. Cobb Jr. and David Ray Griffin, is a significant influence within open and relational theology. Process theologians assert that God’s nature is relational and that God acts persuasively, not coercively, in the world, seeking the cooperation of all beings.
According to Thomas Jay Oord, a prominent open and relational theologian, prayer is seen as a genuine interaction between human beings and God, wherein both parties actively contribute to the dialogue. Oord states, "In open and relational theology, prayer is a primary way that finite beings relate to God and affect the world. Prayer can change us, other people, and the world in which we live"1Oord, T. J. (2014). The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. InterVarsity Press. p. 117.. This understanding of prayer as a transformative and relational practice forms the foundation of an open and relational approach to prayer.
The Transformative Power of Prayer
Prayer holds transformative potential, both for individuals and communities. From an open and relational perspective, prayer is seen as more than a simple request or petition; it is an invitation to participate in the ongoing work of God’s redemptive love in the world. Through prayer, we can align our hearts and intentions with the divine purpose, opening ourselves to divine guidance, healing, and empowerment.
Dr. Bruce Epperly, a process theologian, highlights the transformative power of prayer by stating, "Prayer opens the door to a new way of seeing, speaking, and acting in the world. It transforms us by giving us new insights and energies for personal and social transformation"2Epperly, B. D. (2014). Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. T&T Clark. p. 18.. This transformative aspect of prayer aligns with the open and relational understanding of God’s dynamic involvement in the world and the belief that prayer has the potential to bring about real change in individuals and society.
Prayer as Co-Creation
In an open and relational theology, prayer is viewed as a partnership between human beings and God. It acknowledges that God respects and values our freedom, engaging in a dynamic relationship where our prayers have the potential to shape the future. Through prayer, we participate in co-creating a world that reflects love, justice, and compassion.
Process theologians typically describe prayer as participating with God in bringing the world toward greater love, beauty, and justice. This understanding suggests that prayer is not merely a passive act of making requests to God but an active engagement with God’s creative and transformative energies. As we align our desires with God’s intentions for the world, we contribute to the unfolding of divine possibilities in our lives and communities.
Divine-Human Interaction in Prayer
From an open and relational theological perspective, prayer involves a genuine and responsive interaction between God and humanity. It is an opportunity for individuals to express their deepest concerns, joys, and longings while also listening for God’s voice and guidance. This understanding challenges the notion of a distant or aloof God and emphasizes God’s compassionate presence in our lives.
Dr. Marjorie Suchocki, a process theologian, explains that prayer "is a genuine interaction, with God genuinely responding and genuinely shaping the human and the world"3Suchocki, M. H. (2013). The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166.. This perspective affirms that prayer is not a one-sided conversation but a relational encounter where both God and human beings actively participate, influencing and being influenced by one another. It is through this interaction that we can experience a deepening of our relationship with the divine and find solace, guidance, and spiritual growth.
Implications for Personal and Collective Well-Being
An open and relational approach to prayer has significant implications for personal growth, community building, and the pursuit of justice and reconciliation. As individuals engage in prayerful dialogue with God, they become more attuned to the needs of others, developing compassion, empathy, and a desire to work towards the common good.
Prayer also plays a vital role in fostering communal bonds. When communities gather in prayer, sharing their stories, concerns, and hopes, they create spaces of belonging and support. Dr. Philip Clayton, a prominent process theologian, emphasizes the communal aspect of prayer by stating, "Prayer connects us to others in the larger community, and that helps to build up the Body of Christ, the world-community of faith"4Clayton, P. (2011). Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society. Fortress Press. p. 103.. Through shared prayer experiences, relationships are deepened, and a sense of shared purpose and mission is cultivated.
Additionally, an open and relational understanding of prayer compels us to actively seek justice, reconciliation, and the well-being of all. Prayer becomes a catalyst for social transformation and collective action. Dr. Monica A. Coleman, a process theologian and scholar, asserts, "Prayer moves us beyond ourselves and our immediate concerns to be present with others in their pain, to engage social issues, and to act for justice"5Coleman, M. A. (2015). Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology. Fortress Press. p. 82.. This understanding challenges us to embody the values and intentions we express in our prayers through concrete actions that contribute to a more just and compassionate world.
From an open and relational theological perspective, prayer takes on a transformative and relational character. It invites us into a dynamic partnership with God, co-creating a world that reflects divine love, justice, and compassion. Prayer has the power to transform individuals, communities, and the wider world, bringing about personal growth, fostering communal bonds, and inspiring collective action for justice and reconciliation.
By embracing prayer as a vital practice within an open and relational theological framework, we can deepen our understanding of God’s loving presence, develop a greater sense of interconnectedness, and actively participate in the ongoing work of healing and transformation. Let us, therefore, cultivate a prayerful life, drawing inspiration from the wisdom of open and relational theologians, and allowing prayer to shape and guide our journey towards a more inclusive, compassionate, and just world.
- 1Oord, T. J. (2014). The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. InterVarsity Press. p. 117.
- 2Epperly, B. D. (2014). Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. T&T Clark. p. 18.
- 3Suchocki, M. H. (2013). The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166.
- 4Clayton, P. (2011). Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society. Fortress Press. p. 103.
- 5Coleman, M. A. (2015). Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology. Fortress Press. p. 82.