Monday, March 24, 2008

Puppy Prayer Primer

Here's a portion of a news story I spotted today:

NAHA, Japan — At a Zen Buddhist temple in southern Japan, even the dog prays. Mimicking his master, priest Joei Yoshikuni, a 1 1/2-year-old black- and-white Chihuahua named Conan joins in the daily prayers at Naha's Shuri Kannondo temple, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar.

It took him only a few days to learn the motions, and now he is the talk of the town. "Word has spread, and we are getting a lot more tourists," Yoshikuni said Monday.

Yoshikuni said Conan generally goes through his prayer routine at the temple in the capital of Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture (state) without prompting before his morning and evening meals. "I think he saw me doing it all the time and got the idea to do it, too," Yoshikuni said.

The priest is now trying to teach him how to meditate.
OK, this is a cute story, isn't it? Fluffy little Conan folding his paws and doing his doggy prayers. And likely having just as much real results as his Zen Buddhist master is getting from his prayers. But this lack of praying to the One True God is not the main point of my post. Yes, I do have one.

Did you catch the statement about how Conan started doing his canine vespers? "It took him only a few days to learn the motions." So that's what prayer is all about, eh? Just learning the right motions, the right posture and style and words such. OK, so we know that's not true. But how many of us enlightened and Biblically-grounded Christians fall into the same kind of routine as fluffy ol' Conan here? How many of us have just learned the motions, the acceptable words and popular prayer phrases, the closed-eyed bowed-head posture that makes prayer all that more acceptable to God? It surprises me sometimes to hear how relatively new believers pray, full of spontaneity and genuine communication with God, like talking to someone sitting next to them. But after a while they begin to learn the "correct" way to pray, using all the right terms like, "Lord I just want to..." Anybody else observe this? It bothers me a bit since it's our popular Christian culture once again setting the externals of what's acceptable or right. Rather than what's authentic and real.

A second point I picked up from this story, that in a positive way seems to me to state what our approach to learning to pray should be. Note that it says that little Conan was "mimicking his master." The dog was just doing what he saw his master doing. Wow. Is that not the right way for us to learn to pray? Looking to our Master, seeing how He prays, and doing likewise? Imitating Jesus in the ways that He spoke to His Father God, praying about the same things that occupied His prayer life, seeking to mimic Him in how and what to pray about.

I think Conan has some things to teach us about prayer. I just wonder what the Zen dude is going to teach him to meditate on. Perhaps a Milk Bone?

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