WORDS FROM W.W. September 7, 2009
“Precarious”
I took Latin in college and failed it (“failius maximus”), so when a Latin word is mentioned in one of my writings you can be assured that it was written in a book that I’m reading and the meaning is thoroughly explained with the word. Otherwise if I’m speaking Latin I’m simply making words up, at the end of which I say something like “maximus” or “prius” to make it sound authentic.
Thus, it was in a book recently where I read that the Latin root of our word prayer is “precaria”. The word “precarious” is derived from it.
Prayer places us in a precarious situation. As Tilden Edwards writes in Living In The Presence, “In heart prayer we are vulnerable, and our trust that God is good is vital if we are to abide there.”
Precarious. Precarious and prayer, one and the same.
Some other adjectives for precarious include “skaky” and “risky”. We might not think of those words very often when we think of prayer. We talk about the power of prayer and the need for prayer, but I haven’t heard “the risk of prayer” or “the shakiness of prayer” mentioned very often.
Edwards would say it is risky because true prayer demands the yielding of our hearts to the presence of God. “The heart is a dangerous place to our minds, because there we are dependent upon something- Someone- beyond our control and mental grasp. (p. 12)”
We are extremely “mental” people. “Heart” is associated more with heart disease and attacks than it is with matters of contemplation. All you need to do is compare the number of people at a church’s “chili cook-off” compared to a prayer gathering. Donuts are the preamble to singing the Doxology.
Our minds can keep things reasonable and mostly understandable. I can allow something to occupy my mind as much or as little as I want. There’s a lack of precariousness to it.
“Heart prayer”, however, takes our hands off the steering wheel. We have to trust that the alignment is right on course and will not take us into a dead-end ditch or result in a collision with an approaching possible barrier. It’s shaky and often leaves us shaking.
Paul writes in Ephesians 3:17 “I pray that Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith.” Precarious prayer is dialogue, listening, and then believing in what our Resident is saying to us.
That is tough! I tend to creep into the zip code of precariousness…and then rush back to the safety of my own senses. I focus on solutions and lean on my own understanding, and then look back afterwards at the chaos left in the wake of my decisions.
I guess you might say that the long term effects of not listening or recognizing the One who dwells within our heart is more precarious than the trusting precariousness in that “still, small voice” in the present.

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