This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector gets us caught up on seeing who does the prayer right. Isn't this the point? One prayer against the other? Like there is a winner or a loser in God's eyes. Sometimes we all too often can only see things through the lens of there being a dichotomy when there actually is none. It is not about whose prayer is the best, as soon as we start doing this lens we are no better than the Pharisee. The thing is we like a right and a wrong. Just look at how caught up in it we are in this election season? The church has asked us to be in a season of prayer and can't you hear this: "Dear Lord, I thank you I am not like that ... supporter. I am so glad you support my candidate. Help them win."
Where is our focus? In the Mitford series by Jan Karon there is a prayer that never fails, at least this is what Fr. Tim is always calling it. The thing is it leaves everything open, nothing is answered, or promoted, it is all left to God. This prayer is "thy will be done." How can we pray this? Think about truly praying it and leaving it all open ended. It's different, isn't it? It requires faith in something bigger than ourselves, it is different than last weeks keep praying becuase you'll eventually be heard. Maybe this is the point, when we try to narrow down what is right and wrong about prayer we fail to understand it at all.
We used to be involved in a study at church which used a Psalm as prayer. So there were rules to reciting the Psalm. No one was to stand out as the leader, in other words not loud, you were to blend your voices with one another. There was to be no feeling emitted from the markings because these are all added in. You were supposed to let it wash over you. No one should be ahead or behind, you had to listen and speak as one. Because a Psalm is a communal prayer. Can you imagine trying to do this? It's difficult and you begin to analyse your reading of it. Were you doing it right or wrong.
Maybe this is what it is all about, focus, where is our focus? Is it between us and God, or is it caught up in doing it right? Is there such a thing as a right or wrong way to pray? Maybe we just need to be more daring with our prayer life. What if we try things with posture? If we are used to doing spontaneous prayer maybe we should try written ones. If we would like to try communally praying the Psalm try to do it as listed above. There are so many different options and most of the time we go with what is most comfortable for us. So let's break it open. Because this is some of the point in giving us these two examples of prayer. Not for us to get caught up in the dichotomy of right and wrong. Come and try.