`One Starts by Thanking God'

TO Krister Stendahl, the language of worship is a ``love language.'' ``When I read the Psalms as prayer, I always have the feeling that one starts by thanking God,'' he says. ``But then one becomes less and less conscious of `here I thank God' and one is filled with the ever-presence of God.

``It's kind of forgetting oneself.''

Dr. Stendahl, until recently Lutheran bishop of the Stockholm Church of Sweden, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, and a renowned theologian, talks of the language of prayer. ``This is the language by which we express our gratitude, our devotion to God,'' he explains. ``One of the Calvinist catechisms says that the meaning of life is to praise God and to enjoy Him forever.

``Our language of worship is to a large extent . . . blessing and caressing and love language,'' he adds.

Stendahl speaks of prayer as ``intercession'' as well as gratitude and praise. He distinguishes among the various forms.

``Prayer is foremost praising God,'' he says. But there is also ``praying for others . . . making sure that in all things your desires become known to God.''

The bishop says that the prayer of others in his behalf has been ``an enormous factor'' in his life. He also says the prayers of others helped lead to his recovery during a recent serious illness.

``It is not at all strange that devotion to God can have some effect on the [body's] system,'' Stendahl explains.

Of medicine, the bishop says that there is today much less of drawing a line between the spiritual and the physical than there was during the heyday of ``scientific self-sufficiency.'' He says that the medical and social-work fields were reluctant to involve themselves with anything religious in the 1950s and '60s.

He points out, however, that this is not always the case today. For example, when government representatives traveled in Sweden two years ago inaugurating centers for narcotics addicts that were run by Pentecostals, officials were ``admitting that their [the Pentacostals'] result was better.''

Does Stendahl consider healing a ``miracle'' or ``divinely natural?'' He says that ``preachers'' tend to lean toward the idea of ``miracles.''

``It's more spectacular. It makes good advertising,'' he says with a smile. Healing explained as a miracle puts it ``smack up against natural law,'' he says.

``Another way of looking at it is that it is the manifestation of the natural law being bigger than we thought, or having in it dimensions of which we were not aware,'' he adds.

In this interview, Bishop Stendahl invariably returns to prayer of praise. He quotes the Roman philosopher, Epictetus: ``If I were a swan, I'd sing like a swan. If I were a nightingale, I would sing like a nightingale. Since I am a rational being, I praise God.''

``I think that is rather nice,'' the bishop says.

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