‘My eyes fail with watching for your promise…’

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I sat through that funeral earlier this week.

I must have conducted around 500 funerals: each one is different and it is never an act- it is impossible not to be touched by any of them (and if you are not, perhaps you should consider giving up conducting them), but this one really got to me; my first contemporary to go and a lovely chap; so full of life.

It was when his oldest son got up to speak and talked with the kind of raw honesty that his dad had about how his dad had told him how two friends had prayed that one day he would see him again (a relationship breakdown had led to no contact) that I lost my equilibrium. I remembered those days- 2 years- when 3 of us met for an hour a week to be vulnerable, pray, swear and try and be honest. I remembered prayers prayed for us and the possibility of children that at that time seemed so unlikely and prayers for my other friend’s child in difficulty.

I struggle with prayer- always have. I struggle with the simplistic ideas of ‘God has answered this’ or ‘God hasn’t answered that’. I think of people that have died (my friend, whose funeral it was), people who haven’t got better, relationships that have broken down etc etc etc….oh and that whole issue about a suffering world. I struggle with some of the triteness in Christian culture that can’t be honest or lament. I get the silence, the stillness and the openness to God and sitting with the Big Questions and knowing that somehow, although things will fade and die, that somehow you are held.

…and yet… in this service. lamenting a life that had faded and gone too soon, I was aware that I was unexpectedly in the presence of answered prayer: in my family’s life and in the life of a young man who was talking honestly and showing the broken beauty of redemption.

I don’t understand- I really don’t. Sometimes-often- as the psalmist says, my eyes fail watching for the promise. I could dismiss it, or walk away, but just at that moment, I glimpsed a shaft of light and the grace to live in the light of the big and beautiful questions.

Finding a plant with branches on a rock overlooking Scarba


A couple of weekends ago I enjoyed a glorious weekend on Eilean Dubh Mor as part of a ‘wilderness retreat’. I’ve been a part of them for several years (5 of the last 6) and they are something that I look forward to more than I ever did a Christian convention in years past.

There is something about the space, silence, laughter, raw honesty, prayer, swearing and whisky that never fails to move me or persuade me that there is still hope. My friend writes about it more beautifully and with better pictures than I do ( see https://thisfragiletent.com/2018/05/09/wilderness-retreat-photos-2018/ for example).

During one of the times when I wandered and wondered around the island, I came across this plant, high up on a rock and surrounded by rockpools. It is a small heather plant; how it lodged in such a fissure and grew is unusual and its presence captured me. In fact I circled back to take the above photo as I wanted the memory.

I wrote some words: kind of a prayer I guess. Parts of it mine from a rich seam of cliche, but other parts I like.

May the eddying wind,

Carry at least one small seed

Of Hope

Deep into the crevasse

Of the rock face of



May it find


Blown there by

the same swirling wind.


May that earth

be moistened by

Unlooked for rain.


And may that seed

Nervously advance roots

And start to grow;

frail at first

and then defiant.


And may that plant

Be found

By travellers in the wilderness,

looking for they know not what.


And may it give them


that they cannot articulate,

A wry smile,

Sparkling eyes


A soul that sings again.

Sunday Prayer

Image result for Rabindranath Tagore

I searched for words like this when I used to lead worship regularly. I began to tire of my long,windy sentences and wanted something sometimes that was well formed, with space between the words.

If I have one piece of advice for those who lead worship  it would be- don’t use too many words; fewer is good.

I like the gritty realism of these words and how they face up to life in all of its complexity, saving me from a belief that God is only to be found in the goodness and easy situations.

‘The grasp of your hand’

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling
Your mercy in my success alone; but let me find
the grasp of Your hand in my failure.

Rabindranath Tagore (From: ‘The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore by Herbert Vetter’)

What’s important

I was talking with some other chaplains about someone I had worked with. I spoke about what I had been asked to do and how it had worked out, but then the sense of how I might have done it differently if that person was part of a church that I was leading.

We kicked the issue around, each sharing stories of people they had worked with and how they had worked.

There was a clear sense that the tide of human need is vast: even our best efforts are limited.

Someone shared this prayer/meditation. It is a reminder that we cannot do everything, but what we can do, although small in the vast scheme of things, can be significant.

I have heard it before many times, but find it powerful. It is attributed to Oscar Romero, but was actually written by a ‘Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw’ (?)



 It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime
only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme
accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives
includes everything.

That is what we are about.
We plant a seed that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation
in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace
to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.





I went to church last Sunday evening and it was lovely. I wan’t expecting it to be, but it just was: people, worship without artifice, simplicity and closeness.

At the start, they used a prayer of confession that really hit me. Sometimes these don’t: they are very ‘male’ and almost shaming. This wasn’t:-

Break us where we are proud.

Make us where we are weak.

Shame us where we trust ourselves.

Name us where we have lost ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord.




Lament Prayer

The world is wild and beautiful and full of wonder: I think it is good to stop and say ‘thanks’- we do in church and I like to be part of that.

The world is also full of pain, suffering & tragedy: we struggle to process that well: ‘turn the tv off- I don’t want to see that’. I tried to add this note of lament when I was preaching and leading worship. I am not sure I did that well; I came from a tradition which struggled to verbalise that.

When I first encountered a high Anglican service one Maundy Thursday and the preacher read Psalm 88 without trying to add a happy coda, I was blown away- it seemed that many of the biblical writers struggled less with this idea than we did.

Even though this is not quite ‘there’ for me, it is pretty close (without the rawness of a friend facing something I cannot even begin to comprehend, who texted me this week to say ‘if there is a god he’s a total cunt’. I did think of editing that out, but I would be doing the same thing I accused others of).

God we are told that you are compassionate,
Today this is hard to believe
We are told that you love us,
Today we do not feel loved.
We are told that we should
offer you our praise and thanksgiving,
Today all we have to offer is
anger and confusion.
Lord, despite these feelings,
we turn to you
Today there is no-one else to turn to
So hold us until we can believe again.
Love us until we can
feel your love again
Accept our anger and confusion
until we can offer you praise
and thanksgiving again
Our lives and our feelings rise
and fall, but you remain constant.
Help us to rest in your
eternal changelessness

Michael D Smith, adapted by Jane Hatton

New Year prayer

We are in the middle of January; can it still be new year?

I think, for the purposes of this blog it can be:-

Give me, O Lord,
A calm soul and a clear head,
A broad mind and a generous spirit.

Give me,
A hunger for justice and a thirst for peace,
A passion for truth and a love of mercy.

Give me,
A painter’s eye and a poet’s tongue,
A saint’s patience and a prophet’s hope.

Give me,
A sage’s wisdom and a fool’s delight,
A pilgrim’s purpose and an angel’s content.

Give me,
A warm heart and a listening ear,
My true voice and a gentle touch.

Stephen Cherry: Barefoot Ways (SPCK 2015)

Prayer pictures

When I put Tuesday’s post up I googled ‘prayer’ in google images. Almost every picture seemed twee, saccharine and, well….plain embarrassing to my eyes.

I don’t claim to be much good at praying (and I am not sure what ‘good’ is), but I think I was looking for something a little more earthy and incomplete, something that had passion (without looking too ‘alexandra burke on x factor singing hallelujah‘) and maybe tears/longing.

Maybe I should just pray and shut up…

And while I am blogging, I am sure that white 20 and 30 something males/females who work out and have perfect skin do pray: but why do so many of them make it onto pictures when you google ‘prayer’? (and the pictures link to large megachurches?).


I was in Ripon Cathedral a couple of weeks ago. If I have a ‘favourite’ Cathedral, it is this one; relatively small, friendly and it feels like a place that is ‘used’- as opposed to being a museum.

It was a weekday, I was working and the place had a handful of tourists wandering around. A member of the cathedral staff ascended into the pulpit and began to speak. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something about every day at 3pm the Cathedral pauses for prayer, and please could everyone pause?

There was no ‘command’ and I think there was acknowledgement that there were those there who did not pray and that was ok. The man began to pray, following a simple form: it was all over in 2-3 minutes. I was immensely moved; prayer offered simply, regularly, publicly and without artifice. It seemed so natural and so unforced.

It got me about not being part of an ordered liturgical tradition: ‘freedom’ can degenerate into ‘if it feels right: do it’.

Then the tought: finding space to do the same at set points in the day…


In one place that I go to, I begin in the cafe, arrive early, spread out my work and plan the scope of the day and the week. Then I pray- an Imam I work with reminded me that we are expected to do that as part of our role, not apart from our role.

I wrote this in between working and whilst praying. Parts of it I like- some parts are too twee and stray into cheesy. I am using the Book of Common Prayer and sometimes use old English words.

May this fast running soul,

Cease to run,

Slow down

-crash if necessary

And learn how to

Walk slowly,

Once more.



Grant that it

Begin to hear,

As if for the first time,

New rhythms,


Step in harmony with them.


For the glory of thy name,

(not my desires),