I edged into the hospital chapel.
I often do this: finding a space to pray and be quiet sometime during the day so I am not ministering out of my own ‘messiah complex’. I also need to remind myself that I am dependent.
I became aware of someone else there: the cleaner. She said ‘shall I leave?’
I said ‘No: please carry on’. In the past I have left and found somewhere ‘quiet’.
And so I prayed and was still to the sound of a vacuum cleaner making whatever sound a vacuum cleaner makes.
The thing is I hardly noticed.
Sometimes silence is over equated with ‘sacredness’, to the extent that noise becomes ‘unholy’. I’ve never understood this- like the time the preacher says (affects annoying ‘holy’ voice, quite unlike ‘real’ voice) ‘Let us seek God in the silence’ and I want to say ‘What- is He absent in the noise and ordinary mess?’ (I think some people actually do believe that).
I think next time I see someone cleaning a chapel I won’t seek anywhere quieter- He is there just as much in the noise. Plus someone has to demonstrate that prayer is not a bizarre ritual done when no one else is there..
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?).
This has been posted so many times it is almost a cliche. I unearthed it from an old act of worship last week. It is attributed to Teresa of Avilia (1515-1582).
I like how it reminds us that, with God’s help, it is down to us: I guess that means life has to be lived more openly. It is a reminder to those with faith that saying and doing pious stuff is not the limit of being a Christian.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
I ‘repurposed’ a Harvest Service on Sunday (I like that jargon!) and pulled bits together from other services. There; I just confessed- I am not fresh and original, but a tired remixer.
Looking at some prayers I had used from 10 years ago, there were all the standard Harvest prayers for others. You know, the ones where we pray for those who work in famine relief and for farmers in developing countries. All good and all necessary: the money given by ordinary church goers to relief agencies often staggers me.
Then I realised how I had changed in 10 years. Prior to that, as a city boy and then living and working in large towns, British farming was not something that I really knew anything about (Note: if you want to learn anything about British farming, don’t read any of the metropolitan based broadsheets).
Now, the prayers I led included British farmers who also struggle: I have seen this at close hand. I now realise how even the most apparently wealthy farmer is so dependent on the weather: one bad harvest or one sociopathic supermarket cutting the milk price and livelihoods are threatened.
I have not joined the Countryside Alliance, but I am learning…
It is still the Harvest Season round these parts.
When looking through some old stuff I found this. I like it: it reminds me to live a generous, almost profligate life that goes beyond just saying ‘Thank you’.
isn’t your creation wasteful?
Fruits never equal
the seedlings’ abundance.
Springs scatter water.
The sun gives out
May your bounty teach me
greatness of heart,
May your magnificence
stop me being mean.
Seeing you a prodigal
and open-handed giver
let me give unstintingly
like a king’s child
like God’s own.’
(Helder Camara (adapted) )
People sometimes say ‘I will pray for you’ , ‘prayers’ or something similar. Speaking from my own experience, it is well meant but not always followed through. Maybe sometimes it is said in embarrassment as in ‘Oh no- I don’t know what to say, this is uncomfortable: better say something’.
Most annoying is when it is said glibly as just more Christian saccharine traffic from someone who does not want to share the pain.
‘I will pray for you’
Must never be uttered glibly by those reclining on their couches,
But by those
Bruised and bloody from the fight,
Or those whose Hope has nearly gone
From the struggle,
Perhaps even those
Who have stopped using words,
But never with a smile,
As a honeyed platitude,
From behind a mask.
When we meet for worship in church, we pray for ‘others’. Just another way to stop us making God in our own image and forcing us to look outwards.
Sometimes this does not grab the imagination: it becomes the ‘dull’ part of what happens. Sometimes I wonder what it ‘does’. Then I got to thinking about a series of articles about the floods in Somerset and the number of churches opened up to provide relief and a safe place. Also, the above image came to mind in the Ukraine. It struck me that there are 1000s of stories like this that get under the media radar: Christians and others of faith/goodwill serving, taking risks and otherwise acting against self interest.
Is this ‘proof’ of prayer? I don’t really want to get into that: it seems to me like making the statement: ‘Prove music’- that is not the point: you just listen, play and join in..
It been a mite heavy round these parts lately (believe me- this is just a blog- you should see how heavy things are inside my head right now). So here is a lovely prayer that stays just on the right side of twee:-
I shall not pray to God for you
for what I think you would
like to have, or ought to have,
of gain or grace or good;
or even for your current dream,
lest time should prove we both had begged
for you a bitter fruit . . .
only remember you with love
without the least request;
and God, who loves you more than I,
will do for you what’s best.
Ruth Van Gorder
So we did this thing on Sunday that involved ‘active prayers’- writing stuff down and throwing it into a net (don’t ask). I kept the pieces of paper and read them through yesterday and prayed for the concerns and for the people.
Written on those pieces of paper were all kinds of things; thanks, openness and some heart rending stuff. Nothing could be passed over lightly.
I don’t know whether you believe in prayer or not: for me it seems the more I know the less I know. But what I do know is that prayer is often more about looking into the heart of darkness and choosing to stay there; long ago, Heidegger- an agnostic- wrote about human beings’ tendency to want to exist in a state of ‘tranquilised everydayness’…at it’s best prayer forces me out of that state.
I understand less and less as time goes on, but I have never understood the idea that prayer is escapism and avoidance.
…and I am grateful….
I have a lot of time for Rev Giles Fraser: former marxist/athiest but not fundy and still lefty (the Dean of St Paul’s who resigned/was pushed out over the Occupy protests).
This really helped me this week:-
Prayer is about being where the light can get at you and helping you adjust to the truth of how things really are
Rowan Williams once brilliantly compared prayer to sunbathing. “When you’re lying on the beach something is happening, something that has nothing to do with how you feel or how hard you’re trying. You’re not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating. You give the time, and that’s it. All you have to do is turn up. And then things change, at their own pace. You simply have to be there where the light can get at you.”
Too much prayer is seen as effort, as an attempt to make things different by some mental act of will. But the world does not revolve around you or me. And I can’t make it or other people dance to my tune by strenuously wishing things were other than they are. There is no magic involved. It’s not about mysteriously offering up some shopping list of proposals to an absent-minded deity who might not have thought about them had you not suggested them first. It’s not cosmic lobbying. The fundamental move is to give up trying to be in control.
So, lots of fancy words, but does it work? Certainly not when it stays trapped in self-indulgent navel-gazing. And not when it is all about feeling sorry for oneself either. Of course there are tears – a form of prayer that the writers of the Bible described as lament. But all of this has to drop away too. Religious sunbathing is a great deal about adjusting our eyes to the nature of how things really are, adjusting to reality rather than constantly fighting it. ……
We are unaccustomed to the truth, and acclimatising one’s eyes takes time. But it is only the truth that will set us free. …… For a few moments at least, I have given up trying to conscript reality into my own furious plan of action. And I glimpse that all will be well.
I like that- I have been around many people: Christian, athiest, agnostic whose motivation has been ‘to conscript reality into my own furious plan of action.’ For a Methodist Minister, post Sept 1st, that is always tempting….