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.
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….