Words from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy
“Some times when we cant pray, a prayer utters itself".
Words from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
“Sometimes when we cant pray a prayer utters itself”. Rowan Williams has written that the primary task of prayer is ‘How do we let God be God “? “How do we let God be God”? “How do we empty our heart and mind - so that the personal presence of God can come in?” He asks. Sometimes we are forced on our knees when prayer becomes suddenly urgent , the worrying news of an illness or a predicament in which we can see now way forward . Prayer becomes our last resort. And because it is so often our last resort there is always the anxiety, will it make any difference to the situation we find ourselves in? Will it work? Prayer is a journey into trust. It is allowing God to be God exactly where we find ourselves. However we do posses two fundamental promises from God. The first, very simple, is the promise that God considers every moment of our lives worth while. That wherever we find ourselves God is still committed to our human joy and fulfilment, and that he will not desert us even if we doubt him, or are not too sure if he is really there when we approach him in prayer. The second promise is that there is nothing God will not do or face to secure our joy and fulfilment and that the inexhaustibility of this promise is revealed in the death and new life of Christ. This is the Advent promise the Advent hope, that God is always utterly for us and only longs to give us exactly what we need in every situation we find ourselves in. It is with theses two promises these truths in mind that we approach prayer . If prayer is about letting God be God then it will involve listening. So often we bombard God with words, our anxious requests , there is a place for this but God is already aware of our needs before we ask them and is already responding if we could only hear. As prayer is primarily about listening we have to remember that the God we are seeking to encounter in prayer is a person , that may sound obvious , but we can often forget that when we attempt to pray we are entering into a deeply personal presence , a person with His own characteristics such as faithfulness , commitment , wonder , beauty , joy , love . In prayer God simply wants to share himself with us. He wants us to taste something of his delight in us. We are all made in his image and He longs for the Image of Himself His joy His love His life to surface in our lives. Prayer then is about change and transformation, reflecting something of who He is. When we talk about listening to God, there are, many ways through which He speaks. The personal presence of anyone, a close friend perhaps is so much more than the words they speak , we are given something just by being with them , and so it is with God . Listening to God can sometimes involve leaving words behind and just being in his company, allowing God to be God. But how do we set about this? The difficult thing of course, given that our minds are usually like cartoon characters racing round in small space at top speed, is how to slow down? How do we become to be where we are? How do we settle in our bodies, to be quiet and still enough for the life of God to rise within us like water in a pool. Because our usual ways of operating are so hectic, so chaotic we do need disciplines and that's why throughout the history of the church, as in all religions there are ways of making ourselves present, making ourselves still. In J.G. Salinger`s novel “Franny and Zooey”, we have an account of the two characters a brother and sister in a very dysfunctional family. It is a novel about prayer and how it can be so easily distorted and misunderstood. Franny in the novel has discovered The Jesus Prayer, that ancient discipline of the Orthodox Church when you simply repeat the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy upon me a sinner”. Franny discovered this prayer by reading the classic book “The Way of the Pilgrim” written by an unknown person in the mid nineteenth century. Unfortunately for Franny she has forgotten the nature of the person Jesus she is addressing in prayer and becomes rather self -righteous and judgemental. It is her amazingly good looking brother Zooey who exasperated by her attitude towards others say`s to her “I swear you are missing the whole point of the Jesus prayer . The Jesus Prayer has one aim and one aim only . To endow the person who says it with Christ -Consciousness”. The prayer is a transformative experience Zooey should be reflecting something of the characteristics of Christ, but she has forgotten who this Christ this personal presence is all about . The book is a good read about religious practice generally and what is being attempted through religious disciplines be it Buddhist Yoga or Christianity. Rowan Williams use the Jesus Prayer to anchor himself when he places himself in the presence of God. He also speaks about making sure our bodies are well rooted. Our bodies are always involved in prayer, the very posture of kneeling, standing or sitting all creates a different sense of what we are about. I would suggest sitting in a well rooted posture back straight both feet on the ground, hands gently open on your lap and taking several deep breaths to relax the body, then quietly and lovingly repeating the word or words of your choice. However in Salinger's novel Franny did glimpse something of the fruit of this prayer “Something happens after a while” she tells her brother , “I dont know what , something really tremendous ...which effects your whole outlook . I mean that the whole point of it more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything is about” Being with God is a purifying process , in other words all our negative material often surfaces , material that can distorts the way we see ourselves and those around us if it is allowed to be trapped within us. In the presence of God it is often this junk that surfaces first . He wants us to be free from it. This is probably why we so often give up on prayer it can be an uncomfortable experience , not that peaceful calm we so often long for , but if we keep returning to our phrase “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy” and gently persist we will discover that we are not doing alone. Prayer is never something we do on our own. Christians are always trying to pray in such a way that it is Jesus , by the power of the Spirit who is doing something in them. So in the end it is not we who is praying we are putting yourself in the stream of Christ's prayer Christ's life and letting ourselves be carried along. And we can practice this form of prayer wherever we are sitting on a bus or lying in a hospital bed simply and gently repeating our word or phrase and allow ourselves to be carried dare I say it into the joy of God . Prayer is not the last resort in emergencies it is a transformative experience which we daily open ourselves towards. So when that difficult situation does arrive in our lives we are already steadied and held by that stream of love that life which is already part of who we are and in whom we can confidently place our trust. Prayer begins with discipline but it ends with desire, we find we want to pray for we have discovered a presence that is deeply supportive and enriching . Amen