Prayer (again)

It seems that a lot of people at St Bede’s are thinking about prayer this lent, and I really appreciate all the thoughts about prayer people have been posting on the blog. I was also really struck by the ideas in the readings on Sunday, about seeing and not seeing, about light, and about our ideas surrounding disability. This community always inspires me to think deeper and more complexly about my assumptions, and hopefully that prompts me to change my worldview for the better. I’m not sure I can put all the ideas that are swirling around in my head down on a blog post, so today, I’ll just stick with thinking about prayer.

Many of the posts on the blog have caused me to think about prayer, but a few stand out in particular. One is Andrew’s post about prayer and how we shouldn’t pray the way others like to pray, but we should pray in the best way for ourselves. Another has been Mohan’s post about how to listen for God, and Ethan’s post about empathy. These posts have helped me think about prayer as more of a relationship, and have made me realise how terrible I really am in conversations with God.

I do prayer a lot different than I do conversations with any other person. I talk much more about myself and my problems, I whine quite a lot more, and I talk a whole lot more. I have found that a prayer journal is not good for me because I end up using too many words. Instead, I have resolved to take more time to just be with God, to listen for God, and to find my own way of praying.

~Pamela

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This Lent, I’ve set out to spend a non-trivial amount of time everyday reflecting, reading and praying. If you’re like me, this normally only happens in irregular spurts.A passage I was reminded of recently by a friend is 1 Kings 19:9-18. Most specifically:

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

A whisper! Let us pray for the grace to listen and perceive.

Staying with the theme, I’ve spent a bit of time reading blogs and articles about how God speaks. A few articles I found made some interesting (to me) observations. For most of the Old Testament, God mostly speaks directly to prophets or ‘designated individuals’, let’s say. In the New Testament, God speaks to people through Jesus. And the subject matter is never about the personal goings on of day to day life. The focus is always much larger – the people of Israel, for example. This seems plain and obvious now, but maybe it’s a curious insight when you first think about it like it was for me.

How do we expect to hear God, and what shapes those expectations? Perhaps, if we listen, we’ll hear God in the Word, or our communities, the church and other people.

Grant us the grace to be still and listen.

Mohan

What is prayer?

At the end of her March 17 blog post, Pamela asks “Does anyone else have a hard time with prayer?” Yes, I most certainly do.

But as I think about what Pamela wrote, and about the other questions she asked (“…how can I possibly have a methodical way to get back to praying spontaneously without words? And what good is prayer anyway?”), I have been posing another question to myself “What is prayer?”

I once possessed a book entitled, simply, Prayer. It was recommended to me by any number of keen Christians. But, I was never able to read it with any satisfaction or any sense that the author’s experience was similar to mine.

One partial answer to my question is, perhaps, that “prayer” means something different for each of us. And maybe I have a hard time with prayer because, too often, I try to replicate what other people mean when they talk about their praying.

As I wondered “What is prayer?” I went to another (none too recent) book, The Oxford Book of Prayer (1985) edited by an Anglican bishop named George Appleton. Here are a few things that jumped out at me (they may sound a bit awkward because I have edited them in an attempt to use gender-neutral language).

Prayer is essentially a person standing before her/his God in wonder, awe, and humility; a person, made in the image of God, responding to her/his maker. In Christian terms, this is the Holy Spirit acting within a person.

I like that emphasis on God’s action rather than my action in prayer. Here is another example of that understanding:

God can and does break in upon a person at any moment and in any circumstances. It is a person’s attitude of openness – looking, listening and waiting – that prepares that person to receive whatever God may give, and to obey.

And:
…prayer is a relationship in which God speaks and we are ready to hear because we listen.

And the book includes the following quote (again, clumsily gender-neutralized by me) from the 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian Kierkegaard:

The “immediate” person thinks and imagines that when she/he prays, the important thing, the thing she/he must concentrate upon, is that God should hear what she/he is praying for. Yet in the true, eternal sense it is just the reverse; the true relation in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when the person praying continues to pray until she/he is the one who hears, who hears what God wills. The “immediate” person, therefore … makes demands in her/his prayers; the true person of prayer only attends.

I hope I will find that fresh (albeit partial) perspective helpful.

Andrew Brockett

Prayer

I was good at praying at one point in my life; when I was in my undergraduate degree I would pray often, most of it would be without words, and God was never really far from my mind. It was a source of great joy and comfort for me, and I look back to that time as when I caught a glimpse of God. It’s the kind of experience that I am incredibly grateful to have had, and am incredibly grateful to have a community that can assure me that I am not strange for it.

I am no longer good at praying. I have tried over the past few years to get back into it, but how can I possibly have a methodical way to get back to praying spontaneously without words? And what good is prayer anyway? I’m not even sure how I feel about intercessory prayer, and if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent –

I need to stop there. Lent is a time for turning around in your life, and since I do not pray and therefore have a hard time even being able to tell if I’m far away from God, this is something I feel like I need to do.

What I have decided to do this lent is a prayer journal. So far, the thing I have noticed is that I have been writing down a lot about God in creation. I hope to notice more as I go along, and think more on how my Lenten discipline of praying with a prayer journal is going in my next blog posts. Is anyone else having any interesting insights in their Lenten discipline? Does anyone else have a hard time with prayer?

~Pamela

Silence

Finally, I am caught up with the readings!!! And have a chance to write a reflection…

I want to focus on the reading for Nov. 20, “Silence after Compline”, and Chittister’s reflection on the value of silence. For many of us there is very little silence in our lives. Music or television fills the air with sound. Perhaps even more significantly, we post how we are doing all day long on Facebook or Twitter -and get ‘instant’ reaction and response. Or we don’t – and then we worry, or decide to come up with a new and more interesting status (and worry about whether this means we have an uninteresting life, or friends who do not really care, or…) It means there is very little chance for solitude. Very little opportunity to listen and learn to recognise our own voice, let alone the voice of G-d!

Joan Chittister says, “until we are able to have at least a little silence every day, both outside and in, both inside and out, we have no hope of coming to know either God or ourselves very well.” (p. 196) How much silence is in your day? I know there are days when I cannot have music or the radio on during my drive home, because there has been so little silence up till that point. I try and build in time for silence in my morning routine, but sometimes I am too tired to listen then. (Yes, you need to listen to silence…) And that’s why I value ‘Stop. Breathe. Listen.’ on Tuesday afternoons in the chapel, as well as trying to build silence into our Sunday worship.

Mind you, there are times when silence is too difficult, too painful. Times when our pain is almost too great to bear, and silence means there is no relief, means that it overwhelms us and makes it impossible to listen or even live. I think then it is worth remembering that there is a great difference between being silent on your own, and being silent as a group. My mother was Quaker when I was growing up, and there was a tremendous power in those Sunday Meetings, the entire group sitting in silence, listening for G-d, being attentive and present without words. There is something powerful on Sundays at St. Bede’s when we do group lectio, praying/reflecting in silence as a group. Or when we sit together in silence after communion each Sunday. Perhaps during those times when we are unable to enter into silence on our own, we need to find communities where we can be silent and listen together.

Shhhh…. Listen…Breathe…Know that G-d loves you and has a word (or more!) to say to you.

Megan+

The rhythm of prayer – and of our life

The readings since last week have been on the specific requirements of prayer at different times of the day and at different times of the year. Joan Chittister notes that we no longer are constrained by the amount of daylight available for us as we determine the rhythm of daily life. We are not as aware of the need to adapt at different times – nor of the influence external events have on our prayer life or our daily activities.

So I wonder – what does influence the rhythm of life for us? For students and those of us who work on campus, there is certainly the impact of the academic year. There is still an impact from seasons – at least, those of us in a harsh climate change our daily activities depending on the season! When it is cold, we limit our time outdoors. When it is warm, we tend to drop out of other commitments in order to be outside…

And there are seasons in our life which impact the rhythms for a period of time – small children dictate that we live in a certain way (one in which sleep is essential albeit frequently interrupted!), illness of a family member or loved one brings particular demands.

What is currently forming the rhythm of YOUR life? What do you have control over – and what is beyond any personal influence? Is the daily rhythm of your life and prayer something you have fallen into, or is it a deliberate choice? Does it reflect the reality of your life and the season you are in? Are you trying to cling to an earlier rhythm and need to change? Is there room for rest as well as work?

Many questions as we move fully into fall and begin to see the days shorten and the darkness grow…

Megan+

Benedictine monks like St. Bede’s?!

Just a short note that I sure chuckled out loud this morning in the reading (p.111):

“Psalm 67 is said without a refrain and slightly protracted as on Sunday so that everyone can be present for Psalm 51…”

Hmmm… this sounds like St. Bede’s on Sunday morning where it is a good thing to chat a little as a group over announcements & prayer requests since that ensures more people are likely to have arrived for the actual start of our worship together!

I am amused that monks also might have been a little tardy as they gathered together to pray!

Megan+

not seeking to please an external G-d

For me, a very powerful line in the reading from the past week was found in the reflection for Sept. 26, p.80:

“what is most vital to the fanning of the spiritual fire is to become aware that the God we seek is aware of us”

That’s Joan Chittister commenting on Benedict’s reminder; “let us recall that we are always seen by God in the heavens”. That could be quite a scarey thought – G-d has spies checking in on us & we need to keep such a G-d placated! But Chittister sees something very different here. Not fear. Instead a realisation that we are already in relationship with G-d. It isn’t something we need to earn – because it already exists. We cannot move outside that truth. And when we realise that, then it affects how we live.

That’s a very different understanding from the one most people were taught as children. (There are some similarities to this Calvin & Hobbes comic.) I can easily fall into this error, thinking of G-d as only external. And yet most of my actual experiences of G-d, of the divine, have been the awareness of G-d already present in my life, already present in the world, not separate, not apart…

What about you? How do you experience G-d? What compels you to act in a moral fashion? what motivates you to lead a good life? What allows you to be truly humble and yet also all that you were created to be?

Megan