My dear Friends, "There are no atheists on the battlefield" they say and it seems that most of us pray at some point in our lives, even if it is only when those we care about most or we ourselves are in urgent need. Many of us feel quite inadequate when it comes to prayer, assuming, quite wrongly, that everyone else knows how to do it and only we don’t. Like others having a natural ability when it comes to taking to the waters and swimming, while we flap around and flounder and feel we are going to sink to the bottom without trace! I am pleased that so many of you have signed up for this year’s Lent Course, which started a few days ago, and heartened to know that you take the call to prayer so seriously. But of course, as you are aware, no one can ever really teach someone else to pray, only prompt them in the right direction. No one can pray exactly the same way as someone else because we are all unique and different. We all have a different experience and perspective on life, we all think differently, believe differently, imagine things differently and speak differently, why then should we not pray differently too? One of the only useful pieces of advice about prayer I was ever given was "pray as you can, not as you can’t." It is not for everyone, those hours of extended ecstasy, where one loses track of time and is taken up into the eternal. It is not for everyone to be so absorbed in the vision of the divine that one loses all sense of self. In some ways it is profoundly unhelpful when mystics share such rarefied experiences as it makes the rest of us feel even more inadequate, humdrum and unspecial than we did before about the whole business of praying. There is no especially right way of praying, it is simply to be aware of God and grow in an ability to open oneself, entrust oneself and express oneself to Him, knowing that He is a God who is open and listening and longing to express Himself to us. It is simply to permit our hearts to speak honestly to His heart, our truth to connect with His truth, our longing to meet with His longing. What is fundamental to prayer is to begin by believing that before we turn our hearts and minds to Him, He has already chosen to turn His heart and mind toward us and for us to believe that "underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deuteronomy Chapter 33 verse 27.) Whenever we venture to walk the tightrope of prayer, to know, believe and trust that His arms are already outstretched to catch us if we think we are falling. To fall, only to arise. For ours is a humble God, whose gratitude is touching when any of us turn to Him in prayer. Perhaps that’s all that prayer essentially is, turning aside from all else, whether that be other people, material distractions, preoccupations with ourselves or fears for the future and simply looking at Him. You may know the story of the, I think, French peasant, who was once asked how he prayed. "All I do," he replied, "is go into church and sit in front of the cross, He looks at me and I look at Him, I speak to Him and He speaks to me." I cannot find the exact quotation so am rendering it as faithfully as I remember.... What is important to say though, is that prayer seems to be fundamental to how you and I have been created: to have this predisposition to live in communion with our creator. None of us can really hope to grow in our humanity unless we are also prepared to grow in what I mean by prayer. To pray in this sense is to engage in the process of discovering who we are and how we connect with others in the human family and with the rest of the creation of which we are an intrinsic part. It is core to our growth in our understanding of social justice, ecology, education, care for the vulnerable, responsibility for others, the value of meaningful relationships and every important area of our lives. To pray is to be alive and to be alive is to pray. It is simply who we are as people created in God’s image and who seek to live our lives in relation, in loving communion, with Him. As I say, there are as many ways of praying as there are people who have populated this planet. Each and every one of us will connect with the source of our being in the way only we ever can or will. Each way of praying is personal because God loves each one of us personally, connects with us personally and values us all personally. Prayer is amongst the most personal responses you and I are capable of as we allow what is deepest within us to be alive and attuned to the spark of life which called us into being. We each have a unique relationship with Him for each of us can, like the psalmist, say: "Thou didst form my inmost parts Thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise Thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from Thee When I was being made in secret, Intricately wrought in the depths of the earth, Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance, In Thy book were written, every one of them, The days which were formed for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious are Thy thoughts to me O Lord, How vast is the sum of them. If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand When I awake, I am still with Thee." (139) In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we hear a series of stories of Jesus connecting and communicating with people personally. How He heals one is not the same as how He heals another; how He explains things to one, is not the same as how He explains it to another; how He relates to one is not the same as how He relates to another. Just because He is not now physically present does not affect the personal way in which each of us can know and be known by Him. As we seek to encourage one another in this bewildering, compelling business of prayer, as we seek to link our stories to the story of our Saviour, especially as we prepare to engage with the journey through Lent, may I encourage you all to sign up for this year’s Lent Course, which will be online. If those of other church communities or no church community wish to join us, that’s marvellous, none needs to have a church passport marked "St. Mary’s Twickenham" to be admitted, all you need is a readiness to be open to what is offered, the courtesy to listen as well as speak and a desire to grow in your prayerful relationship with God.
[To join the remaining sessions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org] May all of us be blessed as we seek to know more about the various realms of prayer: meditative, reflective, personal, corporate, imaginative, intercessory. I hope we will all grow in this area of our lives over the coming days. The world will need people to play a spiritual as well as a social, political and economic role in refreshing and rebuilding our society and world after the corrosion of Covid. Let us seek to develop these spiritual strengths in each other, that we may be more ready for the challenge, a challenge which we will meet, not in our own strength alone, but in the strength of the Holy Spirt, who is already at work in our lives. Blessings galore and all good wishes Jeff
*** ZOOM Please join us on Zoom at 9.30 am this coming Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent. Our readings will be 1 Peter Chapter 3 verses 18-end and Matthew Chapter 4 verses 1-11.
Almighty God, Whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days and forty nights In the wilderness and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: Give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit And, as you know our weakness, may we know your power to save. This we ask through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.