Prayer – what is the point?

Yesterday we came across a blog post by Jonathan Clatworthy who writes on God, philosophy, theology and ethics, and it was so useful we wanted to share it. You can find the original here at

but to save you the effort of clicking, here it is below (but do click on his website; there are plenty of other great posts too).

Is there any point in praying?

I actually believe in praying, but not for the reasons many people give. The Christian tradition offers different, and often conflicting, accounts of how to do it and what to expect from it.

This post offers my way of trying to make sense of it.

Can it ‘work’?

At its most basic, praying is what people do when they are desperate. At the beginning of the Second World War, everybody prayed. Even atheists prayed. If there is anyone up there, please please please!

To ask whether it works is to look for evidence. Some researchers ask people what they prayed for and whether it happened. These studies can produce interesting results, but they don’t prove anything.

Others say the opposite: praying can’t work because it’s mumbo-jumbo. Superstition. Unscientific. This is equally unprovable. It’s an echo of that nineteenth-century fantasy that scientists were going to find out everything about everything. If they did, it would follow that anything scientists couldn’t establish doesn’t exist. It’s over a century since scientists believed this. What they have shown is that the universe is far more complex than the human mind can understand. We’ve increased what we know, but what we don’t know has increased much faster. For all we know there may be any number of processes that our thoughts and prayers may trigger. We can’t prove anything, and perhaps that’s just as well.

In any case asking whether prayer ‘works’ is only looking at prayer at its most basic. It’s the prayer of the self-centred, knowing what they want. When we are self-centred, we can still pray. We can start with what we want, and ask God to let us have it. Sometimes we get what we want, even if we would have been better advised to want something different.

Relating to reality

Prayer is about relating to the wider reality, the big context of our lives. Christians call it ‘God’. For some people the word ‘God’ conjures up unhelpful images, but we are all aware that we live our lives in the context of a reality that is mostly way beyond our understanding.

Within the Bible and the Christian tradition, let alone outside it, people have imagined God in very different ways. For example, if we think of God as someone who punishes sinners, our praying will be about pleasing God so that we don’t get punished. If we think of God as a fighter attacking enemies, our praying will be about being on God’s side against the enemies.

In these cases our praying will really still be self-centred, wanting to be on the right side of God. These are examples of unhelpful images.

Prayer becomes more constructive when we adopt more constructive images – when we trust that the forces maintaining the universe, whether or not we call them ‘God’, are well-disposed towards us and want the best for us. This is the basis on which most faith traditions encourage forms of prayer that help us let go of our self-centredness. The aim is to reflect on the ‘big picture’ so as to expand our range of concerns beyond our individual selves, towards a ‘God’s-eye-view’ of reality.

Gratitude

From this perspective, prayer naturally begins with celebrating what we have received. A classic biblical way of putting it is that God has designed us to bless us, so that we flourish. God wants us to live fulfilled and happy lives, and wants everybody else to as well.

An easy way in to praying is to offer thanks for what we have got. Many people say grace at meal times. When you give birth to a baby, you feel thankful. At a funeral of a friend you feel thankful for that person’s life. Some people develop the practice of saying a quick ‘thank you’ to God through the day, whenever something happens that they are glad of. It means that, instead of focusing on what we haven’t got, we focus on what we already have, and express appreciation.

General intercession

There is also a lot that goes wrong. Humans can work towards the common good, but by nature we are also self-centred. We have been given freedom, if we so choose, to only care for ourselves at the expense of other people, or only care for our family at the expense of other families, or only care for our country at the expense of other countries, or only care for humanity at the expense of the environment.

So when we pray about the Amazon rain forest being burnt, or refugees looking for somewhere to live, we can take for granted our own point of view; but we can instead reflect on what God’s point of view might be like.

When we take for granted our own point of view, we can easily imagine we know what God should do. It’s as though we are treating God like a washing machine that doesn’t always work. We know what ought to happen: why doesn’t it? It’s as though we’ve got the intelligence and God has got the power.

Actually it’s the other way round: God has the intelligence and knows what needs to be done, but has given power away to us humans. So when things go wrong God could put aside the laws of nature, blitz the world and put things back the way they were. But that would mean taking away the freedom we have been given for our own good.

However much we might wish God intervened for us, we never see the whole picture. When we try to see it from God’s point of view, we ask ourselves: what would God want? Can we help?

Intercession for ourselves

When we’ve been personally hurt by other people – say, we’ve been injured by someone driving dangerously, or we’ve been sacked from work and have no money – our first thought might be to pray for God to put right what has gone wrong. We might want God to punish the other person.

When people hurt us, we naturally resent it. To pray well, we can spend time noticing our resentment, noticing that our resentment hurts us and doesn’t do any good, and allowing ourselves to distance ourselves from our negative feelings. We may not be able to put right what went wrong, but we can gradually practise the art of detaching ourselves from the feelings that distress us. It’s hard, but it can relieve us of emotional burdens.

So one aspect of praying is to allow time for God to show us what we would want if we saw the world through God’s eyes – inviting God to guide us in our wanting.

Confession

Just as other people hurt us, we also hurt others. We all mess up sometimes. Another part of praying is facing up to the faults in ourselves.

There is no point in just feeling guilty and miserable. The point is to be practical. We can change our own actions more easily than we can change anyone else’s. Our praying can reflect on what we can do about it. Sometimes we can put right something we’ve made a mess of, or give someone an apology. Sometimes it’s more a matter of recognising a habit in ourselves that we need to practise getting out of.

Adoration

Many mystics tell us that prayer at its best goes beyond all these, and lets go of all every agenda to just spend time with God. It’s a bit like spending time with someone you love deeply. You may talk to each other, but what you say is less important than just being with them.

Personally, I’m no good at it. In fact I’m no good at praying at all. But I can see the point. At its best, praying helps us expand our awareness away from the individual self-centredness that comes so easily, towards a God’s-eye-view and the common good.

A welcome for Ava and the new font

There was a sense of celebration in the air at St Mark’s Church, Hale, last Sunday. Not only was baby Ava being baptized, she was the first baby to be baptized in the new handcrafted font at the church.

Surrounded by family and friends, and with help from Ava’s big sister, six-year-old Mollie, Ava was welcomed into the family of God. Rev’d Hannah Moore reminded everyone that “Christ loves [Ava] and welcomes her into his Church” and baptized her in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, pouring water over her head. Ava barely stirred.

Mollie and the other children in the congregation had helped Hannah bless the water and were also delighted by the two small ducks – one marked ‘Ava’ the other ‘Mollie’ – which floated in the font.

Ava's Baptism 7

It was a joyful occasion and a fitting first use of the new, portable font.

The font is made of a beautiful, multicoloured glass bowl resting on a grey wrought iron stand similar to the iron work on the altar rails at the church.

The bowl was made by the Adam Aaronson glass studio and the stand by Cliff Madgwick of Hampshire Metalcraft and the work was commissioned and organised by Pat Manton from St Mark’s, a fine craftswoman herself.

 

 

 

 

A justifiably proud SHIP

“SHIP has been a lifeline to me and I’m sure many others”.

The SHIP in question is the Sandy Hill Inclusive Partnership, a combination of residents and professional groups involved with the community and with a vision to enable Sandy Hill to become a cleaner, safer place where there is a good sense of community and everyone can have a voice.

SHIP is based around the Hale Community Centre, formerly – and still often – known as The Bungalow, and its work reaches far into the streets around, drawing together families and individuals from across the estate.

A recent report of activities from December last year to summer this year indicates just what an impact the group is having, from 95 people going to the Princes Hall in Aldershot to their pantomime, 70 – including many new families – attending a Christmas party – and 50 coming over to St Mark’s Church to play games, have lunch and do craft at February half-term. There was a sold-out trip to Marwell Zoo, a visit to the beach, a craft event, basketball, a busy session of picking up litter followed by tea, a summer barbecue and lots of new relationships formed, including with St Mark’s where two joint events have now been held and more planned in the future. Other churches and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have also joined in events.

The report also emphasised that: “it’s not always about numbers but about the individual need of that person/family and the positive impact the activity may have on them at that time and this is not easy to measure”.

One of the groups involved with SHIP is WiSH – Women in Sandy Hill. These are the people who are responsible for the garden by and indeed inside the boat just outside the Community Centre, and they have also been taken part in craft activities, autism awareness, cake decorating, sensory bottle making, and are currently engaged in a 12-week Art for Wellbeing course (some of the work is shown below).

Wish art

Some extra outside recognition came this year when the results of South and South East in Bloom were announced in September. In the ‘Your Neighbourhood’ category, Hale Community Centre’s Get Growing Gardening project received a Level 4 Thriving award – progressing from Advancing in 2018.

Melissa, who chairs SHIP, said: “I am amazed by what SHIP has achieved and what individuals in the community have achieved. I have made friends, watched friends flourish and achieve new things and seen individuals go from knowing no-one locally to talking to others regularly and getting involved in community activities….We are proud of what SHIP has become and what it means to people on the estate. There is work to do and people to reach but I believe that Sandy Hill is somewhere to take your time and slowly things will flourish and we are seeing that.”

Coming up soon are more activities, including a Remembrance concert at St Mark’s Church with the Rushmoor Concert Band. Proceeds will be split between Rushmoor Concert Band and SHIP. Tickets are £5 (children free) and there will be a raffle and refreshments. Tickets on the door or by emailing halecommunitycentre@gmail.com

To finish as we started with the words of a resident: “If only they knew how much they helped me. I just can’t find the right words”.

 

The kindness of strangers (and schools)

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” (Matthew 25, v. 35).

It feels like a dark and anxious time at the moment with deep divisions in the country and real fears for the future, especially for those already on the edges of society. However, from time to time something happens which shines a light into the darkness.

Such a light was shone when, on Friday, October 11,  some unexpected visitors turned up at St Mark’s. Five pupils and a member of staff from Edgeborough School arrived, unannounced, in a van stuffed with bags and bags of food for the Farnham Foodbank. They had collected the food as part of their Harvest Festival celebrations and had given with huge generosity.

The six of them unloaded the van, piled the food high, stopped for a brief photo, and disappeared again, leaving behind more than 220kg of food. We didn’t even know their names and they won’t know the names of the people who receive their gifts. It was a real moment of unexpected light and sharing between strangers. Thank you!

It shouldn’t be the case in 21st-century Britain that people have to rely on foodbanks but that is a reality for increasing numbers of families. Between April 2018 and March 2019, for instance, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network, with which the Farnham foodbank is associated, distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19 per cent increase on the previous year. More than half a million of these went to children. The Farnham Foodbank itself gave 1,499 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis last year.

We are all vulnerable to crisis, none of us intend to be. But sometimes, like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, we find ourselves depending on ‘the kindness of strangers’. And when Jesus was challenged in Matthew 25 to answer “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” he replied: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

A heartfelt thanks to Edgeborough School and all those who donate to Farnham Foodbank.

 

New light on an old mystery

We have come a little closer to solving the mystery of the old wooden altar at St Mark’s. The altar is Tudor in style and has an inscription “GIVEN BI HENRIE LVNNE 1608”, but St Mark’s was built in 1883, 275 years later.

Bob Skinner, a great friend of the church and a leader of Weybourne Community Church, has been on the case and found this cutting in the Surrey Advertiser from December 4, 1880. It’s still three years before the church was built, but read on:

Cutting about Lunn altar

It reads:

‘PRESENTATION TO THE PARISH CHURCH. – The Parish Magazine for December, just published, says:- “A working party of ladies in Farnham have presented a new altar to the Parish Church. This, with a new altar cloth, was placed in the church on St Andrew’s Day, Nov. 20th. The old altar and altar cloth have been accepted by the Vicar of Hale for the use of a church which it is intended to begin next year at Hale Common.”

So, the altar was in St Andrew’s Church – the Parish Church in question – until November 1880. St Mark’s was built over the next three years on land given by Bishop Sumner, the Bishop of Winchester (the area was in the Diocese of Winchester at the time) and flint from the common was used to build the walls.

We still don’t know the full history of the altar but it is possible that Henry Lunne, who has been recorded as living in Farnham in the second half of the 16th century, gave it to St Andrew’s as the church was well established then. In fact, parts of St Andrew’s date from the 12th century.

If anyone does know any more however, let us know. Leave us a comment here or email news@badshotleaandhale.org

In memory of lost babies

The loss of a baby, either in the womb or at or soon after birth, is a tragedy which affects thousands of families every year, and each person’s grief will be personal and unique. This year, during Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9-15), St George’s Church will be holding a drop-in session on Friday, October 11, from 3-4pm, for people to come and reflect and light candles in memory of lost babies. There will be a memory tree in the church and there will be the opportunity for anyone who wishes to talk over a cup of tea.

Rev’d Hannah Moore said: “We hope that anyone who is grieving the loss of a baby – however long ago this happened – will be able to draw comfort from coming to the church on Friday afternoon. They will have the opportunity to light a candle for their children and write their names on paper ribbons to hang on the memory tree, and will also be able to talk about their lost little ones if they wish. Acknowledging that grief – whether it stems from a recent tragedy or one that occurred months, even many years, ago – can help enormously in the healing process. There will be the opportunity to pray if anyone wishes – we believe in a God who is alongside us in the tragedies of life as well as on the good days.”

The annual awareness week, now in its 17th year, is an opportunity for bereaved parents, families and friends, to commemorate babies’ lives and break the silence around pregnancy and baby loss in the UK. The week is led by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, in collaboration with 70 charities in the UK.

Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, said: “Baby Loss Awareness Week is a unique opportunity for parents to commemorate their babies who died, and I hope the afternoon at St George’s will help bereaved families in the local area feel less isolated and alone in their grief.

“Pregnancy loss or the death of a baby is a tragedy that affects thousands of people every year. It is devastating for parents and families and it’s vital they get the bereavement support and care they need, for as long as they need it.”

Anyone who needs pastoral care is urged to contact Hannah Moore on 01252 659267 or Wendy Edwards on 0​1252 406772.