Category Archives: Prayer

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.

Division and peacemaking

A sermon preached at St Mark’s on August 18 on the text Luke 12: 49-56.

The text from the Gospel today is a tough one. It is about Jesus saying he came to bring division to the world. (You can read it here). I gather that far more learned people than I am have decided today to preach on one of the other readings in the lectionary but at St Mark’s we don’t read these, so I have to deal with the Gospel.

Mind you, the other readings (Isaiah 5: 1-7; Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2) aren’t that easy, because they talk of some of the less pleasant things God is portrayed as doing – eg drowning the Egyptians – and this is something that we have to deal with.

And here in this passage, what is going on? Is Jesus talking about his death, about the end times, about strife within the community? Fire is something that is used in the Bible to purify and is painful and associated with a vengeful God.

And what about saying that he had come to bring division? I thought he was the Prince of Peace. After all he said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Or was he talking about what inevitably happened because of the radical, anti-establishment nature of the Gospel? Jesus was a divisive character then and continues to be. Those following him at the time would have been seen as radicals and no doubt this divided families, as it still does in some places. And a gospel which said that the outcast was worthy, that the poor should inherit the earth – was this upturning of values the fire he was talking about? It was obviously going to divide people.

And if Jesus inevitably divides people, what are we meant to do about it? Do we just say, oh, that is OK, Jesus said there would be division so I am right to be divided against my friend, neighbour etc? That seems like a lazy, literal interpretation of the text.

I’ve been reading various interpretations of the text and they have been useful but also exposed something at the root of why we have the problem of division –  ie there are lots of interpretations and I, like most of us, have leaned generally towards the ones I agree with and have discounted the others. That interpretation suits me, that one doesn’t so I will go with the first and not the second. Or I can’t fit that one into my narrative so I will ignore it. It doesn’t fit with the conclusions I have already reached.

The issue of my liking some interpretations and not others, the issue of not even considering some interpretations, is fundamental to the issue of division which he talks about and is horribly resonant with society today. I don’t know when there was last such a divided country. The same goes for America. And as I look at people who support opposite views to mine I find myself thinking – how could you? How can you be so: ignorant, selfish, blind etc etc? And they no doubt look at me and say much the same. That sort of attitude and division is not going to bring healing to the world.

Think for a moment about something you are convinced you are right about. What do you feel about the people who disagree with you?

The same goes for church. This was really underlined recently for me when I went to the first Surrey Pride and spent some of my time arguing against a group of men and women from an organisation whose main aim appears to be to challenge LGBTI+ people, and persuade them to turn away from their sexual identities. I believe passionately in a God who accepts people just as they are. This group were made to leave the Pride event – one of the ambulance staff there said that one young person had had a panic attack after they had spoken to this group – but stood outside to talk to people there with the police keeping a watchful eye. The police were fantastic and stood close while I spoke, ready to intervene if they were concerned for anyone’s safety.

Neither the group nor I was going to persuade or even listen to the other. We both knew we were right. But where did that leave us? Probably both sides feeling self-righteous and cross.

So what do we do about these divisions?

My personal response to division has usually been to try to pour oil on troubled water, try to keep everyone happy. Division is bad, right? OK I didn’t try that at Pride but that was unusual. Usually I have tried to be a peacekeeper.

But maybe peacekeeping isn’t the way forward. If we just try to keep the peace then we are less likely to deal with the issues that are causing the division in the first place. We will ignore those issues and they will fester and cause greater issues and greater divisions. Maybe that is one of the things we have been doing in this country which has led to such division now. If one lot of people have felt left behind and another happy with the status quo, maybe that was inevitably going to lead to the divisions we have over Brexit, or inevitably going to lead to Donald Trump.

I think there has been another factor which has been at play here too, encouraging the rise of the right wing, something which has exacerbated the divisions. As a more liberal society has emerged there has been a push back by those whose position and power is threatened – chiefly the mainly white patriarchy.

So we have divisions and if peacekeeping isn’t the way to solve them, what is? Maybe looking at what causes division would help us grow and change for the better. Maybe this is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about division and about reading the signs. He was saying that there will be division because his way is challenging to the status quo, challenging to the powerful, challenging to the haves, and it is right that it is challenging and divisive, because if it isn’t society will never grow and change and follow his way.

So maybe we shouldn’t be peacekeepers but something more proactive – peacemakers. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ not blessed are the peacekeepers. Peacemakers are those who look at both sides, see both sides as having rights and responsibilities, offer both sides a way forward. Peacemakers at their best are those who try to look at the world through the eyes of both sides.

But, says the follower of Jesus, my side is obviously right. I am obviously right. My understanding of what Jesus wants is obviously right.

How do we know our interpretation is right? Maybe a little humility would be good here, and maybe a little bit of trying to listen, to each other and to God. I have become more and more convinced that prayer is a way forward (even though I am not good at practising what I preach!). If we pray, try to listen to God as well as each other, then maybe we will change within. Maybe that is the fire that Jesus meant – a fire within us which changes us.

Stella Wiseman

Picture by Sunyu.

 

Lord, teach us to pray

A sermon by Lesley Shatwell on the Lord’s Prayer

The disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray”.

And then Jesus replied by giving us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s something which everyone used to learn when they were little – at least that was so back in the 1950s/60s when I was little, but I guess things have moved on since then …

I rather feel that it’s not just me falling behind the times though, because whilst the Lord’s Prayer is the most beloved prayer, well known and well used by Christians every day, I think the words themselves may be concealing some things.

Let me say from the outset that it is completely, totally NOT my intention to question the words of Jesus. These are merely thoughts I have which I hope may encourage you to think prayerfully for yourselves.

Take “Our father” for example.  It seems to me that’s a shorthand for “our mother, our beloved parent who created us, who sees us and knows us better than we know ourselves and who loves us come what may”. Often people have difficulty in thinking about God as father.  It could be for any number of reasons, but we are addressing God here, the God who created us, who is without gender.  Ageless, timeless, and without limit.

And yet, by using the word “Father”, Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with our God, creator of all things.

We are invited to count ourselves into God’s family.

Our father …

At this point, maybe we had better take a moment to acknowledge the holiness of the Lord’s name.

We come into the holy presence of God.

As Moses was reminded when he approached the burning bush through which God was speaking to him, “Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground.”  Hallowed be your name.

We are allowed to call God “father” but God is holy and we are humble before him.  Let’s not forget the priorities here.

Talking about priorities, “your will be done”.

Yes, that’s your will, Lord, not mine.  Because if I’m honest, you have a much better grasp of things than me.  For instance, I struggle to share all I have generously with your whole creation.  I take too much for granted, I want too much for myself and my loved ones.  I’m inclined to get annoyed and upset if you don’t play your part in my plans to make everything happen the way I want it.  And yes, that hurts.

But I wonder, whilst you are at work on me Lord, it would be useful if I could remember that what I want is not always the most important thing from your point of view.  Help me to be gracious and accepting of your will.  I know ultimately it never works if I try to force you to fall into line with me.  If I make the wrong decisions, gently bring me back to your ways.

Your kingdom come – and please hurry up.  We are in dire need of heaven here on earth right now.  We as humans have made such a mess of so many things.  When your kingdom comes all will be realigned to your ways and I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, we need daily bread now.  Yes, that’s food and clean water, shelter, and safety – everything our bodies need.  But also give us each day our spiritual food.  Help us to grow in wisdom and your grace.

Forgive us our sins.  Oh my goodness, if there was ever someone needing forgiveness, it’s me Lord.  Even when I try to do my best, I fall short.  And I do try, but it is so disheartening when things don’t work out the way you would wish.

I’m inclined to try and hide my shortcomings.  I hide them so well, sometimes it’s difficult to admit I have any, least of all if I call them “sins.” I don’t sin, I’ve been really good just lately … who am I kidding? Yes Lord, I acknowledge that I am less than the perfect human.

I am work in progress, I keep trying and in the meantime I would be grateful if you could forgive my past slip-ups and let me have the freedom to make a clean start.

It hurts when I’m annoyed with someone, when I believe someone is deliberately trying to upset me. Or even if the person upsets me without them knowing it. Lord, give me the grace to forgive everyone who has ever harmed or upset me or my family or my loved ones. Again, I need the freedom which is in your gift, so that I can move on to reconciliation.

Lord, help us through the evil which surrounds us.  Keep us true to you when we seem to be surrounded by darkness and terror.  We are living through uncertain times now.

Circle us with your love and let us know you are with us come thick or thin.  Be with all who suffer, let everyone know that you deliver us from evil.

And Lord, I know I’m asking a lot – but please be aware that I will carry on asking. I’m not going to give up calling on you because I know that you never give up on me. Let me not be too upset if you don’t grant my prayers in the way I ask. You have a far more complete picture than I do, help me to trust your kind and loving judgement of me.

All that said, I do have confidence that if I ask for anything which is good and right in your sight, then my prayer will be answered, in your own time and your own way – for which I thank you.

I know that if I knock persistently on your door you will open it to me.

If I persistently search for you, I will find you.

For you give me your Holy Spirit, so I need never search alone.

Amen

Luke 11.1-13 – Lord’s Prayer: St Mark’s. 28 July 2019.

 

Image by Beki Blade,  used in Thy Kingdom Come 2016 exhibition.

 

Inspiring vision and pathways to prayer

Lent is as much a time for taking up new habits as it is for giving up old ones, and one of the habits we are encouraged to develop is that of prayer.

Sometimes we need new ways into prayer and one such is being offered this Lent at St John’s on a Wednesday evening from 7.30pm – using the visual arts to provide inspiration and pathways to prayer.

The first was Wednesday this week, when a small group considered ‘Prayer and the Trinity’, meditating on the painting Holy Trinity by Rublev, reading a passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians (chapter 1, vs 3-14) and considering the creator, saviour and inspirer – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Next Wednesday, we will look at Prayer in Challenging Times and the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch, and in subsequent weeks Prayer and Discipleship, and Caravaggio’s The Call of Levi; The Joy and Excitement of Prayer with The Visitation (Mary and Elizabeth) from the Church of the Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador; and finally Repentance and Forgiveness with Rembrandt’s The Prodigal Son.

Come and join us and find new ways in to prayer through art.

the scream

Pictured above: The Scream by Munch

Pictured top: Holy Trinity by Rublev

An offer to everyone of healing and wholeness

There will be a service of healing and wholeness at St George’s this Sunday (March 17), at 10am, where everyone will have the chance to receive prayer and anointing with oil.

Healing and wholeness are not just about physical recovery. Lesley Crawley explains: “During his lifetime Jesus came alongside people, had compassion on them and healed them. Christians believe that in order to be whole we need to be at peace with God, with ourselves, with other people and with creation.

“Healing and wholeness can be about forgiving ourselves or forgiving others; they can be about moving from a place of denial to one of acceptance; they can be about finally finding peace of mind or finding the strength of spirit to overcome problems that have dogged us for years. Healing and wholeness are for everyone, for we worship a God of love who wants the very best for every person who God created.”

Come and join us at St George’s on Sunday at 10am.

 

 

 

Picture by Myriams-Fotos on Pixabay.

Hear God in the stillness

There are two new services being introduced into the parish in the next few weeks, both of them opportunities to have some stillness and pray.

The first is Said Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), a service beloved by many but which has declined in popularity in the last few decades. The second is a Taizé service, a simple service based on chants and silence.  They will take place monthly for  a trial period of six months, starting with Evensong on the final Sunday of the month at 5pm at St George’s, Badshot Lea – January 27 is the first one – and Taizé on the first Sunday of the month at 6pm at St John’s, Hale, with the first one on February 3.

The idea is to give us a chance to find some stillness so that we may hear God speak. Lesley Crawley says: “It feels so amazing, miraculous even, that God speaks to us ordinary folks and our lives are transformed forever.

“I believe that to experience such things we have to deliberately put ourselves in the way of God. We won’t hear God speaking unless we make time and space to do so. In our parish there is so much going on that sometimes I wonder whether God can accidentally get sidelined; and so we are offering two opportunities each month to have some additional stillness and prayerfulness. These will be located in particular buildings but are for everyone, irrespective of whether you go to a different church, or no church.”

BCP Said Evensong has been chosen by Lesley because it is a service she has loved since she discovered it during her curacy. She says of this discovery: “I loved the BCP, I loved the poetry of the language, I was charmed by the way that words have changed their meaning, and I enjoyed using those words with their old meaning. I found particular words and phrases incredibly challenging or comforting or meaningful – they pulled me into the presence of God. I loved the way that words were paired together like peace and concord, celebrating the depth and range of our language and behind that the diversity of all the peoples with their languages over many centuries who have come together to make our complex and many-faceted nation. The repetition was also helpful – saying almost exactly the same thing each week meant that I could experience the same words that had so blessed me the previous week and I found that those words continued to bless me from then on, week in and week out.”

Taizé has been chosen as a ‘doorway’ through to a closer experience of God. Lesley says: “I find that the experience of chanting enables me to step through the chants into the presence of God. Perhaps it is because I’ve always found it easier to learn things that are sung rather than said. For instance, at school I was rubbish at learning poems but I knew lots of pop songs off by heart! The chants are in various languages (although I tend to stick to the English and Latin chants) but actually language is irrelevant, it is just a tool to step into that place of intimacy with God.”

Craig Nobbs will be leading Said Evensong at 5pm St George’s on Sunday, January 27, and thereafter on the last Sunday of the month. Come along if you love BCP or have never experienced it and be swept along with its beauty.

Lesley will be leading the Taizé service at 6pm at St John’s on Sunday, February 3, and thereafter on the first Sunday of the month.

Lesley adds: “If neither of these services speak to you but something else will help you draw closer to God then please do that, and if you want some help setting something up then please contact me”.

 

God above us, within us and at the bottom of the garden

A Celtic Service

God above us – trees, birds and sunshine, stars and moonlight – God above us.

God within us – hope, tears and laughter, love and wonder – God within us.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with my son about the Celtic service at St George’s I was going to be taking part in, with Wendy Edwards and Dave and Helena Walker. As a joke – I think – he asked  Is that where you paint your face blue and dance around with no clothes on?”

I said that was not what we would be doing and he seemed disappointed ! However it did make me think that other people may have similar ideas.

So to reassure everyone, on Saturday, July 14 at 5pm, 22 of us met in the garden of St. George’s for a Celtic Service. The weather and setting were just right.

Wendy led our worship beautifully with words and prayers, and told us how she found God at the bottom of her garden. Helena and Dave prepared an area for us do do various art activities, and brought a large Celtic cross they had painted.

We sang some familiar hymns and some new songs and sang The Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

Afterwards we all stayed to chat over refreshments of shortbread, Welsh cakes and homemade fruit bread, with tea and coffee.

It was a beautiful service. Thank you Wendy. I look forward to the next one.

Margaret Emberson

PS And we did NOT paint our faces blue and dance around with no clothes on!

 

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What’s a Prayer Co-ordinator?

Hello, I’m your Parish Prayer Co-ordinator. Now, I bet you didn’t know we have a Prayer Co-ordinator and perhaps you are wondering what I have been doing all this time. Prayer underpins our lives and the life of our parish. It is the way we communicate with God and it is often an individual matter between you and God. It is certainly NOT the role of Prayer Co-ordinator to interfere in any way with your personal prayer with God.

We have run sessions introducing new ideas to reinvigorate your prayer-life and this is something we could develop. You may have seen pop-up displays in church with photos, artefacts and thought-provoking quotations. Or perhaps you have missed them … they are designed to be a momentary, fresh display to inspire prayer and help you to ponder theological questions during the week. There will be more. They are part of my role: I am passionate about finding ways to get people creatively thinking about prayer.

My latest target in the parish is the Prayer Boards we have in St George’s and St John’s. The aim is to take the prayers made via these boards and present them during the Sunday service. They will be brought to the altar and blessed at the same time as the collection (not read out loud). From there, they will be delivered to me as Prayer Co-ordinator and I will ensure that they are prayed from Thursday till the following Thursday. I believe this scheme will ensure that people’s prayers are prayed and honoured both on the Sunday at the main service and during the following week.
Obviously, if there is a particular pastoral issue, I will relay that to the ministry team. We will be trialling this scheme for three months, starting on 1 October.

If you have any ideas or concerns about this scheme, or the prayer-life of our parish generally, please let me know.

Lesley Shatwell (LLM)
llm.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org