With thanks to Craig Nobbs, our new LLM (taught the art of Prayer Stations by Lesley Shatwell, our very slightly less new LLM).
With thanks to Craig Nobbs, our new LLM (taught the art of Prayer Stations by Lesley Shatwell, our very slightly less new LLM).
It doesn’t seem like a year since I was hastily putting together an exhibition of paintings depicting the Lord’s Prayer. Artists with strong connections to our parish each took a line from the prayer and created an image. Musicians and singers performed, and scones were enjoyed. Amid all this festivity, we remembered that our Archbishops of Canterbury and York had set the ball rolling when they called for a wave of prayer to cross our country.
This year, they have called again; and as I write, artists are planning their response, bakers are checking their recipes and singers are practising their new repertoire. This year, our theme is the Psalms and we are hoping that our pictures may stir up new ideas and ways of looking at these ancient songs.
Praying the Psalms – good heavens, what have those old things got to do with our lives today! What is a Psalm anyway?
To start with, you can find them in the Old Testament because they are part of our Christian inheritance from the earlier Judaic tradition. Open the Bible, about half way through and flip back a bit and you will find 150 Psalms lurking between Job and Proverbs. They are ancient songs written by the Hebrew people. If you look at the headings, you will see (for example Psalm 15) “A Psalm of David”. We have legends of King David writing the Psalms and often you can see pictures of him, with his harp, wrestling with some poetical tracts … but this is just a legend. We do not know for certain who composed the Psalms, there could have been several authors. There are Psalms of joy, Psalms of despair, deep anger with God … I think we have lost the ability to have a really good lament. The Psalms hurl so much grief and anger at God and there is nowhere better to aim it. God is big enough to take all our human suffering – together with our joy, delight and thanksgiving for our world. The Psalms give voice to it all.
(Photo: King David, from a 6th century mosaic from Gaza)
Our exhibition will give a tiny glimpse into these ancient songs, I pray that it will open your eyes to look again at the Psalms and perhaps be glad when they say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (see Psalm 122).
Art Exhibition: open 25 May – 4 June 2017 at St John’s, Hale
Pentecost Party: Psalms, art, music, refreshments: 4 June at 3.00 pm (St John’s, Hale)
The thing about prayer is that it is so many things. There are so many ways of praying, and some of them will resonate with us, and some won’t. I would always encourage people to pray the way they can, not the way they can’t.
Many memories of school (hands together eyes closed) or church (someone at the front reading from the book) give us an idea of what prayer is, but a very incomplete one. So today I am going to list various sorts of prayer with links to resources.
When praying the acronym ACTS can be used
T thank you
These two approaches cover similar elements with different words.
Prayer is also a way of listening to God to seek God’s will. There are may techniques for this:
The key is to find something that fits your circumstances and personality – if you try something out and it doesn’t work, then try something else – don’t assume that you can’t pray.
Does prayer work?
In this post I am going to look at intercessory prayer – asking God for something (usually for others).
It rather depends what you mean by work – and what happens if it doesn’t “work”.
Almost all Christians will have had experience of an apparent failure of God to answer prayer. I wonder how many children haven’t received x for a birthday or Christmas, or adults someone not receiving the healing that has been prayed for.
In the Church of England’s guidelines on the healing ministry, “A Time to Heal“, it is recognised that healing is different from “cure”; it even goes so far as to say that sometimes death can be healing.
In prayer we are aligning ourselves with God’s will, but all too often unanswered prayers are prayers which are not answered the way we want, rather than the way God wants. When we or loved ones are ill it is ever so tempting to pray for a cure – but is that God’s will? Instead, I find myself praying that God’s will be done. It perhaps prevents me having to question why my prayer wasn’t answered, but it also perhaps helps me to come to terms with whatever is happening – which is an answer, but not the one that I might have been looking for.
I think that prayer will need several posts – so I will start today with a few stories!
One of our retired clergy tells the story of how, when doing an infant school assembly he asked the children what they thought prayer was. One little boy put his hand up and said: “when God talks to us in our head”. My colleague was blown away.
Then there is the time a journalist asked Mother Teresa about prayer
Journalist: “Mother Teresa, you believe in God so I guess you must pray regularly.”
Mother Teresa: “Yes, of course.”
Journalist : “And what do you ask God when you pray?”
Mother Teresa : “When I pray, I ask nothing”
Journalist: “But what do you do then?”
Mother Teresa: “I listen”
Journalist: “And what does God say to you?”
Mother Teresa: “Nothing. He listens too.”
There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next.
Finally Mother Teresa breaks the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”
Metropolitan Anthony writes in School for Prayer about how as a young priest he visited an old woman and when she asked him how to pray he didn’t know what to do, but told her to knit (this is the very short version, the longer version can be found here [pdf]).
Martin Luther is famous for commenting, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” We must learn to see prayer as the most powerful and efficient use of your time.
I have been told a story about someone who started a new job, and found above their desk a sign that said: “Prayer changes things”. They didn’t feel comfortable with this, but weren’t sure what to do, so left it for a while as they pondered. Eventually they got out a pen and changed the sign to say: “Prayer changes me, I change things”.
Make of these what you will!
Last night we had our nurture course and we were discussing prayer – and doing it. I hadn’t listened to Pray As You Go for a while, but we listened to it, and at the end of the time none of us felt like getting off the settees in a hurry!
Why don’t you give it a go?
Other resources can be found here.
“It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer … When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”
Sent out earlier this year, these words are from a letter from the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to all parishes in the Church of England. They were encouraging people to be part of a “great wave of prayer”, bringing the Lord’s Prayer into everyone’s life.
Have you ever felt the pull of waves in the sea … you stand there, feeling the tug of the next wave and if you jump at the right moment, the wave carries you on in towards the beach? It was just like that for me, the phrase, “a great wave of prayer” scooped me up with the tidal momentum and I surfed with it. At that moment, I knew our parish would be part of the movement, how could we not be involved?
But time was short. I attended a training session run by the diocese and the vision grew. We could have an exhibition. I could ask artists in our parish to take a line or two of the Lord’s Prayer and illustrate it. Let’s have the exhibition at St John’s, we can keep the church open all week and people can drop in and see the exhibition. Oh, and we could make it a social, outreach time too, let’s have scones at the weekends … well if you’re going to have scones, you’ll have to have music …
And before I knew quite what I’d let myself in for, the event was already taking on a life of its own. We felt the tug of the great wave of prayer gathering speed.
Hard work or what! You try getting artists to work to a deadline. Would it fit into St John’s, there are a lot of pews … Would anyone come? When it came to the picture of temptation, would anyone other than me be tempted to take a chocolate?
I needn’t have worried. The Lord’s Prayer is greater than all of us and with that as our subject and fully in our thoughts, the week was a great success. I was rather sad when we took the exhibition down, when all the musicians and singers had gone home, when the last of the scones disappeared.
But that was not the end, the great wave of prayer has rolled on. Rolled into the Prayer Yurt for the Hale Carnival, rolled on into schools where, I’m told, the children love Emily’s picture of “Bread”.
And then things really did go quiet. I have “Our Father, who art in heaven” on the wall of my study and I gaze at it when I need to catch the wave again.
“Upon arrival there is a wooden door to the right of the main entrance. Please knock on this and someone from the Gatehouse will meet you.”
The great wave of prayer is carrying me further into quite uncharted waters. Today, I have been to Lambeth Palace to be filmed for a short, promotional film to encourage people to catch the wave next year.
I was nervous as I knocked on the door. I’ve never been to Lambeth Palace. I’m certainly not a natural film star. Was there anything I could possibly say which might help to inspire another parish? But I felt the tug of that wave again, carrying me along. Please God, let me share my enthusiasm.
What a marvellous day. I was filmed in the crypt, such a beautiful, peaceful venue. Everyone was supportive and encouraging and I told our story. Yes, I forgot all that I’d meant to say. Yes, I stumbled over my words. Yes, I needed several “takes” and reminders. But yes, I did it! I’m quite sure that I’ve given the team a huge task of editing through the out-takes and sifting through my ramblings. Perhaps they will only use a couple of seconds of me, but if that’s so, I pray that they capture the light which started in our parish community when we held our “Thy Kingdom Come” exhibition. May the great wave of prayer roll on and catch many more people into the Lord’s Prayer.
Here is the video:
As those of you who come along to Family Praise will witness, my approach to prayer is not always conventional – I’ve used paper plates, bounced tennis balls, shouted, used different voices, threaded beads and thrown around balloons. In my own prayer life, I have ‘chats’ with God, sometimes I rant at him, I love praising him – but quiet, regular, devotional prayer is a struggle for me– so I was very interested in the recent ‘Teaching on Prayer’.
The first week, Alan spoke about the ‘Occasional Offices’ – these were new to me and seemed quite formal. Yet participating made me feel part of something bigger and there was an awareness of something ancient. It would not be something I personally would use regularly on my own, but I can appreciate that the formality will appeal to others.
The second week was much more up my street. Ignatian Prayer – in my very simple terms, reading a story from the Bible and then using your imagination to put yourself into that place and seeing what meaning or message you are given. It needs practice, but it is definitely something I will try again.
I feel God gives us our bodies and we prayer can be physical. In my younger days I was really self conscious and hated doing anything where I might look silly. Leading Family Praise cured me of that and now some of my favourite hymns are ones with actions. I even get the urge to wave my hands about during the main service – but restrain myself. So maybe it was not surprising that the session on Body Prayer was my favourite. There are set movements for different times of the Church year and we went through ‘Letting Go and Being Set Free’, which is for Confession and Absolution. The movements for the Lord’s Prayer added a dimension I had not known before and I have continued to use them sometimes.
Next came the session on Christian Meditation. There are many different types, but we were introduced to the John Main tradition. For those who have tried meditation, maybe as part of a yoga class, this was fairly familiar as it has its origin in those traditions. The intention is to push aside all the clutter in your mind. I found that fifteen minutes of silent meditation went amazingly quickly, but at the moment I’m not ready to do this unsupported. I would be interested to explore other types of Christian meditation though.
The final evening was about ‘Journaling’. We were encouraged to think about it as writing a letter to God, remembering how special it is to receive a handwritten letter. We tried it out and I enjoyed the experience – to do it regularly will take some discipline but I’m going to try.
I really enjoyed the five sessions. It just shows that prayer can be very diverse and not everyone has to communicate with God in the same way. For me, it opened up new ways of praying. Personally, I think God really doesn’t mind how we pray, all He wants is for us to spend time with Him.
artwork by Alison Ridgeon
“a wave of prayer …”
In our parish of Badshot Lea and Hale, in Surrey, we decided to answer the call to prayer with an art installation, featuring work from artists based in our parish or with a very strong connection to the parish.
From this initial thought, the idea took hold. “I’ll make scones, it will give a real English summer’s day feel.” “And jam, we must have lots of jam.”
“What sort of music do you want? I’m sure the choir would like to sing …”
And so it continued until suddenly we had a full parish event! We called upon artists aged between 6 and 92 to give their own interpretation of a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer and we have a wonderful, eclectic response.
After some nervous moments … would the art be ready? Would anyone come? Finally we opened our doors on Sunday 8 May. And people came, viewed the exhibition, ate scones and listened to the music.
Here are some of their comments:
“Beautiful installation, thank you for all the work that has gone into this. Inspiring”
“Great idea, great show – could they stay here?”
“It’s good to be reminded of the Lord’s Prayer at work in our lives.”
St John’s can seem quite a deserted place, but that day, I thought the church itself really came to life, got up and danced for joy. The power of the Lord’s Prayer at work within our community.
And we are going to do it all again this weekend.
LLM (in training)