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Lesley and I were recently given a copy of Richard Coles’ book, Fathomless Riches, and in reading it I came across the following, recounting his experience of confession:
I told him about what had been going on, … and let rip about the foolishness and unkindness of some of the people I had to live with … “Go on” he said, I paused and thought and said: “I am not as kind as I thought I was, I’m not as brave as I thought I was, I’m not as clever as I thought I was, I’m not as honest as I thought I was”. There was a pause and he said: “Oh, that’s good”.
It reminded me of all the times that I forget to let God take the strain; the times that I think I can do it in my own strength; that without me it would all fall to pieces. And, of course, those are the very times that I find myself exhausted, and stressed, and when it feels as though the whole world is on my shoulders (which of course it is, because I have put it there).
Of course we all have our gifts, and should use them in God’s service, but it is when we forget God that things become overwhelming.
I was told a story by a wise old priest, which I still struggle to follow:
When monks are hoeing the cabbages, and there is one cabbage left, and the bell for chapel rings, should they put down the hoe and go to chapel, or hoe the last cabbage and rush to chapel?
“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:
“It is solved by walking”. Now, I’m not sure who first came up with that phrase, my internet search has thrown up a number of plausible suggestions. I first came across it whilst training to become a licensed lay minister and someone told me it was attributed to Augustine of Hippo. Hum … I don’t know. It is certainly a very clever phrase and it’s true: it is solved by walking.
A small, cheery group of walkers met at St George’s on 6 August and set out to walk round to each of the three churches in our parish.
Hats or no hats? Sunglasses or no sunglasses? Had we brought enough water/sun-cream? Oh the perils of parish walking on such a rare summer’s day when the sun shines! Still, solvitur ambulando. Friendly conversation and soon we came to St John’s. The church was cool and welcoming and we took our first break. There we were met by John Evans who told us stories about the Sumner family and their close connection with St John’s (foremost – of course – amongst many churches and ecclesiastical matters connected with the Sumners). We saw the simple, yet beautiful Sumner plaque by the altar and prayed, remembering Hiroshima (6 August). The walking party was joined by Hannah and her family and we discussed the best route to walk up to St Mark’s.
It is solved by walking – we set off through Farnham Park and headed to the Green at Upper Hale.
On the way, I discovered that Jackie has a degree in Russian and that she has known Rachel since they were eight. I like walking with friends. Somehow, you have more time to chat, more opportunity to share ideas and we got to see more of our lovely parish. Solvitur ambulando.
Mind you, it was jolly hot and it’s uphill all the way to St Mark’s. We were glad to reach the dappled shade in the orchard, we’d made it to the summit – downhill all the way back now.
It seemed as though Hannah’s little dogs appreciated the rest. Little did they know that this was not their final destination and there were yet more miles for their little legs.
We rolled back down the hill to Badshot Lea, and I chatted about music with Margaret. I discovered that when Margaret had to learn music by heart, she would visualise it on the page. Isn’t that interesting, I don’t think I can learn music in that way, I hear the harmonic structure then mentally attach everything around it.
By the time we got home, we had walked over five miles. I was surprised actually; I like walking, but I hadn’t walked that far for a while. And it was easy. I could have dropped out if it got too hard, and people did join and leave us at different times. Perhaps you would like to give it a go next time, because, of course, “it is solved by walking”.
Hum … I wonder what “it” is?
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
St John’s Church, Hale are hosting an art installation from 8-15th May based around the Lord’s Prayer. All are welcome to visit the church on any day 9-5 to see the artwork and pray if they wish. In addition, from 2-4pm on 8th, 14th and 15th May there will be scones and teas provided and local musicians will play.
This is inspired by Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu, who wrote to every priest in the country with a request, “In the week leading up to Pentecost (May 8th – 15th, 2016) we long to see a great wave of prayer across our land, throughout the Church of England and many other Churches.”
Lesley Shatwell, who is training to be a lay minister in the parish said, “I was inspired by the idea of a wave of prayer and have asked local artists to create seven artistic interpretations of phrases from the Lord’s Prayer. Everyone is welcome to visit and enjoy the artwork, you don’t have to be a churchgoer – I believe that all of us can find art and music to be a spiritual experience, and what could be better than scones in the afternoon?”
You can find out more on the Thy Kingdom Come website: http://thykingdom.co.uk/
Would you like to join a book club based on “Spiritual but not religious” books? A small group have been doing this and the next meeting is on 18th May, 7:30pm at the Rectory reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. All Welcome. To find out more call Alan on 01252 820537 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What about the problem of Evil? How should we read the Bible; what kind of literature is it? What is Faith? Why go to Church? What is the nature of God? Who is Jesus? What is prayer?
Just some of the questions that we will discuss at the next Questioning Faith Group which will meet on 25 May, 8, 15 June, 6, 13, 20 July in Oak Tree View.
If you would like to join us, or just find out a bit more about it before deciding please get in touch with me 01252 820537 or email@example.com
Recently, I read a book that highlighted the fact that we understand how to manage our money, our financial resources, but we are far less canny about how we manage our mental resources. It went on to recommend four steps to ensure a good ‘mental economy’:
- increase income of mental and physical energy;
- decrease or eliminate unnecessary expenditures of mental energy;
- reduce and eliminate debts of uncompleted actions – old feelings, traumas, etc.- that drain mental energy;
- manage available income (energy) wisely by investing in more healthy actions.
It struck me that this is the spiritual life. We increase our energy by ‘breathing in’ – we pray, take time to go on retreat, do mindfulness or other meditations – the Bible tells us to ‘Be still and know that I am God’. We also try not to worry – that is the command that appears in the Bible more often than any other. We work towards forgiveness, such that the past isn’t a millstone around our necks. Finally, we work out what our vocation is, we find out what gives us joy and energy and what part we have in doing God’s work.
Too often we find ourselves exhausted, trying to fix unfixable people or situations whilst neglecting the things that God is calling us to. Perhaps the words of the Serenity Prayer say it best:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.