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Some thoughts on prayer

Posted on February 9th, 2017

Since Christmas a church group I’m part of has been thinking about ‘the prayer of our lives’, which is a theme for the whole of 2017, and we’ve had some discussions about a range of topics linked to prayer. I’ve found these discussions interesting on many levels, as is often the way when people share their experiences of faith. To me, every word and feeling inside me is a prayer, whether I’m aware of them or not. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had a thought, or articulated some thoughts in my head, and then felt the desire to pray those thoughts but felt really silly. In those moments, to direct those thoughts and prayers to God would be like making a ca

ke in front of someone and then explaining what I’ve just been doing, which wouldn’t just be pointless but it would also be patronising to the observer! For me, to think of a prayer to then say aloud or silently to God is like saying the same thing twice, because God knows every prayer in our hearts.

On any given day we need different interactions and stimuli in every dimension of our lives, and I think prayer is the same. For some people, praying for the same things together is important, whereas for others a prayer can made by painting or sculpting. One of the saddest things I’ve found amongst religious people is the way some people find it hard to understand the prayers of others. For example, in the Orthodox tradition, icons are used for prayer. “The most literal translation of the word Greek: εικονογραφία (eikonographia) is “image writing,” leading many English-speaking Orthodox Christians to insist that icons are not “painted” but rather “written.” From there, further explanations are given that icons are to be understood in a manner similar to Holy Scripture—that is, they are not simply artistic compositions but rather are witnesses to the truth the way Scripture is. Far from being imaginative creations of the iconographer, they are more like scribal copies of the Bible.” However, there is a debate over whether icons break the 2nd Commandment given by God to Moses, and there is confusion amongst the use of icons in worship and the implications for belief in one God.

It may be naïve, but I have always had the view that if something helps someone feel close to God then it is not for me to judge them. What someone does is between them and God, and it’s not my business to decide how good or bad it is. I suppose that’s why I like studying other religions, because I love seeing the devotion people show for God. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to see someone worship their God using their language or actions, but it rather makes me more determined to understand my own relationship with God.

Prayer is a tricky thing to understand, and I think that it is more often than not a tool for humans to use to feel closer to God than for any other purpose. Prayers are often a chance for us to develop ourselves, our characters and our futures. If someone chose to pray for an elderly and unwell neighbour rather than for their own happiness, that prayer has provided them the chance to become more selfless; if someone prays for their own happiness it can be a ste

p towards developing love and care for themselves, an often neglected and stigmatised concern. To pray at all gives us the opportunity to show God that we are open to receiving whatever peace, happiness or love God is willing to impart. And for me, prayer is often the opportunity to realise that nothing I can say to God is really worth saying. There have been times I’ve sat quietly to pray or gone to a chapel to spend time in prayer and found myself at a total loss of what to do or say. I often find this a difficult thing to know how to cope with, but then I remember Jesus’s words: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

I suppose that is why I sing, and why I feel closer to God when I sing than at any other time, because all I have to do is open my heart to receive whatever love and peace God will bless me with. And as St. Augustine said, “To sing is to pray twice.”

I’d like to share a chant with you. It’s by a Jewish group called Temple and is the words Moses prayed to God when his sister was very ill: “אל נא רפא נא לה, el na, refa na la — please, God, heal her.” There is something I love about listening to Jewish music, knowing that it is the tradition Jesus lived in, and this prayer is so simple and beautiful. But the true beauty here for me is the repetition that chanting includes. It’s why I love Taizé chants so much; you don’t have to think of a prayer, you can turn your thoughts off and just open yourself up to singing your prayer to God.

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God: our rock in the seas of change

Posted on January 19th, 2017

When you stop to think about your life, how many people have you known? How many people do you miss? How many places have you been to and how many do you want to visit in the future? Everyone in our lives changes, and we ourselves change all the time. Physically we change every day and on average our bodies are completely new every 10 years, with our bones taking the longest time to regenerate. Our communities change, our houses change, our jobs change, governments change, money changes value, music changes, art changes, technology changes…we are in a constantly changing world where there is only one constant: God.

Millions and millions of people have read work by German-born author Eckhart Tolle including a book titled ‘The Power of Now’. I’ve never read the book but have friends who have, and the principle is beautifully simple: there is no past and no future, there is only the present. It’s an idea that has been presented again and again by dozens of people, and as Bill Murray says in ‘Broken Flowers’,

“Well, the past is gone, I know that. The future isn’t here yet, whatever it’s going to be. So, all there is, is this. The present. That’s it.”

Our identities are built up of the past and the future in many ways, particularly the past. The relationships we have with those around us have been formed in the past, and our feelings towards people (both positive and negative) are based purely on what has happened before. In many respects, our lives work based on remembering the past and imagining the future, and it’s rare that we truly exist in the present.

The question I have been considering today is: if our friendships and relationships are based on shared past experiences, who would we have if we had our past erased? We see it in films where characters suffer amnesia and have to build an identity from scratch, and it’s often a convenient and sometimes ridiculous storyline. However, there is something truly profound in the idea that our human relationships come from times which no longer exist, because there is one relationship that is unchanging and unending: our relationship with God.

Don’t get me wrong, my relationship with God has changed significantly throughout my life, and my belief in God has had its ups and downs like everyone else’s, but the basic human understanding of God is that God is eternal, everlasting, immutable, unchanging. And if we look in the Bible this is a theme that runs throughout both the Old and New Testaments:

  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8
  • “For I the Lord do not change.” – Malachi 3:6
  • “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17
  • “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” – Psalm 102: 25-27
  • “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” – Isaiah 40:28
  • “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:17

As Alice Morse Earle wrote, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” Could our gift in every moment of every day be the gift of God? And if so, what gift can we give God except ourselves, our lives, our everything? And who could be more worthy of our offerings than God, because as the Prophet Jeremiah said, “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might.” (Jeremiah 10:6)

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