Monthly Archives: March 2017

Prayerful Beginnings

Monday 20th March
 
1 Chronicles 23:30
Every morning they praised God, and every evening.
 
Build into the structure of your life a time each morning and evening
to be still, to be silent, to be humble, to be simple, to be in God.
– John Main

For me, what we do first thing in the morning
is one of the most important things we shall do in the day.
How we begin our day
has an effect upon everything else that happens in the day.
If the day begins in a rushed chaotic way,
then we carry something of that chaos into everything else we do.
If it begins in a calm and peaceful way,
we will carry something of that peaceful calm with us
as the day unfolds.
Now, I am a morning person
who loves to be up early hours before the world gets going,
and I realise that not everyone is the same
and some are not their best at that time of day!
I also realise that I am lucky with my job
in that I do not have to travel into work and do not have to function
on the same tight early morning schedule that some do.
I know that everyone does not have that same freedom in the morning,
nevertheless, I do believe that we can all make little changes
to our morning routine that stops it being such a rush and allows
some space for the day to have a calmer beginning,
even if means waking up five minutes earlier.
A day that begins prayerfully
stands a better chance of continuing prayerfully.
Try getting up five minutes earlier
and begin the day reflectively with a short time of prayer.
It does not have to be long
but it can have an amazing effect on everything that follows.

A Sacred Space by Simon Parke
 
There is an important moment in the day, and let it be early,
It is a sacred moment when I remember myself.
I feel my present breathing
and the clean clear space that is within me.
Why does this practice matter?
It helps me to resist the subtle approaches of mechanical life,
which daily threatens to ensnare me;
the life of automatically reacting to events and people,
which deprives me of my compassion and spontaneity.
The sacred moment creates a sacred space.
It’s sacred because
it is free from madness and expectation and attachment,
and is therefore a space in which I am truly myself.
As the day proceeds, this space may be lost as I drift
into the netherworld of automatic reaction.
But sooner or later, with a whisper or a wallop,
the space will wake me up.
As I practice returning to this this space
I become less and less mechanical and more human.
Which is delightful, both for the world and me.

Sermon Lent 3

On Friday, my day off, my wife Louise had left me a list of jobs to do.
To be fair, it was a list of things I had been saying that I would do for weeks,
but you know how it is with us poor, busy, overworked priests?!
It was things like sorting out getting a new wing mirror for the car
to replace the one that someone knocked off in first week of January
and has been held together by tape since then; phoning the diocese about the leak in the toilet which has been there  even longer than the wing mirror has been broken. Organising getting our guttering cleared, cleaning the car, things like that.

Anyway, just the overwhelming proportion of the list stressed me out!
So I did what I normally do when I am feeling hassled– I watched my favourite film.
I have mentioned this film before – for me it is the perfect antidote to busy modern life. It is called “Into Great Silence” and it is a documentary shot in a silent monastery in the French Alps.

The film has no background music or commentary,
except for the offices sung by the monks.
The director of the film, Philip Groening,
simply allows the silent existence of the monks to speak for itself
by filming their daily living through the seasons of the year.
I think it is an extraordinary film, though, admittedly, it will not be to everyone’s taste.
If you like your films fast moving and action packed you might want to give it a miss!
It lasts for over three hours and very little happens. That’s its magic.
It just follows the silent still life of the monks
and it makes me realise what our world is lacking.

In the noisy, busy, crowded world we live in
it is hard to imagine people who live lives in relative silence; unhurried and still;
and in solitude for much of the time. It is so different from our norm, that it is hard to get our head around.
How do people survive without television, radio, modern conveniences, i-pods, i-pads, cars, mobile phones, travel, fashion accessories, constant conversation – and yet, as you watch the film you begin to realise some of the things we have lost; and are reminded that they are things we so often yearn for in life.
Silence, tranquillity, time, space, stillness.

Not only have we lost them and yearn for them;
but they have become so alien to our society
that we do not know what to do with them if we get them.
We have forgotten how to relax, how to be alone, how to be still, how to be quiet.
These great gifts and blessings of life can be terrifying because we have become so used to living with busyness, sound, conversation and constant background noise.

Though one thing you notice about the film after a while
is that the monastery itself is bubbling with community activity and noise,
but it is different.   It is different because the sounds and activity of the monastery grow out of the stillness and the silence. They live life the opposite way around to us.
For us the noise and activity dominates. We try and find a bit of quiet and stillness within it. For them the silence, the stillness and the solitude is the most important; and any sound, action or interaction flows out of these things, and returns to them.
They live out of a background of silence; we out of a background of noise.

Most of us are not called to a life of silence and stillness, but there is much we can learn from those who are.
Without silence our sounds can become just irritating noise;
Without stillness we can end up chasing around and achieving nothing.
We each need to cultivate regular moments of silence and stillness into our lives.
Little pockets of quiet here and there that can balance the noise and busyness of life.
Even on our own doorstep there are oasis of quiet if we look for them.
Local parks and woods; gardens and allotments; libraries; cemeteries;
And we try to keep the church here open more for people to have such an opportunity.

Our God speaks to us in the depths of silence, to hear Gods voice we need silence.
This is the Living Water Jesus speaks of in this morning’s gospel.
Yes, of course God also speaks to us through sight and sound,
and through the everyday activity and busyness of life.
But without the background of silence and stillness
we can very easily lose the ability to listen and recognise God in such things.

May God help each of us cultivate little moments of quiet and stillness in our lives,
that in the midst of life’s noise and busyness,
we may hear his voice, and know his presence.

You will be glad to know I got one thing done on the list
I have ordered the wing mirror! 5 things to go………..

The Lord’s Prayer

Saturday 18th March
 
Luke 11:2
And he said to them:
When you pray say “Father, Hallowed be your name….”

When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer (Lord’s Prayer)
he was giving them part of his own breath, his own life, his own prayer.
– Tom Wright

When I was a teenager the vicar in the village where I lived said to me:
“Even if you say no other prayers in the day, say the Lord’s Prayer
at least once in the morning and again at night.”
I have always remembered his words and always tried to live by them.
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most prayed,
best known prayers in the world.
It is a prayer that has been shared by Christians for over 2000 years
and by its constant repetition has become a prayer
that carries great meaning and power.
As Bishop Tom wright points out in the quote above,
it is a prayer that connects us like no other
with the very presence and life of Christ.
He goes on to say that when you take these words upon your lips
you stand on hallowed ground.
I find it sad that so many people today do not know the Lord’s Prayer;
at a wedding, a funeral, or at any other such gathering
I cannot suggest we say the Lord’s Prayer
and assume that everyone will know it because many do not.
The Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful prayer
that can be prayed in so many situations,
it is a refuge, an inspiration, and doorway
to Christ’s presence within us.
I encourage everyone to pray it daily
and to teach it to their children and grandchildren.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Simone Weil Writes:
 
The Our Father is to prayer what Christ is to humanity.
It is impossible to say it once through,
giving the fullest possible attention to each word,
without a change, infinitesimal perhaps but real,
taking place in the soul.

Hidden Treasure

Friday 17th March
 
Matthew 6:21
For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We carry prayer within us, like a hidden treasure.
– Andre Louf

Along with my mantra I like to have a number of set familiar prayers
that I regularly use each day.
Some of those prayers are traditional prayers,
such as the Lord’s Prayer or prayers from the prayer book;
others are more contemporary prayers
that I like and have meaning for me.
I like prayers written in the Celtic tradition
such has those written by David Adam,
and some are prayers that I have written myself.
Having a collection of prayers that are familiar,
and can be used at different times in the day,
is a helpful way of staying connected with God’s presence
as each day unfolds.
It is good to have prayers that we use so often
that we know them by heart
and they often come to us unbidden at times when we need them,
like finding a hidden treasure.
I would encourage anyone to learn a number of prayers by heart,
like the mantra they become a daily touchstone
to the divine presence in life.
I also find it helpful to have such prayers
written in various places to remind us of God’s presence
when the day is in full flow
and we become engrossed in our daily activities.
To have them written in our diary, or on the computer screen,
on our desk, by our bedside, in the car,
or anywhere that we are likely to come across them
through the course of the day.
We can also do the same with our mantra; they then act as a prompt
to draw us back into the remembrance of God’s presence
in everything that we do.

 
A favourite prayer of mine by David Adam:
 
Awaken us to your presence
Alert us to your love
Affirm us in your peace
Open us to your way
Reveal us to your joy
Enfold us in your light.
O make our hearts ready, Lord,
O make our hearts ready.

A Prayer of my own:
 
Open within us that Sacred Space, O God,
Where Your Presence flows
And life is made whole.
Where all is welcome, nothing denied
All is seen, nothing judged
All embraced, nothing possessed
All is lived, nothing wasted.
Open within us that Sacred Space, O God,
Where Your Presence flows
And life is made whole.

A Touch Stone

Thursday 16th March
 
Psalm 34:6
This poor man called and the Lord heard him

Your Mantra becomes your staff of life,
and carries you through every ordeal.
Every repetition carries you nearer and nearer to God.
– Gandhi

So how do we use the prayer mantra?
The great thing about the mantra
is that it can be used in many different ways.
We can make a habit of praying it 10 times at the beginning of each day.
We can pray it while waiting in a queue or travelling to work.
We can pray it when we feel agitated, angry or anxious.
We can pray it while walking or doing a mundane job
like folding paper or washing dishes.
We can pray our mantra in preparation of a difficult meeting,
or waiting in a dentist’s or doctor’s surgery.
We can choose to pray our mantra 10 times
when we stop for lunch or during a tea break.
We can pray our mantra last thing at night before falling to sleep.
We can pray it for a friend
who we know is going through a difficult time,
we can pray it on behalf of those who have asked for our prayers.
I have a list of people that I have promised to pray for
and I say the mantra for them each day.
Our mantra is our touchstone in life,
it is the word or sentence that reminds us that God is near.
It is the word or sentence that reminds us that
whatever we do in life, whatever we experience,
God shares the moment with us and is always by our side.
Choose your mantra, be faithful in repeating each day
and, as Gandhi says,
you will find that you have a sure and steady staff
for all that life may bring along.

 

John Main writes:
 
The mantra provides an integrating power.
It is like an harmonic that we sound in the depths of our spirit,
bringing us to an ever deepening sense of our wholeness,
and central harmony.
It leads us to the source of this harmony, to our centre,
To God.

The Mantra

Wednesday 15th March
 
Matthew 20:30
The crowd rebuked them to be quiet
but they cried out all the more:
Lord, have mercy on us

Choose a prayer word and stick with it;
simply choose a word you feel drawn to.
– Martin Laird
 
I have found that a powerful foundation for prayer is having a mantra.
A mantra is a prayer word or sentence
that we repeat over and over again,
it becomes a refuge of prayer to which you can always return,
at any time, whatever you are doing.
It can be a verse from scripture such as:
Abide in me, as I abide in you.
A verse from the Psalms: O God, my God, for you I long.
It may be a line from a favourite prayer:
I place my hands in yours, Lord, I place my hands in yours.
Many people use the Jesus Prayer
which comes from the Orthodox tradition:
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Some just use one word such as: Jesus,
or the Aramaic word “Maranatha”, which means “Come, Lord”.
I have always liked to use the Jesus Prayer
and have my own version of it which fits me well:
Jesus, Christe, Eleison.
Christe is the Greek for Christ
and Eleison is the Greek word for “have mercy”.
My mantra has become a very important part of my prayer life
and is a touchstone throughout each day that reminds me
that God’s Presence is close in everything I do and experience.
May I suggest that this Lent
you choose your own mantra or prayer word,
and experience for yourself
what a powerful asset it can be in on your spiritual journey.

 

Kallistos Ware writes:
 
The aim of the Jesus Prayer, as of all Christian prayer,
is that our praying should become increasingly identified
with the prayer offered by Jesus, the High Priest within us.
That our life should become one with his life,
our breathing with the Divine Breath that sustains the universe.

Just Do It

Tuesday 14th March

Ephesians 6:18
Pray at all times with perseverance

If you want a life of prayer,
the way to get it is by praying.
-Esther de Waal

There is an old saying:
“you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
This is very true.
But it is also true that if you didn’t take the horse to water
it would never have the opportunity to drink.
I have found prayer to be a little bit like this.
There have been times in my life
when I have found praying difficult, there still are.
I take my body to prayer, I go into the chapel in church,
but sometimes I feel like it is a waste of time.
I have taken myself to the place of life giving water
but struggle to drink of it.
Yet one thing I have learned over the years
is that nothing will change if I stop going there.
If I stop giving myself opportunities for prayer
the dryness of prayer only increases.
I have learned that when I go through periods when prayer is difficult,
the best thing I can do is to remain faithful to my practice
and eventually things will change.
If we keep taking the horse to water, eventually,
when it is thirsty enough, it will drink.
We do not need to force anything,
we simply need to be gentle with ourselves
and faithful to our practice of prayer.
God will take care of the rest.

Pema Chodron writes:
 
Meditate (or pray) every day, even for a short time,
in order to cultivate steadfastness…
whether we are feeling healthy or sick…
in a good mood or depressed…
feeling like our meditation (prayer) is going well or falling apart…
Meditation (prayer) isn’t about getting it right…
It’s about cultivating steadfastness.

Jack Kornfield writes:
 
The record for persistence in taking and failing a driving test
is held by Mrs Miriam Hargrave of Wakefield.
Mrs Hargrave failed her 39th driving test in April 1970,
when she crashed, driving through a set of red lights.
In August of the following year she finally passed on her 40th test.

A Quiet Corner

Monday 13th March
 
Matthew 6:6
When you pray, go into your room and shut the door
 
Create a place that invites the mood of prayer…
a place that stores your prayer energy.
– Lorraine Kisley
 
A great aid to having a routine for daily prayer
is having a place of prayer;
somewhere that is set aside for the purpose,
a sacred space of sanctity.
I am lucky in that I live right next door to church
and can easily pop over into my favourite place in the Lady Chapel
for my times of prayer.
But it does not have to be a church.
A quiet corner of the house, maybe a spot in the garden,
a particular chair we sit on, a candle or picture we sit before.
It is just some place that becomes part of our routine of prayer.
We may leave a Bible or prayer book there,
a prayer card, or some prayer beads; something that sets it apart
even if that spot is used for different things at other times.
Our prayer is never limited to that place
but it can become a sanctuary that we return to,
it holds our prayer and the people and situation we pray for.
I often find that when prayer is difficult my place of prayer,
both in church and in my home, is a place I can just sit
and allow its prayerful presence to enfold me before God.
Just to sit there for the odd few minutes in the day
can renew me in God’s Holy Presence.

There should be at Least a Room by Thomas Merton
 
There should be at least a room
or some other corner where no one will find you,
and disturb you or notice you.
You should be able to untether yourself from the world
and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands
of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought,
to the presence of others.
“Be thou, when thou shalt pray,
enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door,
pray to thy Father in secret.”
Once you have found such a place, be content with it,
and do not be disturbed if a good reason takes you out of it.
Love it, and return to it as soon as you can,
and do not be quick to change it for another.

Sermon for Lent 2

In this morning Gospel we heard of Nicodemus, a Pharisee,
who came to speak with Jesus under the cover of darkness, secretly, out of view.
Jesus regularly clashed with the Pharisees, who often did not like his message,
but this one was obviously intrigued by Jesus and wanted to hear more,
but it would seem, without his fellow Pharisees knowing about it.
So he waited for night and sneaked in the back way.
 
A few weeks ago I too was planning to sneak into a church,
inconspicuously without being noticed.
It was a Baptist church in Forest Hill,
and it was for a commissioning service for street pastors.
I had been to something else and was running a bit late
and the service had already begun.
Not to worry, thought I, I can sneak in at the back and no one will notice.
I am good at sneaking in at the back.
On this occasion I was in for a bit of a shock
because the entrance to the church was not at the back but at the front!
In order to get to the seats you had to walk into church in full view of everyone.
Talk about doing the walk of shame!
You couldn’t sneak in and you couldn’t sneak out.
Whatever you do in that church you do in full view!
A church where it is impossible to sneak in at the back – whatever next!

Thank God for the Church of England, that’s what I say.
Give me a good old fashioned church where you can quietly slip in and out unnoticed.
I’m with poor old Nicodemus on that one!
It is one of the great strengths of churches like ours that you can sneak in and out.
Going to a church for the first time can be a bit daunting,
and sometimes we need to be able to sneak in and get the feel of a place,
put our toes in the water, and see what we think.
That for me is why traditional style buildings like ours are so important.
Churches that are in the round where everyone is facing each other,
are all well and good once you have got your feet under the table
but are very daunting places when you want to slip in and out anonymously.
I sympathise with Nicodemus, there is a lot to be said for sneaking up on God.
 
But beware, we might think that we are sneaking up on God
just having a look, seeing how the land lies,
we might kid ourselves that we are entering God’s presence on our own terms,
and checking God out. But in my experience, God is very clever at luring us in
and then capturing us with his presence and love.
You see, we might think that we have merely chosen to go to church that particular day,
at that particular time, in that particular place.
But more often than not we are responding to an inner urge placed in us by God.
God has an uncanny way of finding his way into our lives and hearts.
 
In yesterday’s Lenten Reflection
we saw that the root meaning of prayer in Aramaic is “to lay a trap”.
Not a trap that we lay for God with our prayers, but one that God lays for us.
We are made for God, for communion with God, for a relationship with God.
And no matter how much we may resist that,
God has an uncanny way of sneaking up on us.
 
Nicodemus may have thought he was sneaking up on Jesus,
but I have a funny feeling that Jesus was expecting him.
And the same is true for us.
So be careful. Our God is a God of surprises
and transforms our lives in the most unusual ways at times.
That is how prayer often works
It puts us smack into God’s presence and reveals God’s love
just when we are not expecting it;
often in the most unlikely circumstances and through unlikely people.
 
And as I discovered at the commissioning service at the Baptist church,
God can have a vicious sense of humour.

Ensnared by Love

Saturday 11th March
 
Luke 5:4
Jesus said to Simon:
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch
 
One scholar has pointed out that the root meaning of prayer in Aramaic
is: “to lay a trap”.
But we don’t lay a trap for God: to the contrary,
we must allow ourselves to be ensnared.
– Lorraine Kisly

How often have we thought of ourselves as being no good at prayer?
We try and put some time aside for communion with God,
maybe to meditate, reflect, or intercede for others,
but we just don’t feel that we are very spiritual
or making much of a success of it.
The result being that we tend to give up, rely on going to church,
and hope that God will understand. (God does by the way!)
But it is actually impossible to be a failure in prayer
because prayer isn’t an exam that we pass
in order to get into God’s presence; we are already in God’s presence.
God does not mark our times of prayer out of 10
and give us an end of year grade;
God simply enjoys being in our presence and sharing our life.
We often have the attitude of prayer as laying a trap,
trying to capture a feeling of God’s love,
but as Lorraine Kisly points out in the above quote,
in prayer it is we who need to be ensnared, not God.
So let us just accept our times of prayer for what they are,
and not judge them good or bad,
and simply allow God a little space to ensnare us in his loving presence.

The Empty Church by R.S. Thomas
 
They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

R.S Thomas is my favourite poet, and this is one of his poems I find myself returning to again and again. At first reading it struck me as a rather depressing poem of one who had begun to despair at prayer as being, literally, like banging your head against a church wall. But the more I read it the more I began to realise that it was, in fact, much more positive than it first appeared. The poet has realised that we have been trying to trap God with our prayers and trying to draw God to ourselves; enticing God like a moth to the flame. But God does not work that way. The whole point of prayer is that God entices us to himself and, if we stay faithful to our prayer no matter how difficult we may find it, God’s loving presence will be revealed. On first reading it looks like a poem about an absent, distant, God; but later it reveals itself about a God who is already there, in the shadows, luring us in, until finally the striking of our prayers reveals that presence with us, and within us. So what begins as a poem pondering the stone trap with candles that we try to entice God into, becomes a poem where God has enticed us. As Lorraine Kisly says: “We don’t lay a trap for God: to the contrary, we must allow ourselves to be ensnared”.