On Prayer -28th October Last after Trinity
Audio -as ever fuller than the text below!
I’m a big fan of the campaign for plain English – with its aim to make public documents and other resources as clear and straightforward as possible. They’ve in the past tackled the amazingly obscure phrases in official forms, and the sort of legalese that makes no sense to anyone without some sort of specialist knowledge! Such complication use of language can make us feel very inferior and rather inadequate –we can’t quite understand, and we certainly can’t respond in the same sort of way
Have you ever felt like that about prayer?–
Prayer is a fundamental part of our life of faith, we know we are to pray we know we need to pray – to communicate with God, to keep our relationship going, to tell him how we think, what we need and to praise him
And yet, it is at the same time the hardest thing, as well as the simplest.
We can feel lost for words, or tongue tied, we can be overawed by those who pray eloquently or at length, who use holy sounding words
We can be paralysed by the thought of not getting it right, of saying the wrong thing – I know I am.
When I was in Taize one evening we were sharing a meal with the other leaders of groups from the UK, as we walked into the room, one of the Brothers who was hosting us said to me “ Angi, would you pray for us before we eat” I was momentarily paralysed with fear –why was I being asked to do this in a room of experienced priests and three bishops –one of whom had been tipped for the top job, and I knew Id get my words in a knot and look totally stupid.
Then something in me clicked and I thought how daft I was being. I was praying to my Heavenly Father, it didn’t matter what words came out my mouth or what some bishop thought of my lack of eloquence, so I just did it!
Prayer is as important to the Christian as breathing is to life, but it isn’t something we need to be frightened of.
The Monastic orders embedded prayer into their lives,
7 times a day the Benedictine monks stopped to pray, not for long but regularly and in a rhythm that fitted their life and that they could fit their life around. Later on, Cranmer condensed these monastic offices into our familiar rhythm of Morning evening and night prayer. Set words, but a simple routine of prayer to allow us space to connect our hearts & thoughts to God and to go on to the next portion of our day in his strength. Maybe our life doesn’t provide us with opportunity to stop seven times, but building something into the rhythm of our day, and not leaving prayer to Sundays or meetings or even a formality morning & night is possibility for us.
When I was reading todays readings, & thinking about what to say today I also read as I try to do, the short daily section from the Benedictine rule of life. Saturday’s portion of the Rule was this –
On Reverence in Prayer
When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station,
we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.
Benedict hit on the heart of prayer – that it is about our mind and our attitude more than our words. We come to God who is both our Loving father and the Lord of all, and we need not worry about how we say it –what words we use, in fact the simpler the better, the shorter the better!
In today’s Gospel the blind beggar calls out to Jesus, he calls out in few words, but the prayer he cries contains everything that prayer should
“Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me” and when Jesus responds to him, he simply says “ my teacher let me see again”
Bartimaeus recognises Jesus, he knows who he is and he comes to him in faith,
He calls out for mercy, and he lays his need before his Lord… and his Lord responds…
There is no need for long pleading, for elaborate phrases, for theological erudition.
No need to tell God what he ought to be doing or what someone else ought to be doing.
Prayer at its simplest is understanding who God is,
It is recognising that he can help us and it is speaking out that need to him.
Our needs are many, forgiveness, healing to hear Gods voice, provision, space & time…
But all of these God will respond to, and we needn’t fear some mistake in the way we approach him.
Bartimaeus was held back, and rebuked, he didn’t let that put him off, his simple declaration and request was worth repeating till he got what he needed. We needn’t be afraid, it is better that we pray than how we pray,
it is better to be aware of our needs than worried about our words.
Martin Luther once said
The fewer the words, the better the prayer.
Using fewer words leaves more time for listening, prayer is a two way street,
When Bartimaeus had been healed we’re told he followed Jesus on the way – we don’t know for how long, but we do know that those who followed Jesus spent a lot of their time listening, simply sitting and listening as he spoke, and taught.
Listening is prayer too. Wordless communication, contemplation, time spent in the presence of God, simply being with him.
This is where the monks got it right too, the words they used were short and simple, but the discipline of following, of time spent in God’s presence, simply listening, was not only part of their routine of corporate prayer, but part of their work, their life –everything done in a spirit of awareness of the presence of God,
As Benedict wrote
To pray is to work, to work is to pray
words and silence
work & prayer
speaking & listening all in balance.
So let us pray
And let us not be worried, or self conscious, but make this balance of simple words and contemplative listening the heart of our relationship with the God who loves us, and knows our every need even before we open our mouths.