Prayer: reflection from John

John Down town 2

I loved Barry’s sermon this morning about prayer, which was just packed with wisdom. I loved his honesty in speaking about the prayers which do not seem to be answered, and the difficulty of squaring the truth about God as a loving Father with the desolation so many people endure.

And you might say ‘In the light of all that, isn’t this talk about prayer delusional wish-fulfilment.’  Are we deluding ourselves when we talk about prayer. Are we simply talking to ourselves.

If I look at my failing attempts to pray for a set amount of time each day, then I feel I must be one of the world’s worst pray-ers.  But at this morning’s service, Stephen was speaking very helpfully about different modes of worshipping – for example singing, or dancing. He suggested we discover and use the mode of worship which comes most naturally to us, while not feeling a failure because we don’t seem to ‘do’ worship like the person next to us, and not despising other peoples ways of expressing worship.   I suspect we each have different ways of ‘doing’ prayer, and the important thing is to discover our ‘mode’ of praying.

A few years ago I went to a two-day silent retreat at The Bield in Perthshire. I know two days is scarcely long enough to grow accustomed to silence, but I found the silence hard to cope with. I concluded that maybe God speaks to me in the hurly-burly of life, rather than in the silence. And yet as I journaled (simply opening my heart of God and writing down what I was thinking) I had a sense of connection with God:

 ‘OK, here I am – I’m listening – what do you have to say?’   And these words arose from, or were dropped gently into my consciousness. ‘My Child, you are making of listening another deed, whereas I want you to listen so you will realise how much we are at one.’

Two pages later: ‘Listening is allowing the well, the river of God, to rise in your heart, going with the energy.’

And ten minutes later, I wrote ‘What do I need to hear? What can I hear which will change  me?’ And the words came ‘My Child, is it not enough to know that the river flows, always?’  And I responded ‘Thank you Father!’

Barry spoke about hearing God speaking.  This is how I believe God speaks to me – through words, thoughts, pictures rising up in my consciousness which come with a burden of significance. Always gentle, never frenetic and intense; always accompanied by the desire and the energy to put these words and intuitions into practice.

This is my mode of prayer, of openness to the Spirit. The Spirit is the river within.

But in the business of life,  sometimes the river doesn’t flow, and I do not hear the inner whisper. But often, I would say, I am able to greet the day thankfully, to walk through the day in the light of God’s presence not just because my mind reminds me that it’s the way to be (though there are days like that) but because the river within prompts my thankfulness, and makes it today’s thankfulness, today’s daily bread and not just the memory of yesterday’s blessings.  And when I am writing, or thinking, or talking, and have a decision to make often I will check inwardly, and an inner pulse of affirmation and energy will prompt the right direction.

Of course sometimes God seems a million miles away, it seems that the river has dried up, and I can only plod on, day after day, living in the light of a joy I once knew, waiting for a new dawn, a new springtime, waiting for the time of the melting of the ice.

We live in a broken world, we live with unanswered questions, we recognise that there are no easy answers. We are honest about the questions.

But I believe that these experiences of God are not simply the product of my own psychological processes, but result from an encounter with the Great Love that broods over the whole of creation, the Great Love seen in Father and Son, and expressed by the Holy Spirit. It is a Great Love which sustains me, and changes me for the better, and enables a sweetness and power in my life through which others are blessed.

Barry was saying exactly the same thing  in slightly different words. Prayer is not an action, a duty, but a relationship with the Being who sustains all being, who has self-revealed in love. Prayer is a relationship which shapes all our living, and it’s one to which we are all invited. This truth is the Christian gospel.

I hope this doesn’t make me sound dead holy, because I am anything but holy in one sense. I struggle with doubt, sadness, unanswered questions – and yet the river still flows, and on my clearer-seeing days I believe myself to be energised by the Love behind all love.  And through prayer, whichever our mode of prayer is, we connect with this powerful Love.

Come on the journey! Open your hearts and lives and all your daily living to the great Spirit of Love, Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit in whom we find our home.

‘My Child, you are making of prayer another deed, whereas I want you to pray so you will realise how much we are at one.’

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