As I was reflecting on Prayer over the past few days, I came to realise how much prayer is already central to our community life. As well as regularly praying for one another, our Sunday Services always include prayers for people who are sick, bereaved or struggling in any way. On top of this we have a team of people who pray every day for those on a list that is updated each month. This is coordinated by Diana Forde, who sends out the updates and recruits new members for the praying team (if you have names of loved ones you would like us to pray for daily, or if you would like to join the team of praying people, please contact me on 087 948 4407). More recently we have been running Parish Prayers every Monday at 12 noon. This is a (so far) small team of parishioners who meet on Zoom and pray out loud or silently about a number of aspects of parish life. (Praying out loud is not a requirement for joining this open prayer group, silent prayers are equally effective in the praying partnership we enjoy with God). Again new members are really welcome, especially as we try to discern where God is leading us as a community over the coming months and years.
As I was reflecting on all of this prayer, I began to realise how ‘asking’ focussed our prayers can be. Don’t get me wrong, us asking God for help is an important part of our relationship with Him, but so is listening, and so is stillness. Learning to listen, both in everyday and prayer life is important. Let’s be honest about this, many of us do struggle with this part of praying. How do you speak to someone that you can’t see? Even more pertinent, how do we listen to someone we cannot hear? The key is in familiarity. When I was growing up on the farm, one of my jobs was to bring the bucket of leftovers to the cattle that were a few fields away. As I crossed the fields, I would whistle a certain way, and over time the cattle became familiar with this sound and its association with left-over treats. So much so, that one time when they broke through the fencing and were rampaging across the fields, all it took was a few sharp whistles to bring them back to their field. I’m sure you have already spotted the slightly Pavlovian feel to this approach, and in no way am I associating listening to God with whistling in the dark as some Atheists might think! Over the years I have learned to recognise my master’s voice, sometimes in my thoughts, sometimes in words and actions of others, many times in verses of scripture, and occasionally in a ‘still small voice’ that I hear as plain as if you were speaking to me, that I know and recognise as God’s voice. Of course there is always the possibility of my subconscious trying to convince me to take a certain course of action, so I’m always careful to counter that probability by cross checking (pardon the pun) with what we know of God’s will and way of communicating as found in the Bible. I also frequently ask God to open and close gates in accordance with His will; In other words, if I’m heading down a path He has not called me to, I invite Him to close the gate so I can’t proceed. As you can see Prayer requires a lot of trust in yourself but especially in God’s ability to work through your frailties and agenda and bring you to exactly where He wants you to be. Which brings me to perhaps the most important part of personal and Parish Prayer: Stillness.
‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46). One of the most critical disciplines we need to learn and to teach is stillness. It’s something I have really struggled with for most of my life. There has always been a touch of the hyperactive in me: overly imagining, always active, driven in almost everything I undertake. So, as you can imagine, learning stillness is not going all that well for me. I envy those who can sit on a bench, breathe deeply and connect with God. I seem to meet God in the chaos; but maybe that’s ok. My journey towards stillness has taught me that if God made me in His own image, maybe there’s even a small bit of the chaotic and frenetic in Him. Certainly I am a lot more at peace with being who I am, warts and all. Much as I’d love to tell you about all my warts(!!), our focus is on stillness, and this coming to terms with who we are helps us to better settle into stillness.
God meets us in the chaos, but He knows we cannot find deep peace there so He leads us beside still waters and revives our souls. If I can find a place of stirring beauty, usually a heavenly crafted woodland or a sandy beach, then the stillness flows better; then the Joy comes; then the Peace comes. When I do meet God in stillness it is transformational, I just wish there was a formula that could just make stillness happen more frequently.
So, what has all this to do with Parish Prayers? Many of us would never in a million years join a group who pray out loud, we can be unnecessarily embarrassed or even ashamed of our child-like prayers, (forgetting that Jesus said ‘unless you come to me as one of these little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven). Before we can truly be a community that prays together we need to become ‘at peace’ with who we are and how we pray. Please don’t let fear hold you back, or a sense of lack of ability to pray ‘properly’ (whatever that means) define you. God simply wants us to talk with him, to listen to him; and sometimes He wants to do it together as a community, as a parish family.