It is one of my greatest joys to be the Episcopal Visitor to an Anglican Convent in Kent in the UK. This means that I very regularly visits this Benedictine Community, learning from them, praying with them and acting as a sounding board to the sisters and the Mother Abbess. They are an enclosed community so they rarely venture out and they live more frugally than you could imagine - but they have so much to teach us - it's inspiring! Many are specialists in their own field, being doctors of botany, languages, computer design, mathematics, and so much more. Yet, they now spend their time in community prayer together so that they can give their whole life to Christ.
SPIRITUALITY & PRAYER
IKONS ARE MORE THAN PICTURES. Each one seeks to be a window into God and if we place ourselves in its presence we may find that God seeps through the paint and begins to dwell even more closely in the heart of the looker. That's waht happened when I looked at this particular ikon. It's called an Eleousa ikon. Jesus is so keen to love his mother with all his heart that he has clambered up to her cheek, losing his little red slipper in the process. He's prepared to lose everything in order to love us.
Rowan Williams says this about this ikon. "If we begin, as most of us tend to, with a notion that God stands at a distance waitng for us to make a move in his direction, this image whould give us somehting of a shock. The Lotd here does not wait, impassive, as we babble on about our shame and penitence, trying to persuade him that we are worth forgiving. His love is intead that of an eager and rather boisterous child, scrambling up on his mother's lap, seizing handfuls of her clothing and nuzzling his face against hers, with that extraordinary hunger for sheer physical closeness that children will show with loving parents."
And here's a prayer by the monk Thomas Merton which we might say every morning. It's very honest and tells us not to pretend about ourselves but to commit all to God. I think it's a wonderful prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I HAVE NO IDEA where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
A LITANY FOR EVERYDAY USE
I offer this litany as a framework for Intercessionary (asking) Prayers. The Sisters at Malling Abbey use a similar form every day and I have adapted it for private prayer - it comes initially from the Orthodox communion. CLICK HERE FOR THE PRAYERS
The Best Prayer of All - thoughts about how to pray.
When we really need to pray it’s then, when the crisis is on us, that words seem to elude us. People ask me, how can I pray? Let me suggest two things.
First, you don’t actually need to use words – God knows our innermost feelings and all that is inexpressible in our hearts. So just to sit quietly and know we are in God’s presence is enough – God will do the interpreting for us.
But second, Jesus gave us some words that never let us down – we call it the Lord’s Prayer. We can use the old traditional words (which I usually use) or a modern version, it doesn’t matter. But the Lord’s Prayer has it all, and what’s more, you can be of any ‘religion’ for it to work for you – it’s totally ecumenical. Take a look –
if you only get this far it’s a great help. It doesn’t mean that God is masculine but that God is close – God creates us and nurtures us. God has not made the world and then left us to it (although some earthly fathers do just that!) This is Our Father – who is father of all of us, so it recognises that we are brothers and sisters whether we like it or not. But most of all, this is our Father who loves us to bits and will do anything for us.
Which art in heaven:
This is a lovely way of reminding us that God is the mystery. Whatever words or mind pictures we use about God might help us but God will forever remain beyond our understanding. So while God is the generous loving father of all of us, God remains the significant mystery – not just a chum!
Hallowed be thy name:
The best prayer begins and ends in Awe! In prayer we come close to the one who makes being possible. Take off your shoes, kneel on the pavement, bow your head, this is none other than Almighty God who created the Universe with a word. And this powerful mystery still has time for us!
Thy Kingdom Come:
Jesus can’t stop teaching us about the Kingdom – it’s a way of being together under God which respects everyone and all God’s creation. It’s a way of conforming our society, from its intimate relationships to its global politics, to a way of Peace and Justice.
Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
We learn about God’s Kingdom together and pray for it to come, but it’s our task to work together with God to bring it about, here and now. Prayer is not just about happy peaceful feelings but a spur and empowerment of our actions that the beauty of God’s justice and peace may be our daily guide and task.
Give us this day our daily bread:
In our slang ‘bread’ can stand for money, income and so on. But in this prayer it stands for even more – the very sustenance of life for all the world’s people. We know people who are ill, we see pictures of those who are starving, in our cities we meet people who are homeless and despised. Praying that all may be ‘fed’ is an integral part of praying to see God’s Kingdom, God’s will, be done on earth.
Forgive us our trespasses:
To think we are without blame is the ultimate foolishness – and that’s why we like to blame others, to shield us from our own vulnerability in this business. But any wise psychiatrist will explain how that hidden guilt (sin) has to come out somewhere in our behaviour and foul us up, and foul up those around us.
As we forgive those who trespass against us:
Funny how we remember those times when others have upset us much more than we remember when we’ve upset others? Here’s our chance to put that right. An essential part of God’s Kingdom, a godly society, is that we acknowledge that we don’t get things right, say sorry and work for reconciliation – it’s better than going to war.
Lead us not into temptation:
What is it that gets in the way of you being the person you would really like to be? Here’s where we own up to that, and ask God to lead us away from whatever is messing us up.
But deliver us from evil:
It’s not just individual nastiness that messes the world up, but bad political or religious structures, mindsets that make us think using others is somehow all right, the foulness that can infect whole institutions and the way we live our lives together – we need to ask God to help us see the light and fight these bad and evil things.
For Thine is the Kingdom:
Here we are again, a final reminder that we want the world to be what it was created for and not just a place for human beings to grab it all. If we think we are at the centre of the universe, that universe will turn evil, but remembering that it all belongs to God – thine is the Kingdom – then we reorganise our priorities.
The Power and the Glory:
Yes indeed, the Lord’s Prayer ends as it begins, but remembering that God alone is the key, the beginning and the end, the meaning and the destiny. Go into a beautiful Church and look up – Go out into the night and look up at the stars!
For ever and ever:
We only live through very short periods of time, here today and gone tomorrow – but the God of Mystery is the God of Love, and that love does not turn off like a tap when our bodies wear out – this is the Love, this is the God who carries us into the ‘ever and ever’.
Let’s say AMEN to all that. Just pray our Lord’s Prayer over very slowly and bring to it even more meaning. Say it on the bus or the train, in the Church or in bed. It’s Jesus’ prayer and it’s just for you.