Archives for posts with tag: Prayer

The Third Essential of Prayer is Presence. As one writer succinctly describes it, ‘Being present with the presence’. Now this may sound confusing, yet when Jesus promises to be with us always, ‘even to the end of the age’ this is the invitation to presence.

 

Often our humanity associates presence with feelings. Yet feelings are emotional states of response. My approach to God will prove different when feeling content and secure to when I have raging toothache. Often we make judgements about church worship, even whole church congregational gatherings, simply upon the feelings they induce. Nothing wrong with feelings per se, but be warned, they are an untrustworthy measure of reality.

 

Presence is an ever present truth and reality for God is with us always. The issue is will I rest in that reality, regardless of the flow of my feelings with undistracted mind and by my senses that continually send it information?

 

To acknowledge the reality of God and God’s presence, despite my ever changing circumstances, is to stand in the presence of God. It is no diversionary tactic, for the reality of such circumstances doesn’t change. What changes is the way in which I choose to frame them. I can look at them from the fears, anxieties or pleasures which they induce. Or I can perceive the presence of God, living the Godward side of my experience. This is quite the journey.

 

As my first wife, Katey, battled with MS, we managed our own journeys from different perspectives. Katey experienced the loss of physical and mental ability that accompanied the deepening hold progressive MS had upon her whole being. I fought anger, resentment, a sense of abandonment by God whom I’d served faithfully as far as I could tell. We both became consumed with our own presence, our physicality. We lived from a collapsing ego, unable to craft a world of any sense within which we might define ‘self’ in a meaningful way. And we proved a handful to others, most of whom, understandably, took a large step back from us and our situation.

 

Discovering we had nothing within to address such circumstances, that we were empty shells of humanity, we paused through exhaustion. Like Jacob we wrestled long through the darkness of our night. It was only as dawn began to appear above the horizon, the dawning of a recognition of God’s presence in the bleakest of contexts, that we both sensed something of God’s presence. God was not some external, impotent fraud outside and unable to intervene within our situation. God had always been accompanying us within this the bleakest experience of our life to date.

 

Presence is in the acknowledgement of God’s presence. It is neither something we can strain to grasp nor an escape from our challenging circumstances. It is the recognition that God is with us and God’s invitation is that we stand with that truth. The battle is always with my preconceived and usually preferred perspective on God and God’s work in the world. Yet, this can only ever prove to be a perspective. I have to discover the willingness and then the practice of re framing my life around the fact that God is always present. It is my walk of faith that can bring me to the place where I acknowledge that, regardless of such circumstance. This leads to the next important wrestling match; how to allow perfect love to cast out all fear! More of that later.

 

If you enjoy these blogs follow along with my daily devotions at Voice of Hope.

The Second Essential of Prayer

Once we have achieved an appreciation and something of a practice of ‘Stillness, Prayer essential #1, what are we to do in this new found yet soon to become familiar Stillness? The second essential is Attentiveness. Attentiveness has two meanings.

Meaning One

I guess we all recognise the demand to pay close attention to our context, ‘Driving requires attentiveness to road and traffic conditions‘, i.e. not the time to write a complex rebuttal to a disagreeable proposal. Once in the Stillness therefore it is not the stillness itself that is the objective of our prayer. It is the context to which such Stillness has introduced us.

As I sit in summer mornings enjoying the swelling sounds of the dawn chorus I can hear a cacophony of enjoyable birdsong filling the air. However, as I apply attentiveness, I distinguish blackbird from song thrush, robin from goldfinch. Naturally the ability to distinguish such sounds is dependent upon a certain amount of work carried out in familiarising myself with the different songs of British garden birds, and would prove of little value on a trip to Malaysia. Which goes to show that the attention we have given over our life to discerning and distinguishing the character and the ways of God is the foundation upon which we establish prayerful attentiveness. I hear yet must learn to discern what it is I am hearing, an act of attentiveness.

Meaning Two

However, attentiveness also means attending to the interests and comfort of others as in, ‘They live in constant, kindly attentiveness to each others needs‘. In approaching God it is not simply that I anticipate or demand that God in some interventionist and measurable way attends to my ever swelling bandwidth of ‘needs’. Rather that I attend to the ‘needs’ of the Divine. Can I really suggest that an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God has a ‘need’ of my attentiveness? Regardless, I do. And that’s because God’s will in the earth is expressed through the obedient action of those who determine to love and serve God. God is voiceless and shapeless without an engaged, redeemed humanity.

Purpose

God is purposeful in that there is always an end as well as a present in view. For me prayer once was a response to the present with little objective focus upon the end in view. In fact God thinks from the end backwards, in which case the present is rather more incidental than essential. Whilst this might feel like it reduces human value, it cannot, for such value can only ever be established with the end in view, i.e. I have been created human, in the image of God for the purpose of growing up into maturity in Christ. Over investment in the realities of the present can only lead to stunted growth, in other words a deformity or abnormality perhaps in the aspiration that I’m invited to share alongside God.

Attentiveness affords me the opportunity to discern the present in light of the end in view. I recover perspective.

Illustration

As my first darling wife, Katey, battled with MS, the initial prayer focus was consumed with the present; an assumed need that she be physically healed. I’ve no doubt God does intervene and physically heals today. We had both prayed and seen medically confirmed healing through the vehicle of prayer. Indeed we had experienced such healing ourselves. However, physical healing is incidental and not the end God has in view. This end is most certainly about healing, yet healing as wholeness or completion, where only death affords us the key to such completion.

Whilst Katey and I, and a concerned congregation, threw every prayer we had at seeking to determine a new, or different, present, we paid little attention in discerning the distinct word of God in the season. In fact we assumed we were mounting a raid against Satan to rescue Katey from what can only have been the devil’s work.

Exhausted and momentarily exhausted and disillusioned, where a moment is as a thousand days if not years, it was out of broken dejection, and the aloneness and sense of abandonment that followed in the melting away of an exhausted and confused congregation, that we together began to pay attention to God and seek to discern the voice of God. The end remained the same, ‘To you have I lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens: my eyes like the eyes of slaves, on the hand of their lords…our eyes on the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy…Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy‘.

We again reminded ourselves we are God’s property, albeit fearfully and wonderfully made. That God alone has the word of life and so it was to the Lord we directed our gaze. No longer consumed by physical disease we waited and began to develop an attentiveness to who God was in this set of circumstances and discern God’s unique words for us both. We found comfort even as we knew pain and disappointment. Attentiveness is a long way from the soothing balm of a hot bath of scented bubbles.

Such attentiveness was not primarily to provide us with any emotional satisfaction for we discovered that feelings are untrustworthy and in no way confirmed if God were present or not. Attentiveness was finding the capacity to rest in the reality that God’s will might be done in the earth and in the outworking of that will we discover God and deepen our understanding and appreciation of God, even as and when mortality brings death at an age my humanity might never understand and rail against.

Conclusion

So in the Stillness we learn to become attentive to God. Our own will, aspiration, assumption and perception will readily seek to occupy that Stillness. Only problem with this is that it must inevitable drown out the still small voice who is Jesus. I say ‘learn’ for not one of us can accomplish attentiveness without a disciplined commitment to practice; Intuition + Practice = Performance. Discerning different songs within the overwhelming orchestration that is the dawn chorus takes both knowledge and discipline, and is of course continually accompanied by doubt. In all such attentiveness it remains to me to discover what it is the Master says, where saying is not essentially an audible word. And where attentiveness may require nothing more of me than attentiveness itself.

‘if the Lord had not been on our side…then the waters would have engulfed us, the torrent gone over us…Blessed be the Lord who did not give us a prey to their teeth…Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’.

img_20161104_091418-1It’s often difficult to turn to prayer at the start of my day. The computer summons me siren like. It is perhaps a problem with my ego that seeks to discover who has emailed me. Fortunately since pursuing the anchorite life for a while now, my inbox receives very little traffic. I am learning that it is my identity in Jesus that truly reveals who I am in this life. Again I yearn for a cup of green tea (organic Sencha to be precise), but I resist such distractions.

It is a simple exercise with which I enter my conscious day. I have a small altar to help give expression to my prayerful approach to all of life. It also provides a visual reminder throughout my day that all is about Christ. When I react from deep within my fracture, it’s always useful to be reminded that I am not the key event. Maintaining my connection with the Presence is. A visual altar helps me in this process.

So here I am before my altar. I may well quietly and internally pray the Jesus prayer as I quieten my heart. Then crossing myself as a physical reminder of my true identity gifted through the Cross, I strike a match, light the candle and make my prayer for the day. This varies, yet always includes the theme of light. Jesus, the Light of the world, to reveal my path to me, to lighten the challenges I face, to be a light within always revealing God’s presence, to enable me be to be a source of light, and thereby hope, to those who cross my path. This is a spontaneous prayer, differing each morning, yet always resonating around the theme of light.

This prayer takes no more than five minutes. I then make my way to the kettle. Prepare my cuppa, start ordering the Kitchen for the day ahead, prepare Jayne’s packed lunch. Usually I can then sit awhile before Jayne and mum emerge for breakfast. In this time I cup my tea in my hands and generally take some moments in reflective silence. However more of that another day.

Try by starting your day with a candle prayer. If a formal prayer helps then try this one I found courtesy of the Northumbria Community.

May the blessing of light be on you – light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it.
And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

Candles in the Dark

 

Retreat Day with Dr Micha & Jayne Jazz May 25, 2016 @ The Wisdom Centre Romsey, 9:30-16:30 refreshments and lunch provided. All inclusive price £35.

Just a few places remain for this day retreat in Romsey Hampshire. We already have a group of twenty people booked to explore deepening their understanding of contemplative activism Please do let us know if this is a day that you might value.

We shall explore the whole area of attachment and detachment with the help of the text of Cloud of UnknowingScholars date the anonymous authorship of Cloud of Unknowing to 1375, during the height of European monasticism. Written as a primer for the young monastic, the work is instructional, but does not have an austere didactic tone. Rather, the work embraces the reader with a maternal call to grow closer to God through meditation and prayer.

Our day will begin with coffee from 9:30 and we shall make a formal start at 10:00. The day will be a combination of learning together and self discovery through directed, individual activities. The objective as ever is to take a step back from the busyness of life and  deepen your personal understanding and awareness of both God and self. The core theme in our time together will be to examine the relationship between contemplation and activism.
 
You do not need to have read the text of Cloud of Unknowing and I shall have copies in a modern translation available for purchase on the day if you think you might want to explore further in this wonderful contemplative fourteenth century text. Do however bring your own notebook and pen. Slides of the day will be circulated after the retreat as a PDF via email.
To book: Email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com.

Brilliant short piece below by Paula Huston for reflecting upon. I love the Aristotelian thought that a Virtue is something we practice daily until it becomes a part of our life and we an enfleshment of that Virtue. It may just resonate with me since I have been thinking awhile about how my rhythm of eating (inclusive of menus) relates to my rhythm of prayer and obedience. So another delightful springboard into reflecting more on those wonderful ways of the Divine.BMS_diagram

Food absorbs a lot of my time as a cook in the Oratory, and whilst never ‘cheffy’, I do invest effort and thought into producing meals. Now, after much reading, I am engaged in a no/very low sugar, non dairy approach to food and I am seeing the impact upon the waistline battle. Nor sure if I feel any more alive than previously as some shout about. I have still got to address my love of ‘comfort eating’ and ‘boredom eating’ when I revert to full powered sugar foods like cakes and cookies. I have also followed the advice of an Orthodox contact who advocates eating, even when alone, without TV or the distraction of reading. I now sit down at table and eat carefully, enjoying every mouthful, whilst considering my guest at the table is Jesus. Battling the sense of isolation within the silence can be unnerving, yet I can glimpse some vague benefits, which will grow as I consider making this a Virtue.

My Myers Briggs ‘N-F’ characteristic suggests establishing a routine and being diligent about it is something my temperament is not naturally suited to, yet will greatly flourish as a consequence if I can apply some perseverance and live consistently. So maybe adopting non meat days as the monks and friars have habitually done might form part of eating as a spiritual discipline for me.

Anyhow take a moment to read Paula Huston‘s great little contribution here. Here new book, ‘Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit‘ might be a useful reflective follow up.

Bible-Verses-About-Weight-Loss

Everyone struggles with Prayer. We’re all invited to engage in ‘Daily Moments of Reflection’. Another way of saying this is that we choose to give a generous portion of our time to prayer and contemplation. It’s about deliberately wasting time with God for the fourfold purpose of,

* Developing our intimate friendship with Godencounter-with-God

* Acknowledging that throughout our daily life we seek to prioritise God and his Kingdom purpose

* Recognising our dependence upon God for our life and well being

* Encountering the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit personally and together with others.

The majority of people when asked if they pray, will respond in the affirmative. Yet, for me, and for many, this positive response to a direct question was for many years merely the answer I felt was expected, rather than the reality, and I was a little ashamed at how impoverished my encounter with God was in practice. For many years I struggled with prayer. I found the process a challenge with my mind wandering and discovering I carried within myself a weight of expectation that had somehow taken root within me.

Consequently, I dragged myself to prayer reluctantly, prayed from a misplaced sense of duty and felt guilty when I didn’t pray.  The word ‘enough’ tormented, not least because enough is an imprecise measurement and a source for nothing greater than condemnation. And who amongst us would find much enthusiasm once we knew we stood condemned?

I remember in Youth for Christ (YFC), as I trained youth workers, I would ask, ‘what are the six most important things to impress upon a new believer?’ Invariably the first three were prayer, reading the bible and joining an active church. The next three reflected the individual’s theological preferences! Later in that same session, having moved on in the teaching, I asked what were the six most difficult aspects of the Christian life each person in the room experienced. No surprises it was usually prayer, bible reading and church attendance. It was not lost on any one of us that what we demanded of new converts was something we personally struggled with! Somewhat unkind and unrealistic.

My second observation in YFC was that I very quickly found ‘doing God’s work’ far more enjoyable than ‘seeking God’s face’ in prayer. I organised evangelistic concerts throughout the UK, ran school and campus missions, led summer camps etc. Many found faith in Christ, I loved the profile and sense of ‘getting God’s work done’ yet sadly stopped seriously seeking God as a consequence. I was too busy fulfilling my ministry and getting God’s work done! Eventually burnt out with exhaustion I was forced to take six months out. Six months in which to evaluate what went wrong! Cut off from the source of spiritual refreshment and renewal, I simply ran out of my own resource.

I was a natural communicator and organiser and drew upon my natural gifts to make projects happen. These projects gave the impression of God’s kingdom being established, yet they were mere projections of myself; what I imagined was God’s will and God’s way. Of course they were exciting and very tangible. So many people were able to participate in them and they appeared to reveal God’s hand at work in our world. These projects were not bad, and indeed many good things happened. However, I sustained them, and I was now drained and exhausted. I knew God, yet hadn’t fathomed how to engage and live out of the heavenly resources available to me. I did not know how to make my way into God’s presence. I had the theory yet lacked any meaningful practice. Practice that would require listening to the words of others, learning from their experience and working at establishing an effective life of prayer for myself. I didn’t particularly relish it; however, I knew I needed it. A journey started out of that period of exhaustion. A journey that was long in the making, and one that I shrank back from on numerous occasions.

barrenOf course a journey, as has often been said, begins with a single step. Mine was to step away from my insatiable appetite for platform, profile and personal affirmation. Whilst at the same time taking a step towards God, a step that carried me deeper into the wilderness. I had my own demons and temptations to face, identify and resist through the guidance of God’s spirit. So began what has been to date an eighteen year adventure, travelling deeper into the wilderness whilst simultaneously discovering God has personality and presence as my friend. The wilderness is a lonely place and often times it destabilises me as I observe so many worthy activities of which I am not a part. However, I choose to remain faithful to this road I am on, completely uncertain of where it might lead me.

 

108 square.inddSaturday January 4th, St. Cuthbert’s held an Epiphany Retreat looking at the Journey of the Magi. The theme was based upon how the Magi left the comfort of the familiar, pursued a star and found a king. Their journey was possible only because they reached beyond all they knew in pursuit of something they hungered for. Using the narrative of the coming of the Magi we explored living beyond life’s boundaries.

All our Retreats are small in number and so five of us spend the day initially reflecting on what we brought into the day and used a breathing prayer to set such distractions to one side in order to gaze upon Christ.

Lectio Divina on the story of the Magi recorded by St Matthew enabled each of us to connect that historic faith quest with our own journey in the footsteps of Jesus. There followed the opportunity personally to explore this in silence and solitude. So often our lives are surrounded with words – the words of others spoken or the internal narrative part influenced from our history and part impacted by the pressure of our tomorrow. Either way, we lose sight of the God we worship, the star disappears from view, because our attention is constantly diverted from our ultimate purpose of being still and knowing God. This day afforded an intentional opportunity to simply waste time in the presence of the Divine.

Lunch provided a wonderful opportunity to share stories over a fine feast, for as we feasted upon God’s revelation, so we mirrored Jesus’ own love of communicating around the meal table.

And then in the afternoon there was time to reflect upon the journey of prayer, the way of purgation, illumination and union. We focussed upon purgation – listening individually to what God had to say about those obstacles that constantly stood in the way of our setting out and leaving the seekingknown in accepting God’s invitation to explore the unknown of Divine love. The day concluded with stories around the hearth of the insights God had given and we were enriched.

All left rested and I am grateful for one comment that captures both the heartbeat of the day and the intention of the life of the Oratory here, ‘Thanks so much for our day of reflection. A great way to start the year for me. It made me realise that our spiritual life needs the help of a structure or framework to enrich our relationship with God. It poses a challenge about what I do about church now. No hurry!

Our next Retreat here in the Oratory is March 1st, 2014 – St David’s Day. We only accept six retreatants for the day. No charge although contributions to the work of the Oratory are invited on the day. The day runs from 9:15-4:30. To find out more email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com.

Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening and an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts‘ Thomas Merton.

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