There comes a time when God appears to change. This may happen many times in a life. It is not so much that God feels distant or absent, though this may also be the case. It is more that you look for God in the usual place, or you think of God in the usual way, and this no longer seems to work. The usual is no longer satisfying, or now seems childish or naïve, or has become intellectually lacking. It is not that you no longer want God. It is not that you no longer want to pray. It is that you thought you knew and now you are not so sure.
A few years ago I was at a day conference with Silence in the City. It was a hot summer’s day. I was due to meet up with a couple of people later. Towards the end of the talk, both people sent texts begging off because of the heat. I was irritated. I do not understand being unable to cope with the heat. Just deal with it!
I had a discomfiting revelation the next day. I was at a meeting in a church in the City. There was so much noise: the interminable roar of traffic and the beeping of reversing trucks; the wearing whir of air-conditioning; the repetitious patronising announcements on public transport. I struggle with noise. I get steamed up. I just want some silence!
Stop asking God for what you think you want.
What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion to a matter but for our suppleness in falling into His hands for Him to work in us.Benedicta Ward, Discernment: A Rare Bird
When I ask people what they say to God, they often tell me they ask God to change their, or other people’s, attitudes, behaviours, and situations.
A manager asks God for more patience (with her difficult colleagues).A mother worries about her adult children’s standing with God and prays God will make them come back to church (which bores them stupid).
A man feels guilty that he feels angry towards his husband (who never helps out at home) and asks God to help him be kinder.
A vicar (who is harried by a demanding congregation) asks God to help her enjoy visiting the sick.
A city dweller (who is fed up with the frenetic lifestyle and noisy, dirty streets) asks God for help to find a place to live in Cornwall.
I’m feeling a lot of fear at the moment (more on this another time). I want God to stop me being afraid.
This is the pre-emptive strike. I make my request before giving God an opportunity to comment: “I know what is wrong. Please sort it out.” Not that I think I know what I need better than God does; rather, I fend off being vulnerable with God.
I was lost – tired, overwhelmed, and angry. A wise woman once said to me that underneath anger is hurt or fear. I felt hurt. And frightened.
I s(k)ulk through the night.
In the early morning, I leave resentment on the other side of the door. I find a way back to myself. I become my breath, become this body, become, by and by, the sensation of being alive.
Too often prayer is presented as petition.
But the word ‘prayer’ is simply religious jargon for relationship with what we call God.
In truth, there are only three prayers.
Prayer is properly not petition, but simply attention to God which is a form of love.Iris Murdoch, On ‘God’ and ‘Good’ in Existentialists And Mystics
1. “Here I am.”
Inevitably, when I sit and pray in the morning I wish for a new, improved me. I lack kindness to myself. I try to think my way into becoming better. I try to think about how to sort out my life. I try to think about what to do. But thinking is not prayer.
Presence is prayer.
Every day I go to my chair and I sit in the early morning light or dark. I set down my glass of water. I look into Your face. I’m pretty consistent about this. I get anxious if it is put off or I miss the appointment.
Every day I struggle.
I come with feelings of failure and inadequacy and waste.
I come wanting to be fixed.
I come to be sorted out.
I come wanting to know.
I come longing to be lifted up into a realm of light and eternity.
I come knowing there is so little time.
It is Saturday morning. There is nothing I have to do – or nothing urgent. I sit at the open window in my pyjamas with the sunshine, the trees now in full leaf, the early morning birdsong, the air touching my face. This is what I want to do. This is how I want life to be always: nothing I have to do. I feel my upper chest relax, right into my shoulder joints, as I allow the truth and trust of this fully to sink in. Though it is my ritual upon waking to sit here, to pray and meditate, I don’t feel the need to do something ‘spiritual’. I want to sit and look out of the window and do nothing (except for the mostly unnoticed actions that occur autonomically: respiration, blood flow, peristalsis: this body is a dynamic system that does not rest – until it does).
Then sigh not so, but let them go,Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.
People will often say that they can’t pray. When asked they will say that they are unable to make their minds still or empty of thoughts. Somehow they have acquired the fantasy that to be able to pray they have to be able to stop the hubbub of thoughts that happen. At this point I am reminded of what was said to me on a course in mindfulness: “When your mind wanders, this is not a problem.”
A couple of years ago I wrote this blessing. It garnered significantly more interest than anything else I have written here. Strictly speaking I didn’t write it. It was given to me early one Monday morning, not long after Easter, and I wrote it down.