Sister Wendy Beckett was a Roman Catholic contemplative who knew a great deal about art. You may have seen her on tv talking about it, or you may have read one of her many books on the subject. She also wrote about prayer, and there is a quotation that I attribute to her that has stayed with me. “If God is love, and prayer is important, then it cant in principle be difficult.” Certainly she was convinced that “prayer is simple.”
Some time ago I was sitting talking with a friend in my shed. I don’t recall the context, but I do remember very clearly something that he said. I have no memory of what prompted it. He said “ Sadness has been my constant companion throughout my life.” It took me quite by surprise, and I have never forgotten it.
Recent events have left me feeling helpless and in a dark place. Our decision, based mainly on lies, to leave the EU, leaves me with a sense of shame at being English. We are letting both ourselves and our European friends down badly.
We have a government which is already underfunding the NHS, our schools, and the social care provision for the poor and needy, as well as undermining the judiciary and making strangers feel unwelcome, while the wealthy prosper. I expect it to get worse.
We have a PM who lies, runs from difficulties and scrutiny, and lacks empathy & compassion. I wouldn’t trust him with sixpence.
Meanwhile, the Church of England, in a state of decline, is facing the wrong way and asking the wrong questions, at a national and at a Diocesan level.
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.
The other day the friend of a friend posted on Facebook. His wife is in remission from illness and he expressed gratitude for “prayer, pills, and positivity” – a nicely balanced message I thought. Amidst predominantly supportive responses, two comments got my goat: “Don’t forget to give the doctors and drugs some credit!!” and “Why not give credit to the God we pray to?” Both of these suggestions were redundant: “pills” covered the first quibble, “prayer” the second.
1 Every human being has a vocation [a calling from God], probably several, and honouring them is what brings us fully alive. One of mine is to be a priest. I will only be fully myself by being a priest, and I will be the priest I am called to be by being fully myself: priesthood will then flow naturally through me. Every priest will exercise their priesthood in a unique way, and their other vocations will inform the way they do so. Mine has at its core a search for meaning in life: a search that involves my body, head, heart & soul. I also have a need to share what is shown me.
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.
July 2018: I go with family to the observatory at Herstmonceux. We listen to a talk about the telescopes. We are shown pictures of starry skies from when the telescopes were operational. One photograph has a patch of dark sky. Or so it seems. More recently, the story goes, the Hubble space telescope was trained on that patch for three months to intercept lonely, long-distance-running photons. Like a magic trick, a teeming starfield appears. That dark patch is bright.
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!
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.
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