CT Friday April 10th2020
“Love comes from prayer and prayer comes from remaining in seclusion” wrote Isaac of Syria. Somehow I don’t think he envisaged the seclusion of the lock-down that has been imposed on society in recent weeks. His seclusion was a matter of personal choice, an accepted circumstance of the journey.
So how might we use our enforced seclusion in these troubled days?
Teilhard de Chardin found himself in the Ordos Desert in China in 1923, unable to offer the Eucharist. In his memorable text ‘The Mass on the World’ he wrote these opening words
‘Since once again, Lord I have neither bread, norwine, nor altar,
I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of thereal itself. I your priest will make the whole earth my altar
and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.’
Faced as we are with days and weeks without the Eucharist, maybe now is the time to reflect on our experience of prayer. In Mark’s gospel we are told ‘In the morning, long before Dawn He got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.’ The choice of where to pray and when to pray has come down to us through subsequent years; for now, this Spring, we have limited options.
It might be worth reflecting on the words of a few writers who have spoken to us on prayer rather than reinvent the wheel. The life of Sr. Wendy Beckett was known to many through her presentation of artists with her popular television programmes. She wrote a book entitled ‘Simple Prayer’in which she tells us that ‘…the essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God. What will God do? He will take possession of us.’ So before any consideration of words, there is the recognition of helplessness, of our standing in need, waiting for the Lord. What we bring to prayer is our presence, we then leave God to do the rest.
An American Cistercian nun, Sr. Sheryl Chen offers these words in her book entitled ‘Prayer is my business’. ‘I entered the Cistercian monastery because I wanted a life of prayer. I got God instead. I have come to understand a life of prayer as finding God in each moment of the day, not just in the times when we are in church’.That is relevant given our present circumstances. We find the Lord where we are, wherever that might be.
In a similar manner the Benedictine monk, John Main tells us that
‘Prayer passes through words and ultimately reaches an experience of God that is beyond our human expression. Above all, it demands time for silence, time for the space between words, time for God to speak to us’.
The theme of quiet listening is ever present, our insistence on speaking gets in the way of our listening, our impatience prevents the realisation of true prayer.
Another Benedictine, Bede Griffiths, who lived most of his life in an ashram in India spoke of prayer in this way. ’Prayer must lead us to total surrender or it will lead us nowhere except back to our selves. It is this surrender that we fear so much and this is why Prayer is such a fearsome and dangerous thing. This is why following Christ is indeed a risky business. Prayer is part of this adventure. Do not fool yourself once you encounter God you will no longer be the same person you were before.’ He talks of risk, of danger, of change and of adventure. Just as the exploration of a relationship for two young people is a step into the unknown, so also is the experience of prayer an extraordinary occasion.
Rabbi Lionel Blue, known to many through his contributions to the Radio 4 ‘Thought for the Day’slot reflected on prayer with these few words broadcast in February, 2002. ‘I have found that prayer doesn’t change the cosmos but it does change me’.Life is a pattern of change, no two days the same. Sometimes we are enthusiastic and wake with an ‘up and at it’ energy, eager for the day ahead. At other times, we feel listless and over-burdened and the hours drag on. It is then, that takento the edge, we face the emptiness of words that once had meaning. We face the loss of surety where, in the cold stillness of each dawn hour, in the breaking light, the echo of words remains and the dance continues.
Prayer is a constant companion on our journey, with all the pitfalls and difficulties we come across. There is consolation in the words of the Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett ‘Ever tried, ever failed, never mind try again, fail better’.
Try to pray again, go well and stay safe.
I – Thursday
Stripped to bare stone
this empty place
gathered the words of early evening.
we took the food
we have no right
for hunger hurts.
lit our darkness|
we sang simple woven words
to long fingered strings.
and high among the stars
the white cloud of the Easter visitor.
II – Friday
Now the word
Now the time
Now the pain
Now the hope
Now the tree
Now the lamb|
Now the dark
III – Saturday
With the setting of the sun
search the heavens and the earth
seek in these evening hours
the stillness and wonder of Dawn
when this darkness, drifting
through these empty hours,
and light of cockcrow
turns the shadow of this empty lodging
gaze in wonder at the heavens
and touch this turning.
IV – Sunday
Then speak the Word.