Our individual prayer time is foundational to our spiritual life along with our gathering Sunday by Sunday on the Lord's Day, in the Lord's House, with the Lord's People around the Table of the Lord.
One of the most important things about our daily prayer is in fact the time we give. Whatever we feel or don't feel at prayer the offering of 5, 10, 15 minutes daily is pivotal.
Archbishop Ramsey's quote – when asked how long he prayed for each day he said about two min but it sometimes took him half an hour to get there.
Time matters. It is also important to offer Our Lord what we might call ‘prime time’.
We will make way for him better when we are most fully ourselves. Some say the morning is the best, avoiding that burned out feeling at night, and I am one of those who prays in the morning, with more of a nod to God at night.
Time, and then secondly, place. At St Mary’s we are all privileged to have a church that is open all day. Or we might have a prayer space at home. We need then to be quiet, but perhaps not too quiet so we keep our feet on the ground. In a household there needs to be agreement. (My own set up). We need perhaps to be comfortable, not so much that we fall asleep. Prayer invites attentiveness. Some people say a hard backed chair gives you that business like feeling.
Then what - now we move onto the real business of prayer and for that we enter on a number of options as starting points. Prayer is a lifting of heart and mind to God and there are many different ‘airports’ for lift off. Wherever you ‘lift off’ from you have to be ‘there’ to get a lift.
Story of Theology professor Tom Smail’s sharing about prayer. God beating him on the head to get his religion from his head to his heart - the vital 14" - to be ‘there’.
So I’m there, ready. Before the start of my prayer I decide how my prayer will set off.
Shall I choose a bible passage? Or am I so tired it would be better to sit looking at the Cross? Is there a piece of paper with some prayer biddings that I could start from? Or something that struck me in that sermon on Sunday? Or that spiritual book I’m reading? Shall I get my rosary out? Or say the Jesus Prayer to empty my mind of distraction? Today I will say Common Worship Daily Prayer and stop to contemplate wherever the Spirit underlines something. Or - it’s about time I did a thorough self-examination so I’ll get out a sin list or read the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and see where love, joy, peace and all the rest are growing in my life. There was something terrible on the news this morning so I’ll look up Job 38-40 and think how God is so wonderful and beyond us. I was asked to pray for that lady whose son’s on drugs so I’ll start with them before I forget and see where my intercession leads. Or – what a lovely view through the window this morning – the sun on the leaves. Let’s start there.
I say Let’s – prayer is something we do with God. It’s also a human discipline. It helps to have a decided basis or presupposition, so called, as you start your prayer. It also matters to hold yourself to it eg. holding the bible for all 20 minutes to keep the focus.
Confession of sin before you pray is important – the bottom line for prayer is honesty.
Scripture is important - read through prayerfully until God touches your Spirit and then holding yourself at that point once such a prayerful impulse has been given to you. In prayer we talk to the Lord – and we listen! Scripture is so often God’s mouthpiece to us through which we hear his guiding voice. Listen so that you can do what Jesus says!
Story of my own use of Luke 7.11-17 The Widow of Nain (my mother) - ‘he gave him to his mother’.
Explain how the expectation of scripture speaking to me had been raised by spiritual direction over a retreat and how I had experienced spiritual direction and we have the same opportunity 16-22 September down the road in Haywards Heath.
For Christ to dwell in our hearts we need to be exposed to his radiant love. Christian friends, holy priests, spiritual directors all of these help – but nothing can replace our own individual business with God, particularly silent contemplation. When did you last sit in quiet before the Lord?
Contemplation is a true refreshing of the soul. There is a story of how the Cure d’Ars, that great French saint of the 19th century, kept seeing a peasant sitting every day in church before the altar. What are you doing? He once asked him. ‘I look at him and he looks at me’ the peasant told the priest.
I’ve heard such contemplative prayer described as ‘spiritual radiotherapy’. St Augustine once said that ‘the whole purpose of life is the healing of the heart’s eye through which God is seen’. The Lady Chapel with the Blessed Sacrament reservation and its light is a particularly graced place away from services. ‘I look at him and he looks at me’
A barrier to contemplation is the way our minds get so distracted that our hearts are hindered from contemplation. This is where the repeating of short words can be helpful as in the Orthodox Jesus prayer - you may be interested in my book (show) on Using the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer is ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’. It combines Peter’s act of faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the prayer of the Publican, ‘Lord have mercy on me, a sinner’. It's simple yet profound, a biblical prayer we can trace back to the 4th century with a gift of settling the mind towards God. It’s always been central to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Orthodox influence on the Anglican monastery I visit in the woods at Crawley Down was my initial encouragement to use this form of prayer at all times. This monastery by the way always welcomes visitors.
I have found the Jesus Prayer contains the power of Jesus’ name and draw pray-ers more profoundly into the faith of his church and to deeper value scripture, sacrament, creed and commandments.
The simplification of anxiety and mental distraction sought in Buddhist type mindfulness exercises is found in the Jesus Prayer as, if you like, ‘God-given mantra’. Above all the Prayer helps relate worship to life and builds indwelling in God’s merciful love.
Prayer is a lifting of heart and mind to God. It’s a forgetting of self and a remembering of God. Because of our fallen nature that’s not natural. Though prayer’s a gift it's also a life-long struggle. That struggle is against self-love, self-pity and self-will in all its guises and disguises. It's a resolve to consecrate heart and mind, body and soul into God’s praise and service and not our own.
Through the discipline of prayer our aspirations, affections, resolutions, searchings, and strivings get directed away from ourselves to God. Our bodies are pledged to work for him in full health and ability. Our hearts open to enshrine the love of Christ as the principle of our whole being: life in remembrance of God, forgetful of self.
It’s been said that the Church of England is like a swimming pool. All the noise comes from the shallow end. St Mary’s is not a noisy Church as far as I can tell. Pray God, we have a depth about us and we want to go deeper. We don't particularly want to be 'intelligent' Church or 'with it' Church or even 'high Church' so much as 'deep' Church - do we?
Christianity is the gift of Jesus but it involves us in the task of prayerful devotion. Through that devotion, renewed in us as individuals, may others catch on to what Jesus is doing and be drawn to him through us.
When the church becomes a house of prayer it’s said the whole world will come running!