Saturday, 19 July 2014

When Prayer Gets in the Way of Praying ...

Henri Nouwen, in his journal from his months in a Trappist Monastery, The Genesee Diary, does quite a bit of reflecting on prayer - how it can be a struggle, how much it is  needed, the ways in which it enhances our living. 

However, in the end, perhaps it is simply something we need to do.

We like to explain things, but there is a sense in which prayer is beyond explanation.  Equally, we like to understand things, but there is a sense in which prayer is to be experienced, rather than understood.

Nouwen writes this: "Writing about prayer is often very painful since it makes you so aware of how far away you are from the ideal you write about.  ....  While it is true that in order to pray you have to empty your heart and mind for God, you also have to empty your heart and mind of your feelings and ideas on prayer.  Otherwise, prayer gets in the way of praying.  ....  It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not to fall into a long inner discussion with myself."

Of course, it is good to reflect about prayer sometimes - but the really important thing is to pray.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Prayer as a Sneeze

I really like Rowan Williams' image of prayer as a sneeze in his little book that covers the essentials of the Christian faith - "Being Christian".  He writes: "Prayer .. is .. like sneezing - there comes a point when you can't not do it.  The Spirit wells and surges up towards God the Father.  But because of this there will be moments when, precisely because you can't help yourself, it can feel dark and unrewarding, deeply puzzling, hard to speak about."

It is interesting that so many people would admit to struggles in prayer - and yet it is through prayer that we can actively engage with God, listening as well as speaking.  But, yes, it is true - sometimes we just have to pray!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Men Behaving Badly

I have been reading John Goldingay’s ‘Men Behaving Badly’ (Paternoster, 2000) in which he explores the male characters in 1 and 2 Samuel.  The third chapter talks about the Philistines and their god Dagon (1 Samuel 5 – 7).  It points out that politics and religion often get mixed together.  In particular, Goldingay comments on our many attempts to pin God down, trying to enforce a conformity to what we want.  But God is always beyond.  God is not to be bound by our restrictions.  As Goldingay puts it with reference to the desire to restrict God to God’s house: “The nature of a house is to be in a fixed location.  Yahweh liked being flexible, being on the move, able to go off and do new things.  Human beings prefer God to be predictable.  If you can get God to settle down, then you know where you are with God.  ……  When a human being like David wants to build God a house, that implicitly reverses the relationship between God and human beings.  It turns that relationship into one whereby you look after God instead of God looking after you.  It is another aspect of control, of the human desire to domesticate God.” (p. 41/2)
We might think that our understanding has moved on from such ideas – but is that really so?  Are we not still just as inclined to want God to do things our way?  So how can we break out of that kind of thinking?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A General Assembly

I have just returned from the bi-annual General Assembly of the United Reformed Church which has been meeting in Cardiff.  We have been thinking a lot about water, its life-giving nature and the need to drink deeply.  We have had a range of interesting, and sometimes challenging discussions, not least a difficult conversation around same-sex marriage.  We have talked about many of the critical issues in society at large, the wider church and our own denomination.  We have learned a lot, felt both pain and joy, but, above all, been aware of the presence of God.

We talked about the future of the denomination and the gifts it offers to the wider church, particularly those of conciliarity and eldership.  We have talked about the riches to be gained from expansive and inclusive language.  We have remembered the 100th anniversary of the outbreak o World War 1, hearing from both a German pastor and a serving forces chaplain.  We considered the education of those training for the ministry and how it is funded.  We have recognised the pain of the people of Scotland, including those not now living there, whatever the result of September's referendum on Scottish independence.  We talked about foodbanks and mental health and the challenges faced in those two very different areas. 

What am I left with?  Perhaps a couple of sentences from the Synod Moderators' report provides a summary: "Confidence in all that God is and all that God promises us through Jesus Christ is at the heart of our discipleship.  The refreshing and renewing of the Holy Spirit received as a gift to individuals and to churches is the key to our renewal."