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‘The Nearest: Devotion Not Devotions’

An Admission: I don’t have a quiet-time’. So begins this book by Tim Ross, a Methodist minister, on prayer. I don’t know about you, but I am already hooked. This has been my guilty secret too. Now I find I share this failing with at least one other Christian, and his publishers evidently think there may be enough of us in this boat to make Tim’s book worth publishing. I agree with his publishers…

He is not suggesting that those who have managed to organise their lives to include a set time for daily prayer should change. Many busy people manage to fit a lot into their lives because they are as organised as the hero of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’:

[Passepartout] observed…a programme of the daily routine of the house. It comprised all that was required of the servant, from eight in the morning, exactly at which hour Phileas Fogg rose, till half-past eleven, when he left the house for the Reform Club—all the details of service, the tea and toast at twenty-three minutes past eight, the shaving-water at thirty-seven minutes past nine, and the toilet at twenty minutes before ten. Everything was regulated and foreseen that was to be done from half-past eleven a.m. till midnight.


Tim guides us through the different Christian disciplines and approaches which have historically regarded prayer as a time when we move from where we are to where God is (even if we no longer think of him as a man with a white beard on a cloud, most traditions still visualise God as physically apart from us, a very spatial way of thinking about him). Tim now suggests that we, the busy or the merely disorganised, look differently at our relationship with God:

Incarnation – that is the beginning of the Gospel. In the stories of Jesus stilling storms he does not transport the disciples to the safety of the shore; in one account he comes to them from the shore, whilst in the other he is already in the same boat with them, but in neither account does he whisk them away from the storm. He saves us not by removing us from the world, but by being with us, sharing in all that we experience, and by healing and restoring us where we are. Surely this is what we should take to form the basis for a model of Christian spirituality. God is no longer remote, up there, The Furthest, but in Jesus he is Emmanuel, God with you, The Nearest. Now he is nearer to you than the storm. He is in the same boat with you. He is infinitely nearer to you even than a quiet-time.


So now we understand the title of the book: God is as near to us as it is possible to be (‘the nearest’) and we are to try another way of showing our devotion. Of course, those in monastic orders who do pray at set times also aspire with Tim to hold God in their hearts – here beautifully described by Sr Ruth Starman:

As the Holy Spirit dwells in the sanctuary of our heart and is unceasingly praying in us, we ourselves carry within us a constant prayer. But most of us are unconscious of his presence and the prayer which continuously goes on in us. Our heart lies asleep and needs to be awakened to this inner reality. The Jesus Prayer is a powerful means for awakening our heart, enabling us to become aware of the secret indwelling of the Spirit in a conscious way. For too long our heart lies dormant within us like the seed lying beneath the winter snow. Finally spring comes. Snow melts away under the warmth of the sun and the little seed begins to sprout forth with its latent energy. In the same way the name of Jesus, which radiates his power and energy, warms up and awakens our heart from its winter lethargy.


This is a book that has already changed my life. Tim has this to offer the Marthas:

Brother Lawrence, a French lay brother serving in a Carmelite Monastery in the 17th century, discovered the secret of living always in the presence of God. He called it, “The Practice of the Presence.” As a lay brother, he worked in the kitchens and as a cobbler, doing the kind of day-to-day tasks which may have otherwise kept the monks from their prayers and studies. Though he loved God very deeply this meant that he was not able to spend long periods in prayer, as the monks did. Instead he found that, by keeping his love for God awake in his consciousness all the time he was doing his daily duties, he was able to live continually in the presence of God.


And I leave you with his prescription for a life of nearness to God:

It is your uniqueness that God loves and values the most. Far more than any type of service or ministry you may be able to offer him. You mean more to God than the sum of all your actions, spiritual or otherwise. Find God and let yourself be found by him, and let that fulfill your desire for meaning and worth. All that your life entails, from traveling to work in the car, to going to the supermarket or just doing the washing up, is the Garden in which you walk in the presence of God.

Amen to that!



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You can read more about Tim Ross’s ideas for prayer, with some examples here.

The book is published by Circle Books, John Hunt in the USA on 16 September and in the UK on 30 September, but you can order it in advance from for $13.57 + postage, The Book Depository for £8.99 including postage or amazon(uk). It is in paperback, with 175 pages.

ISBN 13: 9781846945083
ISBN 10: 1846945089

6 comments on this post:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Laura, thanks for your review. The book sounds lovely. I live a minimally organized life, and I’ve tried and tried the quiet time, but it does not work for me.

Brother Lawrence’s little book changed my life. I still have my yellowed paperback that I bought many years ago, which I’ve read several times, and which I will now read once again, since you’ve called it to my attention. Although I am no Brother Lawrence, I learned from him to keep in mind that God is always present and available and to stop beating myself because I don’t have a regular quiet time set aside.

Most days, I pray the short form of individual Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the prayer book, read the Lectionary readings of the day, and offer my prayers of petition and thanksgiving. Some days I forget even the Lectionary.

I do turn to God fairly often during the day, most often to ask for help, but also to give thanks.

Brother Lawrence said that God was no less present to him when he was busy as the cook in the kitchen of the monastery as when he was in adoration before the Sacrament.

20 August 2011 18:37
Erika Baker said...

There is nothing that annoys me as much as people telling you how you have to pray, what “works” and what doesn’t.

It’s between you and God and you do whatever helps you to feel close to God or whatever gets you through the night.

When my children were little and I was trying to fit work and family and friends and church into my day, I didn’t have the time for quiet prayer. When I did manage to find 10 quiet minutes I sat down with the paper for some relaxation!
It was during that time that God truly found me and just upheld me throughout my day. You can think while you cook, you can feel God’s presence in your life while you bathe a baby.

Later, there were phases of intense contemplative prayer, and they too had their place and time and were absolutely life changing.

Now I do what God calls me to do as and when. That can be a quiet 10 minute prayer, an hour a day, a few snatched thoughts a day, or simply the “knowing” that God is there and with me.

It’s between the pray-er and God, all everyone else can do is make suggestions of what works for them. There are no rules. There’s no right or wrong.

20 August 2011 19:56
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you,Grandmère Mimi. I must say, I had not heard of Brother Lawrence before so the whole idea was a revelation to me. As I am very bad at sticking to a routine, I have high hopes of developing the Lawrence-Ross prescription!

20 August 2011 20:04
Lay Anglicana said...

I don’t know why it is so liberating, Erika, to hear ‘there are no rules’. I have been cheerfully applying this idea to the rest of my life with no compunction for years but, as Tim says, there is such a weight of history behind ‘The Rule’ of Benedict and others that I have continued to feel guilty for not keeping up to the mark.

20 August 2011 20:07
Erika Baker said...

Laura, if God wants to find you, he will. If you can respond, you will. That’s the only connection that has to be made. Your relationship then is as individual as any other relationship you have.

I struggle with this idea that we have to make it all happen and that there is a right way of doing it.
It’s a two way thing and I believe that God is as much in the process as we are. We really don’t have to do this on our own, and following rules to get there is… well, it works for some, and God will meet those people in and through their rules.
But it doesn’t work for all of us, and yet he’s still there for us to be met.

Guilt is not necessary. Rejoicing at his ability to catch up with us might be.

20 August 2011 22:30
Lynda Alsford said...

I am looking forward to this book even more now. I am totally with Tim in that I rarely have a traditional quiet time as such. I used to feel guilty about this but now I don’t. two years ago I lost my faith completely. It took a year or more to return to God, now since my return to faith my view of God has changed and he has in fact become much nearer to me. I feel more now that he is living in me by the Holy Spirit and that he and I are one. I loved Brother Lawrence’s book too when I read it Can’t wait to read Tim’s book.

21 August 2011 17:37

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