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Category - "Prayer":

Thought for the week: am I pointing towards God? – Taylor Carey


Throughout his writing life, one painting hung above the desk of the famous theologian Karl Barth. It was Matthias Grünewald’s Crucifixion, which, in its original form, made up part of the great Isenheim Altarpiece built for a monastery in Alsace. The Crucifixion is a shocking and intensely moving masterpiece. Christ’s body is pitted with lacerations and sores. His fingers are splayed in agony, whilst his ribbed chest heaves against the onslaught of his violent demise. It is impossible to contemplate Grünewald’s masterpiece without absorbing a crucial message: here is a God who speaks to the suffering, because here is a God who suffers.

But there is more to the Crucifixion than mere morbidity. Standing beneath the Cross, pointing towards his Master, is the figure of John the Baptist. This is clearly anachronistic, since John was executed, upon the orders of Herod, in 29 AD. Yet Grünewald isn’t making an historical mistake; on the contrary, Karl Barth, for one, took the interaction between Jesus and John in this painting as deeply symbolic of the basic model for Christian life, witness, and worship.

Behind the figure of John are the words given to the Baptist in the Fourth Gospel: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30). For Barth, this disclosed an essential truth about the vocation of the Church. Christians must become ‘signs’ that point to God. We must be that ‘pointing hand’ which directs everything beyond ourselves, to the One who has already turned towards us. Only when it does this is the Church fulfilling its purpose and mission. In a quite different context, this idea can be found amongst the sayings of the Desert Fathers of fourth-century Egypt, who maintained that ‘Our life and death are with our neighbour’. Our lives must be liberated from the constraints of our own ego, to be made into signs that, like the Baptist’s pointing hand, lead our gaze to God.

But this is not just a God ‘above’, a God who is distant from earthly woe. Our gazing at God brings us into the deepest reality of this world, since that is where God is to be found, in stillness, silence, and prayer. Far from forgetting the troubles, injustices, and joys we face on a daily basis, by becoming a pointing hand, we bring a little of God’s freedom into them, and we inhabit them in a radically new way.

This week, many will participate in a prayer vigil for Gaza. Our prayers for all those in that region, whose plight can be so easily forgotten, are not simply naïve requests for a convenient celestial solution. Rather, they are responses to an urgency of suffering, made by women and men who seek to place themselves as an interface between a dire need and the constant activity of a loving and creative God. The Christian who prays about Gaza seeks to make themselves into a sign, or a pointing hand, in order to bring about a transformation of humanity, and to bring something of God’s creative freedom to bear upon situations of tragedy. They seek, in the words of a well-known prayer, to be made into ‘instruments’ of God’s peace. This undoubtedly involves facing up to the terrible depths of human sin and error, but, as Grünewald’s suffering Christ shows us, these are depths already endured and overcome by God’s love.

So, are we living up to the Baptist’s model as ‘pointers’ to God? Do we, in our daily lives, stand before the Cross, and commit ourselves to dispossession and embrace? Christ’s body might be ugly and distressing – more so with every death and bereavement in Gaza – because this is a body totally transparent to the reality and suffering of the world. And yet, like Grünewald’s masterpiece, it is also surely beautiful, because it speaks of hope, and of God’s presence here and now. And so it speaks of a world of peace, of swords beaten into ploughshares, and the Church at last singing the very music of God.

Editor’s Note

I find this piece by  Taylor very moving, as I expect our readers will too. As a footnote I add a picture of the Crucifixion hanging above Barth’s modest desk.170px-Karl_Barth_Desk



Jim Cotter’s Prayers Inspired By Psalm 23


Shep01The Shepherd and the Host

That we and all human beings may draw close in friendship and in God.

Dear God, you sustain and feed me:
like a shepherd you guide me.
You lead me to an oasis of green,
to lie down by restful waters.
Quenching my thirst, you restore my life:
renewed and refreshed, I follow you,
a journey on the narrowest of paths.

ps23 001


Even when cliffs loom out of the mist,
my step is steady because of my trust.
Even when I go through the deepest valley,
with the shadow of darkness and death,
I shall fear no evil or harm
For you are with me to give me strength,
your crook, your staff, at my side.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Even in the midst of my troubles,
with the murmurs of those who disturb me,
I know I can feast in your presence.
You spread a banquet before me,
you anoint my head with oil,
you stoop to wash my feet,
you fill my cup to the brim.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Your loving kindness and mercy
will meet me every day of my life.
By your Spirit you dwell within me,
and in the whole world around me,
and I shall abide in your house,
content in your presence for ever.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Wise and loving shepherd, guiding your people in the ways of your truth, leading us through the waters of baptism, and nourishing us with the food of eternal life, keep us in your mercy, and so guide us through the perils of evil and depth, that we may know your joy at the heart of all things, both now and for ever.


Jim Cotter‘s death was announced in Holy Week. Simon Barrow’s memories of him can be read here. He published his own material, but was also published by Canterbury Press.

This is his description of himself on his website:

How can I sum up in a paragraph or two the common threads running through my adult and working life? I have been writing and speaking publicly for forty-five years, and haven’t stopped yet! I think I have been exploring, as a pilgrim soul, what it might mean to unfold afresh my spiritual and religious inheritance, and it has been both a personal and a public concern to try and connect that tradition with the experiences of being gay, undergoing two years of serious depression, and, more recently, living with leukaemia. In their time each of these has been a stigma, information that few people would wish to reveal when applying for a job. Hence much of my work has been as a free range writer, speaker, and publisher, sometimes precariously on the edge of organizations, though with much support and friendship from within them.

My hope is that the work will help those who are younger than I am both to renew their faith and to integrate it with their sexuality without getting depressed and without the stress which may well contribute to a cancer becoming symptomatic sooner than need be. And in that spirit I dedicate this new website to those who, in their generations, pioneered enlightenment, wisdom, and treatments, at no little cost to themselves, so that my life has been richer than it would otherwise have been.
Jim Cotter, Aberdaron

‘Barefoot Prayers’ by Stephen Cherry

bp 001Why barefoot? Well, in ‘The Life of Pi‘, the Bharata Natyam teacher explains to her dance class:

‘If you do not concentrate, you cannot express your love of God through dance. Feel the ground beneath your feet, open your gaze out onto the horizon. Let that spiritual energy pulsate through you and out into the world through abhinaya.”

In this beguiling book, Stephen Cherry does not make this connection explicit, but it is clear he is on the same page:

‘Prayer is not something we do. It is what God does in and through us. It is the Spirit in our hearts. It is the Spirit’s inarticulate groans and sighs, which are often too deep for words yet somehow, sometimes, verbal.  We pray in the same way as a clarinet sounds: as the breath of another passes through us. We pray in the same way that a harp sings: when someone plucks our strings. We pray, sometimes, as the drum declaims when struck by hand or stick and we make a bang or a boom. To pray is to make a sound, more than, or before, it is to make a thought. The voice of prayer is never silent: but it is often without words.

Poets speak of the muse that may or may not be there for them. This is an apt metaphor for the Spirit. It cannot be conjured up. It blows where it will (John 3.8). There is no possibility of controlling it; the best we can do is cooperate and collaborate. And that is absolutely the best we can do. To be in tune with God’s Spirit, to let God’s Spirit call the tune from the instrument that we are: this is the height of Christian spirituality, Christian living and Christian service.

Prayer requires a strange blend of dispositions: self-forgetful presence and absorption. It is self-aware but not self-conscious. As soon as the self becomes interested in itself, or drawn towards prideful self-regard or abject self-loathing, the moment of prayer has passed. Only the self-accepting person can pray, and yet it is the person who cannot accept him or herself who most needs to pray.

Although prayer itself is not self-conscious, people who pray will often experience several layers of self-consciousness. This is normal and natural and not to be worried about, though it is also, to be frank, a bit of a nuisance. God is very close to us and yet not manifest in any obvious way. So when we go looking for God, it is very likely that we will find not God but ourselves, or some aspect of ourselves. It may be our recent memories, it might be a digestive problem or headache or the realization that we can not get comfortable. As we get beyond that, we encounter our worries…Beyond them, we encounter our desires and the dream world of our fantasies….And yet true prayer is neither about settling at any of these levels nor battling with them, but rather letting them all fall away: forgetting them as we pay calm attention not to the trumpet-call of our now rather irritated self, but to the breathy sound of the Spirit that has always been praying through us but which we have drowned out by the cacophony of self-regard that is our normal waking state.

…Some things can’t be hurried. We need to wait for them to happen. They cannot be forced. Prayer is not a strain, but a response to grace. It is not us rolling up our sleeves to get on with it, but us waiting patiently and expectantly and inviting God to do God’s thing in God’s time. We can only pray when we let go of the desire, deep-seated in us though it is, to control; when we remember that we are not God.


The above extract is from the introduction to Barefoot Prayers. I have found this book like Heineken, refreshing the parts that other tracts have not succeeded in reaching and Stephen Cherry has gone to the top of the list of people I would most like to meet. Meanwhile, I am enjoying his blog, Another Angle. He tweets at @stephencherry1. For those who enjoy decrypting the terse prose of Crockford’s Clerical Directory, this is a (very) brief bio:

CHERRY, Canon Stephen Arthur. b 58. St Chad’s Coll Dur BSc79 Fitzw Coll Cam BA85 MA90 K Coll Lon PhD95. Westcott Ho Cam 83. d 86 p 87. C Baguley and Asst Chapl Wythenshawe Hosp Man 86-89; Chapl K Coll Cam 89-94; R Loughborough All SS w H Trin Leic 94-06; RD Akeley E 96-99; Hon Can Leic Cathl 04-06; Dir Min and Tr Dur from 06; Can Res Dur Cathl from 06.

If you have a poetic soul, and think a belief in God is less about analysing the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin than it is about a feeling of ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, then this is the book about prayer for you.

Luckily, there is the added incentive, apart from my recommendation, that it is the chosen book for Lent of the Big Read 2014. Dr Bex Lewis interviews Stephen Cherry here:

Seed Resources have uploaded part of the next bit of the introduction, headed ‘Barefoot Praying’.

Abba, Father: Kenneth Stevenson

Abba 001

I have chosen this Saturday’s reading because tomorrow the lectionary is all about the Lord’s Prayer. This book by the late Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Kenneth Stevenson, was published by Canterbury Press in 2000. Unsurprisingly, it is still in print and, if you do not have a copy on your bookshelves I urge you to treat yourself – he manages to be both learned and highly readable, a difficult feat to pull off and by the end I felt I had made a friend whom I was sad not to be able to meet, at least in this life. The book does not lend itself to the sort of rough and ready précis I have attempted on other occasions, so I have chosen one passage I found particularly moving.

 Chapter 3: Learning the Lord’s Prayer

Last night, going to bed alone, I suddenly found myself (I was taking off my waist-coat) reciting the Lord’s Prayer, in a loud, emphatic voice – a thing I had not done for many years – with deep urgency and profound and disturbed emotion. While I went on, I grew more composed; as if it had been empty and craving and were being replenished, my soul grew still; every word had a strange fullness of meaning which astonished and delighted me. It was late; I had sat up reading; I was sleepy; but as I stood in the middle of the floor half undressed saying the prayer over and over, meaning after meaning sprang from it; overcoming me again with joyful surprise; and I realised that simple petition was always universal and always inexhaustible, and day by day sanctified human life.

These words were written by the poet Edwin Muir in his personal diary on the first day of March 1939. He had reached a point of crisis in his life – his wife had been seriously ill, and the storm clouds of European war were looming. Under pressure (and what is wrong with pressure?) he found himself returning to a form of words that he had learnt as a boy; and in his autobiography, he noted that on his way home in dejection that evening, he came across some school children playing marbles, just as he had as a boy

Edwin Muir had a point of reference in his life on which he could draw in that moment of fear, doubt and anxiety. The prayer was already in his bones and suddenly it came to life and the repetitions of the past took on a new meaning. Many of us can identify with that pattern, a pattern of growing up with the prayer, but using it both in private and in public – perhaps realising that more people use it on their own than when gathered for worship! The Edwin Muir model is what many churches have traded on for centuries. The prayer is almost a given part of civilisation and it is there for us to use or come back to, as circumstances allow…

The Lord’s Prayer must not be consumerised (as if it ever could!), so that we seem to ‘learn’ it like ticking the box, then going on to something else. The Lord’s Prayer is a living expression of the Christian faith as something which is both supremely obvious and supremely difficult, easy to repeat in theory, but harder to put into practice – and certainly to be returned to again and again, as Edwin Muir himself learnt. When we recite those words, we are doing so in company with other people for whom the words may well be startlingly fresh. We have the opportunity to share in their newness, for – to use Jordan of Saxony‘s image – we ourselves might become the ignorant rather than the informed user, even though its glistening value is a Christian ‘given’.

The truth of the matter is that we are never going to learn the Lord’s Prayer fully, yet its most inviting linguistic features are its rhythmic style, strong in the original Aramaic, strong in the New Testament Greek, and still strong in the translations into countless tongues that have emerged ever since. There is one particular example of a man for whom the Lord’s Prayer seemed to know no bounds in the learning, and for whom it held a pivotal place in the liturgy. Martin Luther (1483-1546), the great German reformer, inherited from his Augustinian formation a deep love of the Lord’s Prayer, insisting on the promises of Christ as the background to faith itself. He wrote about it frequently, expounding it to different groups, making it central to his liturgy, and even writing a nine-verse metrical version of the prayer, Vater unser in Himmelreich, a melody that has inspired countless organists in the Lutheran tradition, J S Bach included, to improvise and reflect. In his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, he begins his treatment of the prayer thus:

Learn, therefore, that there can be no real prayer without this faith. But do you feel weak and fearful? Your flesh and blood are always putting obstacles in the way of faith, as if you are not worthy enough or ready enough or earnest enough to pray. Or do you doubt that God has heard you, since you are a sinner?

Thought For Saturday Of The Fourth Week In Lent: Evelyn Underhill

A Fish In The Sea

Mystics, trying to tell us of their condition, often say that they feel ‘sunk in God like a fish in the sea‘.

We pass over these phrases very easily, and forget that they are the final result of a long struggle to find the best image for an admittedly imageless truth. Yet prayer is above all the act in which we give ourselves to our soul’s true Patria; enter again that Ocean of God which is at once our origin and our inheritance, and there find ourselves mysteriously at home. And this strange, home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us, if we thought of the unmeasured depth beneath us, and the infinite extent and utter mystery of that Ocean into which we have plunged. As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keep us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy: content with our limited powers and the limitless Love in which we are held. Nothing in all nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment, as a fish in the sea. Its surroundings give to it a beauty, quality and power which is not its own. We take it out, and at once a poor, limp, dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life.

So the soul sunk in God, living the life of prayer, is supported, filled, transformed in beauty, by a vitality and power which are not its own. The souls of the saints are so powerful because they are thus utterly immersed in the Spirit: their whole life is a prayer. The Life in which they live and move and have their being gives them something of its own quality. So long as they maintain themselves within it, they are adequate to its demands, because fed by its gifts. This re-entrance into our Origin and acceptance of our true inheritance is the spiritual life of prayer, as it may be experienced by the human soul.

Far better to be a shrimp within that ocean than a full-sized theological whale cast upon the shore.


This week’s guest post from the hereafter is by Evelyn Underhill. 1875-1941

It is taken from ‘Lent with Evelyn Underhill’ (2006); the extract is from The Golden Sequence

The illustration comes from a photograph of S.E.A. Aquarium in the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore. Uploaded to Wikimedia in January 2013 by Smuconlaw.

Why ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ Is Sometimes Not Enough

Seen here from the Millennium Bridge, this picture makes it very clear that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the heart of the City of London. The past turbulent week has made it equally clear that the Church, while offering the vision of ‘a shining city on a hill’, needs also to be in the very midst of its people. Whether the ‘Occupy LSX’ protesters’ encampment was diverted to St Paul’s by a quirk of fate or, as some have suggested, the hand of God, they represent those with whom the Church needs to engage in this 21st century.

The  protesters have been criticised for not having solutions to the problems we face, but then no one else has the solutions either. What they do have is a series of questions which society as a whole, and the Church as part of that society, needs to debate. The Bishop of London offered a debate under the dome of St Paul’s, but a better response from the Church might be a ‘Fresh Expression’ of worship and debate, a more informal way of doing things. One can imagine the cry: ‘we asked for bread and you gave us petits fours‘.

The situation has precipitated a crisis at St Paul’s, with the unprecedented resignation (for different reasons) of its Dean, Canon Chancellor and Chaplain. Part of the reason for the resignations is the prospect of forcibly evicting the protesters. Although it is understandable that the reaction of the civil authorities in the City of London is that this ‘eyesore’ should be cleared away as soon as possible, and certainly in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show on 12th November,  those outside this charmed circle of plutocrats can’t help feeling that they still don’t ‘get it’. Tumbrils have been mentioned on Twitter (though admittedly in the context of ‘Downton Abbey’) but the plutocrats’ reaction is unfortunately reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, on being told that the people had no bread to eat, asking why on earth they did not eat brioche instead.

‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ did not work for Marie Antoinette, and I fear it will not work for St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church as a whole either.

Some leap of the imagination needs to be made. Some way of connecting with the protesters needs to be found. If the cathedral authorities have really decided that the single most important objective is their removal, then let it at least not be by riot police.

What about rigging up some amplification system and then, borrowing from our Catholic friends the system of Canonical Hours, broadcast at full volume the various offices of the day? These begin at 3.00 a.m. with Lauds and finish about 9.00 pm with Compline. Since the volume would need to be quite loud to have the desired effect, the clergy (working to a rota of course) might need to wear ear muffs. I suggest that after a day or two only the deafest and devoutest of the protesters would still be there, the others having decided to seek asylum elsewhere.


For me, the most encouraging photograph was of Bishop Richard Chartres sitting on a camp stool  in the thick of what looked like friendly but lively discussion. The questions that the protesters are asking are existential ones: why should the Christian faith not provide some of the answers? Over the last five centuries, the management of the Church of England has become as baroque as the architecture of St Paul’s. For those of us who appreciate that sort of thing, its baroque – or even rococo – qualities are part of the attraction. We know that underlying it all is ‘the old rugged cross’: perhaps we need to get it down from the belfries of our churches and show outsiders the essential simplicity of Christ’s answer to some of the most difficult questions, such as the rich young man who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.16-30).




The photograph was taken by Kunstlebob on 22 July 2011 and is made available under CCL via wikimedia.

‘Is There Anybody There?’ Said The Traveller

Do you ever get the feeling God is laughing at you? Not unkindly, just in a gently amused sort of way.

I have been travelling for most of my life, and for much of that time, wherever I was, the local church was a featureless concrete block built in the twentieth century. Now, I know the theology: God is everywhere. It should make no difference to one’s ability to worship whether one is surrounded by breeze blocks or stained glass. But over and over again I found myself ruefully muttering the first half of Psalm 137 – ‘As for our harps, we hanged them up…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

In the fullness of time, my husband retired; we returned to the Hampshire village that had been the Brigadoon which sustained us through our exile. At the heart of the village is a 12th century church, built on the ruins of an earlier Saxon one.  And that’s when I dreamed that God chuckled at my foibles and just asked ‘Better now?’ I had to admit that it did make all the difference, even though I knew it shouldn’t have. Not that I’m alone in this failing – far from it. The French describe the love of old buildings as an attraction to ‘les vieilles pierres‘ (old stones). Admirers of antique furniture wax lyrical about patina. A building in which people have been worshipping God for nearly 900 years does have an atmosphere which a new building does not.

I seem to remember a programme by James Burke about the idea that stones retain echoes, which form a sort of  -theoretically readable- patina. I asked my friendly (I wouldn’t say ‘tame’) hippogriff, Tim Skellett (@Gurdur). His reply?

There have been a couple of SF stories on reproducing sound waves recorded into pottery through minute, sound-caused wobbles in the potter’s hand as the potter inscribes decorative lines in a pot on a turnwheel. However, the idea is implausible owing to any such fluctuations being lost in statistical noise and far larger minute tremors in the hand. I would think the program you heard probably picked up from that idea (the original SF story is very old now). As for stones in stone buildings, the physical scale of the stone is simply too immense for sound waves to have any such effect, sorry.

There is more on the Heathen Hub thread at the hyperlink, if you would like to follow this up.

So that’s that, then. And yet…

Walter de la Mare answered the question which forms the title of this post in his strangely compelling poem:

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

I have been carrying around with me for nearly thirty years a piece of paper on which is written a poem given to me by a work colleague, Jean Bull, who has since died. We had been having the discussion about sermons trapped in stones, like flies in amber. I have never been able to find the author – do any of you know it?


Eternal Life

There is no death for words.
The loneliest ship probing new seas
Has no real silence.
Voices blow in the wind,
The air is taut with cries, calls, song,
Shouts and lamentations.
Like tired birds in the rigging cling
Words spoken long before.
No mountain top can offer solitude
Rocks echo, and the whispering trees
Shelter more secrets than their own.
Stars live in rocks, and rocks reveal
Themselves in stars.
Each to the other lends a permanence.
And words vibrate there, questioning
Offering another immortality.

Perhaps the sweet words of Jesus
Throng rock and spire
Sending a hurricane that shrieks
And clamours through the uneasy world –
No word that’s spoken ever dies
But, fugitive, lives on.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


The main illustration is ‘Arches in the Bastille at Grenoble’ by Bruce Amos, via Shutterstock.

‘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

The Things People Do And Say!

Today our vicar led the intercessions at Morning Prayer. As you might expect, they resonated with the congregation and we felt our prayers soar collectively heavenward. Normally, as in most churches, the congregation take it in turns to lead intercessionary prayer: some are more gifted in this area than others, to put it as kindly as I can.

Why is it that some people have the gift of finding exactly the right thing to say, while others seem unable to open their mouths without inserting their feet?
This question has been uppermost in my mind in the last few months as I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and I have just finished a course of radiotherapy.* This has given me ample time and opportunity to note the reactions of my friends and neighbours, as well as the medical staff.

Things not to do

The medical team have been both patient and kind at all times. Two anomalies, however, stand out. At my first counselling session after diagnosis, I was handed a plastic ring-binder full of information. Very thoughtful, but it was covered all over in white daisies, which took my breath away as I associated it immediately with the expression ‘you’ll be pushing up daisies’, meaning you will be toast, dead, six feet under.
During the radiography, they sensed my need to crack weak jokes, which they gleefully joined in. Ghastly muzak was playing in the background, which I complained was worse than the treatment.    I was quickly offered classical music instead, which I gratefully accepted. The piece on offer? Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet!

Things not to say

Two people who I know bear me no ill will said equally breath-taking things to me on learning of my diagnosis. One immediately told me about the symptoms, treatment and ultimate death from breast cancer of his cousin, who died last year. And the lovely lady in the church choir, on hearing I was having radiotherapy, said ‘Oh yes, people look really poorly after that. They look as if they have had the life completely sucked out of them!’

A little introspection

And what am I guilty of in all this? In last week’s episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’, Susan enlists sympathy for her  dialysis to escape a traffic fine, but fails to get to the top of the restaurant queue because, as the couple behind her point out, ‘everyone has something!’ I can certainly see the temptation…

Unmerited kindness

On the other hand, my misfortune has evoked extraordinary kindness from my neighbours. Many people offered to drive me to hospital an hour away for the radiotherapy (including one friend in her late eighties and one in her nineties!). Others come unbidden, bearing welcome casseroles.
One painted my favourite flowers on a get-well card. And my closest friend, whom I call my pelican, is always there.

Being prayed for

I now have the privilege of knowing it is a truly wonderful experience to be prayed for, to be on the receiving end of intercessionary prayer from our house group, congregation and my online friends at The Ship of Fools.
I believe several studies have been done which show that being prayed for makes no appreciable difference to the outcome of the disease. But that is not what I am talking about. From my reaction to the news of the cancer to the low point after radiotherapy, I have felt buoyed up, floating on an ocean of agape, or Christian love. Much of the time I have felt elated, and have had to restrain my normally conservative Anglican self from bursting into ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.
So if you ever wonder whether your prayers are heard, please believe me when I say that I am lucky enough to know that they are.
1.* In case you are wondering, the prognosis is very good and I am already feeling better!
2.The illustration is ‘The Sea’ by Bernard Atkinson, courtesy The Twelve Baskets. 
3. The carving is from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, whose symbol it is.
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