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Posts Tagged "Barefoot Prayers":

‘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’.

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