I recently had the pleasure and privilege of being at a clergy study day, at which Rowan Williams was speaking on prayer. He is a excellent speaker and theologian, and gave us much food for thought. A number of things he said struck me, either as new ideas, or timely reminders, so I thought I’d jot them down here. I must make clear that all of this is my paraphrase/understanding of what was said. The nature of a post like this is that it’s a little disjointed, and really just a collection of thoughts. Anyway – here goes!
Prayer is ultimately looking forward to the end times, when God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness. Prayer is about creation finding its place – a place of restoration, reconciliation, and homecoming (like we see in Romans 8).
“Prayer is something to do with inhabiting God’s future here and now.”
Perhaps most profoundly, prayer is what is always going on. The Father loves, Jesus mirrors it back, and this is prayer. Underneath all of us, all the time, is this reality – the universe itself exists because prayer is eternal. So when we pray, we are not starting something new, but joining in with what is already going on. We sometimes think of prayer as a last resort, or perhaps as a duty (a bit like phoning your mum once a week!). No – it is all around us, all the time.
“We are not initiating a transaction, but slipping into an existing ongoing action.”
Part of the point in praying is to bring us back to the place where we see something of the mystery of God. Where we allow God to be God, to be reminded of the seriousness of God. And is the church which prays – whether we are joining in the prayer of heaven corporately, or individually, it is the church in prayer. Prayer is enabled by creating space and time for looking, listening, breathing. By gazing and attending. It’s not so much that we punctuate with space, but rather a style and pace that slows the rhythm. How we speak. How we act. How we move and breath. Being present and prayerful.
“Busyness must not crowd out attending to the seriousness of God”
Prayer is about intelligent gratitude. About wonderment and a gaze. And as we gaze, we find the gaze turns on us. Prayer is being where God can look at us. Of active beholding, and awareness of God’s beholding of us. Being in this light, we increase both our knowledge of God, and our knowledge of ourselves. We respond like Peter responding to Jesus doing something holy, generous, and Godly – “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. (Luke 5) The light of God lights up areas of ours lives we are not pleased with. The steady habit of exposure to the light, little by little increases our self-awareness, leading to a simple clarity about who I am and what I’ve been. Looking into the depth shows us something ourselves. I look into the mystery of God’s generousity, and I see something of my own un-generousity. But God does not look away when he sees what I am. God looks patiently and lovingly at me, at the whole of creation.
“Repentence and confession are not preparatory before we can approach God, but response to relationship with God.”
Looking into this mystery leads us to increased self-knowledge and confession, which leads in turn to awareness of the world, and intercession. Intercession is an attempt to be aligned with God’s loving purpose.
“What God beholds in me
He beholds in my neighbour
and in all of creation
which feeds our hope”
God has willed us to be will-ing beings, and gives us boldness to ask him. Like the doctor who says “I can’t help if you if you don’t tell me where it hurts”, God says “I can’t help you if you don’t bring to the light what you long for.” The psalmist is not ashamed to bring his desires to God, even when they are not edifying. Ultimately our prayer is “Your will be done” AND “what I long for is …”
Prayer helps us grow in humilty and self-awareness. Prayer helps the church grown in humilty and self-awarness.
“Prayer opens our eyes – but our eyes must also become acustomed to the light. In prayer we see more of God, and more of the world we’re in.”