Monday, 12 March 2018

Maintaining a sustainable
life of daily prayer that
supports us in ministry

An icon of the Pharisee and the Publican ... standing beside others in prayer should mean helping them in prayer

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

A day with clergy and readers in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert:

12 March 2018


Part 1:

I have divided our work today into the following sections:

1: Opening prayer, reading and discussion

2: Introduction

3: What is prayer?

4: Growing and developing in your own prayer life

5: Teaching others to pray

6: Identifying prayer needs and types

7: Intercessions and personal prayer

8: Prayer and the Eucharist

9: Praying the Daily Office

10: Praying the Jesus Prayer

We may not work our way through all of this this morning and this afternoon, but a full version is available online, along with three appendices and a select bibliography:

1: New Testament understandings of prayer;

2: Helpful hints on working with parishioners who are uneasy about vocal prayer;

3: Learning from others: Islam.

Opening Prayer:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 289, the Collect of the Tenth Sunday after Trinity).

Opening Reading:

Luke 18: 10-14 (NRSV):

[Jesus said:] 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Discussion:

We are all familiar with the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 10-14). In that parable, both characters pray for themselves, and both bare themselves before God.

The Pharisee gives thanks to God when he prays, and by all the standards of the day he is a good man: he fasts, tithes – indeed, tithes more than he has too – and prays regularly. Yet neither man prays for the other man in his company.

The Pharisee gives thanks to God. He prays. In fact, by all the current standards of and means of measuring Jewish piety, he is a good man. Look at what he tells God and us about himself. First of all he thanks God that he is not like other people. The Morning Prayer for Orthodox Jewish men, to this day, includes a prayer with these words: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a gentile, … a slave, … a woman.’

Thanking God that I am not like others is not an expression of disdain for others; it is merely another, humble way of thanking God for being made the way we are, in God’s image and likeness. The Pharisee’s prayer is not unusual.

The Pharisee then goes on to tell God that he obeys all the commandments: he prays, he fasts and he tithes – in fact, he tithes more than he has to, and perhaps also fasts more often than he has to – and he gives generously to the poor. He more than meets all the requirements on him under Mosaic law, and goes beyond that. He is a charitable, kind and faithful man. Anyone who saw him in the Temple and heard him pray would have gone away saying he was a good man, and a spiritual man.

Why then is the Pharisee condemned for his prayer, but the Publican is not?

The Pharisee does not pray for the needs of others, in so far as we are allowed to or can hear his prayers. But then, neither does the publican. So neither man is condemned for not being heard to pray for the needs of the other. What marks the prayers of the Pharisee out from the prayers of the publican is that, in his prayers, the Pharisee expresses his disdain for the needs of others.

If prayer is only about me and my needs and does not take account of the needs of others, have I been praying truly?

Part 2,

Introduction:

Bishop Frank Weston ... ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good.’

Prayer is both an individual and a collective action. And even when we pray individually, we pray for ourselves and we pray on behalf of others. Praying must not be a neglected activity and a forgotten part of our life. The person who wants to learn how to pray is a person who wants to get closer to God. Without praying, how can I establish a deeper communion with God?

When you were ordained or commissioned as a reader, yousoon realised that people expected you to be a person of prayer, someone who would pray with them, pray for them, teach them to pray and lead a life that had a rhythm of prayer.

But perhaps you have noticed since then that old styles of prayer are less satisfying, that old formulas no longer have the same meaning, or that you sometimes find it difficult to maintain a life of regular prayer at the level you expect and hope for.

If we are going to help others to pray, then we must first develop and strengthen our own prayer life and to watch, tender and nurture it carefully.

What are your spiritual disciples, and how do they make bridges between these three:

● Your personal prayer life.
● Your engagement with the prayer life of the Church in Word and Sacrament?
● Your commitment to the mission of the Church and God’s mission?

Sometimes I wonder how many of us notice a large gap between our prayer lives and our spiritual lives, on the one hand, and between our personal prayer life and our role in leading others in prayer.

We often think of our life of prayer and spirituality as something internal: as something that I keep in here; something that is part of my prayers, my inner thoughts, my religious emotions; but not something to be expressed publicly – in some cases not even connected with how I pray in Church.

The dysfunctional relationship between private prayer life and the public life of discipleship was recognised and addressed by Bishop Frank Weston in his closing address at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, when he reminded those present that their spiritual life must coupled with a true devotion to Christ in the poor and downtrodden:

‘Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

‘You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

We often discuss different styles of prayer and different approaches to prayer as choices that we can make, as if prayer methods, styles and approaches were merely choices available as commodities to us as consumers. But when people have problems or difficulties with prayer, it is often too late to realise that the problems were not about choice or variety, but that they were not given permission, freedom or encouragement to pray in a way that suited their own spirituality and their own personality.

People need permission, freedom and encouragement to find the way of prayer that best suits their needs and personality. For many people the style of prayer that suits them individually is not the style of prayer they were taught at home as children or in Sunday School or, for clergy, even at their theological college.

When we are honest with ourselves, most will admit that prayer does not always come easily. But the same style of prayer does not suit every personality, and nor does the same type of prayer suit every time and situation. None of us would expect the same style of prayer to work in individual prayer, spontaneous one-to-one prayer, group prayer and liturgical prayer. So why should we expect everyone to accept the same approach to prayer when it comes to their spiritual life, growth and development?

Part 3,

What is prayer?

It is easier to describe what prayer is or ought to be than to say what type of prayer is appropriate or inappropriate for different settings and different individuals. Most writers agree that prayer is the practice of the presence of God. As the Benedictine writer and theologian, Sister Joan Chittister, says, ‘The function of prayer is to change my own mind, to put on the mind of Christ, to enable grace to break into me.’ It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made.

In prayer, we should be mindful of the needs of others, and for those of us in ordained ministry we should be willing to – we are expected to – help and teach others to pray. But what is prayer? What are we expected to do when it comes to helping others to pray?

The Eastern Fathers of the Church insist that prayer is primarily the action of God.

Prayer can be described as conversation with God, allowing the Word to penetrate mind and heart. As the Carmelite Rule says, prayer can be described as ‘meditating on the law of the Lord, day and night.’

Rosalind Brown describes prayer as ‘the intimacy of our life with God. Prayer is being lost in wonder, love and praise.’

The Lord’s Prayer is the Model Prayer. It teaches us that prayer:

● Must be addressed to God as our Father.
● Must ask for his will.
● Must pray for his Kingdom.
● Must include for daily needs.
● Must seek forgiveness.
● Must pray for God’s guidance and leading.
● Must ask for deliverance from evil.
● But must also assure us that God hears and answers our prayers.

Benedictine prayer – which shares several characteristics with Anglican prayer – leads to a spirituality of awareness rather than one of consolation. Both Benedictine and Anglican prayer are regular, they are universal, they are converting, they are reflective, and they are communal.

For Joan Chittister, prayer is not to take people out of the world to find God. Prayer is to enable people to realise that God is in the world around them. ‘Prayer is meant to call us back to a consciousness of God here and now, not to make God some kind of private getaway from life. Prayer is the place of admitting our needs, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is being lost in wonder, love and praise.’

Prayer is not a shopping list that we tick off, and then use to tick off God when our shopping trolley has not been filled. We often reduce prayer to requests for healing and for the solution of our own problems, only to find that the answers we hoped for often do not come. Or we pray because prayer is a duty. We were taught as children to pray each morning and each night, but when it becomes a routine and a chore it loses its delight, and the habits of childhood disappear easily when we are adults. Or, as we find personal prayer loses its lustre and appeal, we start relying on our community prayers in the parish, allowing public prayer to fill the gaps when I have started to falter in private prayer.

When we pray in church on Sundays, we are often asked merely to respond with our ‘Amen.’

When the laity are asked to lead the prayers of the people or the intercessions on a Sunday, they are often given sheets of paper with a shopping list that has already been dictated by the rector or the parish priest so that no longer can be truly called the prayers of the people.

When clergy are called on unexpectedly for a prayer at the beginning or end of a meeting, we often fall back on reciting a collect from memory. We have not been taught that it is OK if I do not know what to say when someone in a gathering asks me to pray.

What is wrong with praying: ‘Lord, we confess we don’t always know how to pray by ourselves. But we thank you that you know our needs before we can even find words to express them. We give this time to you and ask you to continue speaking to us and through us.’ When people complain that visiting clergy fail to pray during a visit to a hospital bedside or a bereaved household, it may be because we have failed to develop the skills of praying extemporaneously or with spontaneity, or that we have not been trained in identifying the spirituality of those we are visiting and so cannot find styles of prayer that are appropriate for those we are with.

Part 4,

Growing and developing in our own prayer life:

The Apostle Paul encourages us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ But how can we encourage others to do this unless we first may attention to our own prayer patterns and prayer life? How is one to pray?

Only the Holy Spirit can guide us to pray as we should. Just as a child learns to walk by walking, one can best learn to pray by praying, trusting in the help of God.

1, Review your approach to prayer:

Put your whole soul into your prayer. Think about the meaning of every word you pray. Make every prayer your own personal prayer.

2, Be regular and persistent:

Be persistent in prayer. Do not yield to carelessness or neglect. Strengthen your prayer through a lively faith in the Lord, a spirit of forgiveness toward others, and genuine Christian living.

3, Fix a pattern:

Fix a pattern for prayer. Using the office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer each day, or one of the shorter forms available in either the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 136-138, or in Celebrating Common Prayer) may be a good start.

The Daily Office is one of the great treasures of our Anglican heritage. The Eucharist and the Office complement each another.

The Daily Office is the daily worship of the Church Catholic. It is both symbolic of and an aid to Saint Paul’s advice to ‘pray without ceasing.’ Its constant round of Psalms and Scripture gives us food for our daily spiritual feeding and action. It binds us into the unceasing worship of the whole Church – Militant, Expectant, and Triumphant. It forms us as Christians. It is one of the great gifts that we have to offer to the divided and broken Body of Christ. It is a fragment of the treasure of the whole that we have preserved and, in this time, we may find that we can offer it back to the whole Church for the edification and rejoicing of all.

In praying the daily office, a clearly defined structure for intercessions can be helpful at times of prayer.

The most common structure in Anglican worship is:

● prayer for the Church;
● prayer for the World;
● prayer for Our Community;
● prayer for Others, especially those in need
● remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.

4, Value silence

Silence allows me to learn to rejoice in new ways of spending time with God. I know one student who regularly goes for a cup of coffee with God during the week. When I go for a cup of coffee with my friends I don’t take the newspaper or a magazine to read with me, I don’t keep my iPod in my ears.

Use silence in your prayers. This should not be frightening. You don’t have to fill every gap in times of private prayer with sounds or words, not even sounds and words within your heart. If I talk regularly to God, then I should be prepared to give God space to talk to me too.

5, Be regular at the Eucharist

The sacrament of the Eucharist is both reconciling and nurturing. If you feel guilty at times about not praying for everything, then the Eucharist can help overcome this. For the Eucharist is the great thanksgiving; all our prayers are caught up in it, and if you are regular in attendance and eventually in celebration you will be bringing the whole of existence and creation before God. Nothing can be or is left out then.

6, Pray as you read Scripture, don’t just study it

7, Think simply

Think simply and use simple word. And don’t try to reduce prayer to an exercise in theology

Think simply because if you try to pack too many ideas into your prayers, you fall into the danger of thinking more about your thoughts than your prayers, and thinking more about the way you are praying than the God you are praying to.

Use simple words and simple ideas: don’t find that you’ve packed so much into one package that you have forgotten what went in first by the time it comes to owning that prayer with an ‘Amen.’

Keep to one idea or stay focused on one idea at a time before moving on to the next idea.

Avoid the temptation to teach yourself – and to teach God – anything during prayers. Praise is one thing. But your personal prayers are between you and God. God doesn’t need a theological lesson each time you pray, nor do you. God already knows of his majesty, creativity and power. He doesn’t need me to remind him at the beginning of each petition.

8, Be aware of who are you addressing

Be aware of the movement and direction of your prayer. Are you talking to yourself? Are you talking to God? Are you talking to God as Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit?

It will help you too if you know where your prayers are going. This frees you to pray, and to respond to the Spirit’s prompting.

9, Make a sacred place

When they stop to pray, it takes time for their minds to change track and to focus in on God. You may find it can be good to ease yourself into prayer gently, perhaps by listening to music on a CD, or by reading a psalm or a passage from the Bible, or simply by reflecting on what we have to be thankful for. Then we can enter into a conversation with God with our minds properly prepared.

Create a place you know you can pray in. This could be your room. It could be in your car. It could be in your parish church. Or you could create the space for prayer anywhere simply by creating the atmosphere for prayer. This can be done by attending to the appropriate background sound, by listening to music you associate with prayer. This could be on your walkman or iPod, but you need to know you are doing this to create the appropriate atmosphere, not so you can simply listen to the music for its own sake or for your pleasure.

10, Pay attention to your physical posture

Many of us were taught as children to say our prayers kneeling beside our beds. Certain physical gestures and postures often accompany prayer. Some you may be familiar with others may be outside your tradition.

There are traditional gestures such as genuflection, making the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing and prostrating.

Frequently in Western Christianity the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times, the older orans posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in.

11, Use aids to prayer

Think about the creative use of icons, candles, prayer beads, or placing an open Bible or an open Book of Common Prayer placed before you during your time of prayer.

12, Try different styles of prayer.

Are you familiar with the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divinia, speaking in tongues, or the practice of meditative prayer?

But balance experimentation with stability.

13, Pray when you can’t pray

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you come to pray, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions.

Remind yourself that others have the same difficulties, and remember that God knows what your prayers should be any in case.

And remember these moments so that you will never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

When you can’t pray, have prayers to hand that express that too. For example: ‘Father, we now bring before you in the silence of my heart those I have forgotten to pray for, and those who are too afraid to ask for prayers.’

Or: ‘Lord God, I don’t know what I should be praying about when it comes to [the conflict in Syria/ the European, Brexit crisis/ …] but I bring these situations before you in silence and in my heart.’

14, Think of singing

For some people, it may be useful to suggest they think of singing. Saint Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms stated that those who sing pray twice. Many people forget that they are praying when they are singing, whether this is in private or in public. When they are reminded of this, it can sometimes become easier for them to pray in private or in public. You sing in church, but have you ever thought of singing as part of your private prayer?

15, Teach others to pray

Praying must not be a neglected activity and a forgotten part of our life. The person who wants to learn how to pray can learn too teaching others how to pray, which is a great privilege and responsibility.

As you try to teach people to pray, you will hopefully find that, of course, it is the Spirit who teaches people to pray, and teaches you to pray

16, Face difficulties in prayer honestly

Many people start off praying with great enthusiasm but when they begin to flounder and to experience difficulties they need understanding, help and stimulation from one who has gone the same way.

Even when people pray regularly and pray often, the most common barrier to prayer is wandering thoughts. One survey found over 80% of respondents find this at least ‘sometimes a problem.’

Two-thirds also found noise or other distractions a problem. A similar survey found that ‘keeping concentration’ was also an issue, with 40% of respondents mentioning this as a barrier to prayer.

It is important not to worry about your minds being distracted. You can learn to gently bring it back to focus on God, and the area you were praying about.

Just as when we are in conversation with others, our minds naturally have some apparently irrelevant thoughts, and need to return to the topic at hand.

Saint Francis de Sales said: ‘Even if you did nothing in your meditation but bring your heart back, and place it again in our Lord’s presence, though it went away again every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.’

Remember too that difficulties with prayer also come with going through different stages of faith. We than old prayers lack meaning or significance, and find it difficult to find new prayers. For some, if they are not helped through this stage, the problem becomes more difficult.

Others have difficulty in prayer because of personal tragedy or their personal difficulties with God. But these difficulties often reflect the stage of faith they are at. Help them to grow in that stage rather than pushing them on, and they will mature.

Part 5,

Teaching others to pray:

Teaching others how to pray is a great privilege and responsibility.

Teaching people how to pray is part of the task you will face in parochial and pastoral ministry. But as you try to teach people to pray, you will hopefully find that, of course, it is the Spirit who teaches people to pray.

Prayer is both an individual and a collective action. And even when we pray individually, we pray for ourselves and we pray on behalf of others.

One of the most public ways people pray for others is during the intercessions in Church. And one of the first areas in which those who are new to ordained ministry are asked to help others to pray is in the preparation of the intercessions.

The word intercede literally means to go between, to be one who stands between the people and God, to be one who stands in the breach.

This is the role of the intercessor, for example, that was explained to Ezekiel: ‘And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22: 30).

Interceding is more about where we stand, and being willing to stand there, than about what we say. And those intercessors who stand in the breach, between God and us, need others to stand beside them and to help them in their intercessions.

Saint John the Baptist knew the advantage of being a prayerful servant of God and also taught his disciples to pray.

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, by word and by example. When they ask how to pray, he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 1-5). But he also gives example of prayer in parables – the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the Temple.

So, he teaches them to pray by taking as examples how others pray, and he also teaches them directly by giving them an example of model prayer.

The early disciples of Jesus realised the value of prayers, and so were willing to be taught how to pray. Praying together has been a hallmark of Christian life since the beginnings of the church, as the opening reports from the Acts of the Apostles make clear.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ But how can we encourage others to do this unless we first teach them to pray?

Difficulties in prayer:

Many people start off praying with great enthusiasm. But when they begin to flounder and to experience difficulties, they need understanding, help and stimulation from someone who has gone the same way.

I think we can all identify a number of shared difficulties in our prayer lives, such as wandering thoughts

When it comes to praying out loud and in groups, many people find it difficult, no matter how attentive they are to their private prayer lives, to pray aloud with other people, for different reasons.

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you are asked to pray in public, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions when you are put on the spot.

Be aware of those difficulties and remind yourselves that others have the same difficulties. Never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

Then there those people who are going through different stages of faith, who now find that old prayers lack meaning or significance, and who are finding it difficult to find new prayers.

For some people, if not helped through these problems in prayer, then the problem becomes more difficult, and prayer becomes more difficult, sometimes to the point that they give up praying and believe it is impossible to pray.

And there are those people who are dealing with personal tragedies, including tragedies than have given them difficulties in their relationships with God. Be sensitive to those difficulties, and be gentle with those people.

1, Prayer and worthiness:

To return to the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, it is worth remembering that sometimes people think that because they have sinned they should not pray.

But the story of the story of the Pharisee (apparently good) and the Publican (apparently bad), in Luke 18: 10-14, tells us that the Pharisee prayed easily, while the publican could not even lift his eyes to heaven but smote his breast and prayed, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’ Jesus tells us it was the publican who ‘returned home justified,’ not the Pharisee.

The publican wants to pray even when he feels guilty of sin. We do not have to wait until we feel righteous, like a Pharisee, so we can pray. Such prayer is almost useless. I know I can all too easily pray the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,’ more readily when I am feeling righteous than when I realise I am a sinner.

Religious feelings can be deceptive in the extreme. When I think we feel like praying, we are in fact feeling ‘pious.’ And it’s a deep tragedy. We are not ready to pray to pray at this stage. Instead, we are consumed with ourselves as pious people of prayer.

When I feel like a Publican, then I can pray like a Publican. Many times people will tell you, ‘I can’t take Communion … lead the intercession … serve at the altar today, because I don’t feel worthy.’ But surely I’m in much greater danger when I do feel worthy.

When does someone ever say, ‘I’ve been so good this week I haven’t felt in the least like a sinner, and this is a great sin and deception.’ Now we would be getting somewhere with prayer.

Help people to pray like a publican. They will find so many more times available for prayer if they do. And while they are there, you and I should pray for those who are praying like a Pharisee, so that God may free us from our delusions.

2, Wandering thoughts:

When people ask us to help them to pray, we need to be aware of these difficulties.

Even when people pray regularly and pray often, the most common barrier to prayer is wandering thoughts. One recent survey found that over 80% of respondents find wandering thoughts are at least ‘sometimes a problem.’

Two-thirds also found noise or other distractions a problem. A similar survey found that ‘keeping concentration’ is also an issue, with 40% of respondents mentioning this as a barrier to prayer.

It is important to assure people not to worry about their minds being distracted. They can learn to gently bring the mind back to focus on God, and to the area they were praying about.

Just as when we are in conversation with others, our minds regularly have some apparently irrelevant thoughts, and need to be returned to the topic at hand. So this is not a problem to worry about in prayer. It happens to everyone and everyone can deal with it.

Many people lead busy lives, with their minds working in overdrive to cover all of the things that they need to think about. When they stop to pray, it takes time for their minds to change track and to focus in on God. You may find it can be good to ease people into prayer gently, perhaps by listening to music on a CD, or by reading a psalm or a passage from the Bible, or simply by reflecting on what we have to be thankful for.

Then we can enter into a conversation with God with our minds properly prepared.

Many of us probably learned to pray as a small child kneeling at our bedside. But even when people are comfortable about praying in their own rooms, or joining in the responses in Church, they are uncomfortable praying in public.

But try to remember. Have you ever been caught off-guard when you have been asked to say a prayer at the beginning of a meeting, or to say grace before a group sat down in dinner?

There is a large section of people who regard prayer as something private. Then there are others who are reluctant to pray out loud in case they may make a mess of it, in case they’ll fluff it, in case they sound stupid.

But on this last point you can assure them by asking them whether my task in prayer is to converse with God or to give those who are listening something that will seem wise and knowledgeable?

3, Singing and praying:

For some people, it may be useful to suggest they think of singing. Saint Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms stated that those who sing pray twice. Many people forget that they are praying when they are singing, whether this is in private or in public. When they are reminded of this, it can sometimes become easier for them to pray in private or in public.

4, Some helpful hints:

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you are asked to pray in public, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions when you are put on the spot.

Be aware of those difficulties and remind yourselves that others have the same difficulties. Never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

Helping those who lead prayers or intercessions in church:

One of the opportunities people in ordained ministry have in teaching people how to pray is when we help people who have been asked to lead the prayers or intercessions in church.

There is an important difference between private prayer and leading corporate intercessions. When we are leading the intercessions, we are leading God’s people in prayer, rather than praying on their behalf. And so, the way that we pray should be different from our own private prayer.

The corporate act of intercession is the sum of the individual thoughts and prayers, combined with the words and prayers spoken from the front. So, for corporate prayer to take place effectively, the congregation will be praying along the lines laid before them, and extending them as individual hearts and minds engage with the topics for prayer.

It is important that the people in the congregation hear what is being prayed. So those leading the intercessions need to be audible, and they need to speak clearly and slowly.

A clearly defined structure to the intercessions helps people to pray.

It will help others if they know where the prayers are going. This frees them to pray, and to respond to the Spirit’s prompting. The most common structure in Anglican worship is:

● prayer for the Church;
● prayer for the World;
● prayer for our Community;
● prayer for others, especially those in need
● remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.

A congregational response is a good way of marking out the structure, and bringing silences to an end.

Some helpful hints on congregational prayer:

If you are using a congregational response, it is a good idea to introduce it clearly at the beginning, unless it never varies from week to week. Even then, it’s worth mentioning it occasionally since there may well be newcomers coming into the church.

Using silence in these prayers can be very powerful. Silence in corporate worship allows a transition from corporate prayer, where we join in common petitions, to private prayer, where we spend time individually with God.

Often it is a good idea to direct people’s prayers into the silence, either as a part of the prayers, for example, ‘Father, we now bring before you in the silence of our hearts those who are known to us to be in need.’ Or you could say: ‘We’ll keep a short time of quiet when we can pray about our response to the situation in Syria.’

Watch your language! Leading prayer is most effective in simple, clear everyday language. Complex phrasing and long words make it difficult for those who are listening to unpackage and own the prayers, and they add to the reluctance of many to take a leading role in public prayers. Try to use simple language. Avoid ‘churchy’ jargon and acronyms.

Keep up to date: keep up to date with the news, both national and local news, and also the current status of those who will be prayed for. Before leaving for church, check the news.

Arrive in time to check on important news in the parish: who needs to be prayed for, who is in hospital, who has been bereaved, who has had good news.

Do not pray for everything. The Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving. All our prayers are caught up in it. If we pray for everything beforehand, if we give thanks for everything beforehand, what is left to pray for in the greatest prayer? Prayer is not a shopping list being presented to God!

Avoid being too specific in every intercession. Try to count in everything, and we’ll go on all day. Try to name everyone, and some will inevitably feel left out.

Avoid the temptation to teach during prayers. Prayers are from the people to God, they are not an opportunity to say what we think God should be teaching others.

Be careful when praying about subjects which may be sensitive to members of the congregation. Examples include divorce, abortion, sexuality, and politics.

Prepare thoroughly. Whether you use a script, or just use notes is up to you. But I am always lacking in my ability to do justice to my responsibility to God and my responsibility in leading God’s people in prayer. Spend some time in prayer beforehand. Good preparation does not limit your ability to change your plans, building in appropriate links with the sermon. You might like to use wide margins on your paper so that you can make notes. But preparation should also include a time of private prayer, praying through the topics you will lead prayers for.

Part 6,

Identifying prayer needs and types


Spirituality types, based on the work of Corinne Ware and Urban Holmes

Teaching others how to pray is a privilege and responsibility, but when I was on the staff of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I learned of the need for clergy to develop the skills of identifying the different approaches to spirituality that mean individuals have different needs in prayer styles. An individual’s spiritual life can be affirmed and can grow by identifying with appropriate approaches to prayer.

Two Anglican writers in particular have made important contributions to identifying the different spiritual types and their prayer needs: Urban T Holmes was Dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, until he died in 1981 at the age of 51; Corinne Ware is a pastoral psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Ascetical Theology at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Similarly, in the Roman Catholic tradition, Monsignor Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey have found that many people feel they are shut out of the prayer life of their parishes or congregations because of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prayer, spiritual exercise and meditation.

Holmes and Ware and Michael and Norrisey continue in the long tradition, begun by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, of analysing religious experience from the standpoint of psychology.

Drawing on the four personality types described by Katherine C. Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in their theory of personality types, and using the spiritual typology of Holmes and her own experience as a spiritual director and pastoral counsellor, Ware has provided a framework for people to name and understand their spiritual experience and prayer needs, and helps explain why different people prefer and benefit from different styles of and approaches to prayer. Holmes and Ware identify what can be called four spiritual types: 1, those who prefer ‘head’ spirituality; 2, those who prefer ‘heart’ spirituality; 3, the ‘mystics’; and 4, the visionaries. In a more developed exploration of these ideas, Ware speaks of two ‘axes of preference’ or directions in which people are drawn: Thinking-Feeling and Abstract-Concrete.

The vertical speculative-affective axis intersects with the horizontal apophatic-kataphatic axis forming quadrants. Within these quadrants, identified by the bordering poles, we find the four spiritual types. In which quadrant would you place yourself? Quadrant 1, for instance, is influenced by the two points, speculative thinking and concrete or ‘kataphatic’ imaging of God. Each of us has a different approach to our style of spirituality so that it has a bearing on how I fit into a congregation, how I pray, how I respond to or have certain needs in spiritual direction.

Type 1, the speculative/kataphatic or head spirituality, is an intellectual or thinking spirituality that favours what it can see, touch, and vividly imagine. It can be expressed theologically in concepts, such as God as Father, or the centrality of Christ and the incarnation. The choices of this group will be based mostly on activity and on corporate gathering. Their spirituality relates comfortably to the spoken word, and so they appreciate study groups, better sermons, and some sort of theological renewal within the worshipping community.

The contribution of those with Type-1 spirituality to the whole is invaluable. They produce theological reflection, debate ethical issues, provide critique and engage in education and publication. They seek to make sense of experience and to name it. They codify and so preserve the faith story from generation to generation, and seek guidance primarily in Scripture and from the sermon – that is, from words. ‘God speaks to them through the written word,’ Ware explains.

As Ware points out, people who feel close to God through their minds are, perhaps, the most common among Anglicans. Prayer for people in this quadrant is almost always language or word-based prayer, whether aloud or silent. For people who love words and ideas, reading is the avenue of God’s speech, and written prayers, including the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, are most helpful for them in their prayer life. Reading, journaling, and specific meditation with a definite focus are fruitful activities.

Growth for such people lies in their gradually sensing their interior connection with God. The danger lies in ‘falling outside the circle’ through an over-reliance on rationalism, an over-intellectualisation of the spiritual life and a consequent loss of feeling. To enrich their experience they can benefit from the emphases of the opposite quadrant, Type 3, on fostering solitude, introspection, and silence, risking the unstructured, the solitary, and the silent.

People in Type 2, the affective/kataphatic or heart spirituality type, still emphasise the anthropomorphic representation of God and the centrality of scripture, but are combined with a more affective, charismatic spirituality that aims is to achieve holiness of life. The transformational goal is personal renewal and holiness, and so Type-2 people find God through the heart, in feelings and in the moment.

Characteristically, they emphasise evangelism and transformation, and value corporate worship that includes time for witnessing, testimonials and music. They stress the immanence of God over the transcendence of God, and the words of their prayers are less formal than they are among words than Type-1 people, and praying is usually extemporaneous. Physically, they express their joy in such ways as raising their hands. Although prayer is made up of words for this group, the words can be less formal than the words for people in type one, and praying is often extemporaneous.

The Type-2 person may respond well to a loosely-structured daily spiritual discipline. They respond to art, music, and fellowship. These people focus on personal service to others but often with the caveat that the service provides an opportunity to witness about their faith. They often need permission to acknowledge anger, disappointment, sadness, and doubt, and to be less than ideal. Their spirituality is enriched by being able to see other expressions of faith as having value and making a contribution. With their emphasis on “pietism,” they can become too exclusive, not allowing themselves to acknowledge the spiritual experience of others – especially when it different – and they can be closed to the risk of new thought. They could be encouraged to risk new experience on their own and to trust God to be with them in their journeys, seeing God as nurturing rather than punitive.

Type 3 is the affective/apophatic approach, which can be described as mystic spirituality. With Type-3 people, hearing God rather than speaking to God is important. People attracted to this type of spirituality are often contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world. God is ineffable, unnameable, and vast beyond any known category. Austerity and asceticism are appealing to many in this quadrant as they listen attentively to the inner voice. They often find themselves uncomfortable and not fitting in, especially within Western Protestantism, but will value the works of Thomas Merton and Anthony de Mello, or appreciate the apophatic approach of Eastern Orthodox spirituality or a creation-type theology.

‘For them,’ Ware says, ‘prayer is not addressing God but is listening to God.’ The Desert Fathers and the mediaeval mystics are examples of this type. ‘People attracted to this type of spirituality love walking the labyrinth,’ Ware says. Often by nature they are contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world. For them, ‘being’ is more important than ‘doing.’ Many in Type-3 write and publish and provide the especially inspirational and uplifting spirituality that fuels our daily lives with a sense of the Holy. They provide much of the intellectual interpretation of the theological writing by those in Type-1, and they seek to push the frontiers of spirituality.

Those in Type 3 need permission to retreat and seek solitude because they may feel guilty as they carefully hide their desire for the nourishment of solitude and silence. The danger in this quadrant is of falling into wrong sort of ‘quietism,’ with an exaggerated retreat from reality and from interaction with the world and a spiritual passivity that deprives the world of the treasured gifts of mysticism. The mystic who lacks the balance of the other spiritual expressions is also deprived of the blessing of interaction with others. Of course, there are those who have a calling to solitary prayer, but retreat time needs to be balanced with involvement and interaction.

Type 4, the speculative/apophatic type, includes the visionaries who emphasise kingdom spirituality. People in this quadrant are usually the smallest group, making it the most difficult to describe. They are at prayer as they work for the Simon Community, Christian Aid or with a human rights campaign, as they feed and clothe others. For these people, prayer and theology are best expressed in action. For them, work and prayer are the same thing. Type-4 people may include the Hebrew prophets, the Apostolic Fathers, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Visionaries want nothing less than the transformation of society, to right the wrongs of the world, and they are often willing to suffer for a cause. They are single-minded, with a deeply focused type of spirituality. They care less about affiliation with organised religion than many others do, seeking first to obey God and to witness to his coming kingdom. They have a passion for transforming society. They can sacrifice their personal lives for their hope that the kingdom will be realised on earth, and can be angry and exasperated with authority figures. But they are also in danger of an excessive and unbalanced spirituality that is moralistic and unrelenting.

Assessing Holmes and Ware

The value of the approach by Holmes and Ware is not in being able to pigeon-hole myself or others, but in helping myself and others to identify our appropriate styles of prayer, worship and approaches to spirituality.

The message of the work of Ware and Holmes is that once we have found where we fall within the total circle, we then have opportunity to grow by acknowledging and strengthening our present gifts, growing toward our opposite quadrant, and appreciating more perceptively the quadrants on either side of our dominant type.

People who find their spirituality represented in several quadrants may be encouraged to see that they can benefit from several styles of prayer and worship. Each category is of value, yet all are different.

Type-1 people can benefit from the method known as Lectio Divina, for example. Type-2 people need experiment in prayer, liturgy, and music with musical expression. Type-3 people can benefit from silence in prayer, and from being asked to pray privately.

Retreats for Type-1 or Type-2 people will need planned group activities, speaker, and programme. But for Type-3 these are interferences, this only interferes and they need a director to lead in meditation or reading, and directed periods of silence. Type 4 people are praying when they engage in causes and campaigns.

Using the spiritual typology of Holmes and her own experience as a spiritual director and pastoral counsellor, Ware has provided a framework for people to name and understand their spiritual experience and prayer needs. Being aware of these differences, and how they complement each other, can help in seeking a greater understanding of how people learn to pray, engage with liturgy and can come to celebrate God. But they also help to explain why there may be tension in parishes around such issues as the form, style and content of the worship service and our approaches to pray, both private and public.

Balancing temperaments

Similarly, Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey have found that many people feel they have been shut out of the prayer life of their parishes or congregations because of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prayer, spiritual exercise and meditation. They drew on the four personality types or temperaments defined by Carl Jung, enhanced by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Cook Briggs, and the popularised by David Kiersey: the artisan or ‘free-spirited’ temperament, the guardian or “practical” temperament, the idealist, and the rationalist.

The ‘Practical’ type (40 per cent of the population), is steady, reliable, a realistic decision-maker, seeks order, dislikes ambiguity, is conforming, fastidious and is often moralistic, can be intolerant and can be over-controlled. The ‘Rational’ type (12 per cent) is analytical, likes independence, takes pride in his/her objectivity and calmness, is visionary, attentive to theory and model, is often clever, and can be indifferent to others and even condescending. The ‘Free-Spirited’ type (36 per cent) is an adaptable realist who is focussed on the here-and-now, is good with tools and instruments, hates boredom, wants to be audacious, values generosity, and can be inattentive or even unstable. The ‘Idealistic’ type (12 per cent) is tender-minded, enthusiastic and insightful, seeks new projects and complexity, is flexible, aesthetic, non-conforming, and can be snobbish, self-pitying and dreamy.

Using the objectivity/personality type theory, Michael and Norrisey suggest ways to get over certain prejudices that hinder our legitimate religious experiences. We are each unique in temperament. For our prayer life to be most fulfilling there is a prayer form that is best suited to our temperament.

Michael and Norrisey define four prayer forms – the Ignatian, Franciscan, Augustinian and Thomistic – that map to the four distinctive temperaments, and give each temperament something like a patron saint whose spirituality seems to match the temperament’s spirituality. For instance, the hard-nosed Ignatius is matched with the practical temperament. Practical people like to follow the rules, and they like predictability and order. The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises provide plenty of steps and order that temperaments more taken with spontaneity would find difficult.

On the other hand, they argue that all the exercises and forms of prayer and meditation they describe are for every temperament. They suggest that all the forms should be tried, but that the practitioner ought to return to the form of meditation she finds most comfortable and profitable.

Their meditative forms and prayers are loosely connected with the four steps in Lectio Divina, a method of prayer and meditation associated with the Benedictine tradition, moving from the head to the heart. These four steps are: 1, Lectio (seeking truth, or seeking God’s word); 2, Meditatio (making God’s word personal); 3, Oratio (our response to God’s word, including adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication); and 4, Contemplatio (union of love between God and us).

Each step in Lectio Divina calls on one of the four specific types identified by Michael and Norrissey. Since Briggs and Myers say we each have a favourite or ‘dominant function’ among these four ways, each of us will tend to favour one part of the Lectio Divina and one of its meditative forms.

Part 7:

Intercessions and personal prayer:

There is a well-known saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.

But we all have our own inner foxholes. What do you pray for in the depths of your soul?

What do you pray for?

There is a very useful theological principle that says: Lex orandi, lex credenda. It means not just that our beliefs should shape how we pray, but when we pray truly we show what we believe truly.

What do you really pray for?

Think about it for a moment. Ask yourself not what prayers did you say ‘Amen’ to in Church on Sunday, but what do you really wish for, hope for, long for, want?

The Lord’s Prayer and the Intercessions on Sundays are two ways of encouraging us to pray in a way that shapes our discipleship and our priorities.

Which part of the Lord’s Prayer do you say Amen to? ‘Thy Kingdom come’? ‘Thy will be done on earth?’ ‘Give us … our daily bread?’ ‘Forgive us our trespasses?’ Teach us, liberate us, to forgive others? ‘Deliver us from evil?’

Do you truly pray for us to live in the kingdom? For us to have daily bread? For us to be forgiven and to forgive? For us to be saved from evil?

Have you noticed how this is a prayer written in the plural. I had a problem while celebrating the Eucharist last year in a parish where I was filling in on behalf of a priest colleague. Unexpectedly, the reader prompted everyone to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if it were a moment of personal piety and spirituality before the fraction and reception. But the Lord’s Prayer is precisely not that. Our individual ‘Amen’ is part of the collective ‘Amen’ to the spirituality and the mission of the Church.

Individual prayer only has meaning within the totality of the spirituality and the mission of the whole Church.

And a similar problem arises with the intercessions at the Eucharist in most parishes.

Who frames and writes the intercessions in your parish?

How often are they written by the priest, even though they are supposed to be the prayers of the people?

How often are they simply a shopping list, simply telling God what we want, like a Miss World entrant saying she wants to travel the world and work with children?

How seldom is there any connectedness with each item in the intercessions?

For example, how seldom do we pray for the diocesan bishop, so that any connection with the Church and the Church Universal is disjointed?

How often are mission priorities just top of the list as priorities rather than a point of real prayer for parishioners?

How much effort is put into seeing that the intercessions reflect what people have been praying about in the previous week, and what they pray about in the coming week?

Empowerment, particularly spiritual empowerment, is an important constituent of both ministry and mission.

Part 8,

Prayer and the Eucharist

The Last Supper, an image now missing from the former Bridgeman’s workshop in Lichfield ... Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The intercessions and the peace – and there is a connection between both – should form the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship itself is a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12: 1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11: 26).

In his prison cell in Johannesburg, even when he was in isolation and refused access to the elements of bread and wine, Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, an Irish priest, was aware of the mission dimension of the lonely ‘spiritual communion’ he celebrated on his own in front of the cross-shape he picked out on the bars of his prison cell. He wrote:

‘And you know, it was a reality. ‘Therefore, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’ – I don’t think I have ever known the reality of the company of heaven as I did in that prison cell ... I’m no mystic. But I felt the presence of the Church, both in heaven and on earth’”

Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling and undergirds the forms of public witness we engage in.

There was a short-lived Facebook group called ‘Comfortable Words,’ formed by people who said they were keen on maintaining the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Its name was inspired by the Comfortable Words at the beginning of the Eucharist, which include those comfortable words in John 3: 16: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son …’

The original Greek conveys better than the 1662 English that God bestowed on the world, God sent into the world, God gave as a present to the world … well, not actually, the world, but, as it says in the original Greek, the Cosmos. ‘God so loved the Cosmos that he sent …’

At the beginning and the end, in Gloria and in Agnus Dei, we recall that in the Incarnation Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. Incarnation is not to be reduced to personal faith and salvation, my spiritual priorities are not to enhance my feel-good factors.

The sin of the world – what alienates the world from God, what hinders creation from realising the potential of the incarnation – is at the very heart of the five points of mission, and at heart of what we pray about in the Eucharist.

So, it is with very good reason that the intercessions come between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. The world and its needs are a bridge between Word and Sacrament.

Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission. The prayers after communion include a fundamental commission of each and every one of us as missionaries, as Christ’s mission partners in the world: ‘Send us out in the power of your spirit to live to your praise and glory.’

Or: ‘May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.’

The dismissal: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ calls for the response: ‘In the name of Christ. Amen.’ We say ‘Amen’ to our missionary commission Sunday-after-Sunday. Mission is not separate from, or divorced from the spiritual priorities in celebrating the Eucharist.

Candles light up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral after Choral Evensong ... the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are commissions to mission too (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Part 9,

Praying the Daily Office

One of the ways we can help other people pray is to introduce them to the practice of praying the Daily Office.

Modern liturgical revision in most of the Churches has restored the Eucharist to its primary place as the key rite for the gathered Christian community on Sundays. But sadly this has also led to the neglect of the daily office among both clergy and laity.

The Daily Office is one of the great treasures of our Anglican heritage. The Eucharist should not replace our need for and practice of the Offices. Rather, the Eucharist and the Office complement each another.

The Daily Office is the daily worship of the Church Catholic. It is both symbolic of and an aid to Saint Paul’s advice to ‘pray without ceasing.’ Its constant round of Psalms and Scripture gives us food for our daily spiritual feeding and action. It binds us into the unceasing worship of the whole Church – Militant, Expectant, and Triumphant. It forms us as Christians. It is one of the great gifts that we have to offer to the divided and broken Body of Christ. It is a fragment of the treasure of the whole that we have preserved and, in this time, we may find that we can offer it back to the whole Church for the edification and rejoicing of all.

However, none of these things will happen if we do not pray it and teach others to do likewise.

A good starting point in learning to pray can be learning how to pray the Daily Office.

If you are going to use it in your own prayer life and daily discipline, then we should learn how to capture the internal spirit and logic of the office. It is not a liturgical straight-jacket. We can mix, adapt and learn what works best for each of us.

To take full advantage of the Daily Office and its riches, we need to be aware of the resources that are available to help us. These include the Book of Common Prayer, books of prayer such as Celebrating Common Prayer, online resources such as Oremus, and other websites with prayer resources.

Praying the Daily Office is best done and is intended to be done in community. Anyone can start this ministry. No priests, clergy, or church professionals are needed for a full and proper celebration of the Daily Office. But what is needed is an informed body of people with the commitment to see it through and to see it done well, done consistently, done respectfully, and done reverently.

The daily-ness of the office leads to stability, to obedience and to conversion of life. It is a tool of enormous spiritual power, and no parish should ignore it.

Most people in congregations do not easily talk about prayer. Too often we think running church services and the task of leading public prayer is the priest’s job. And so, equipping lay people to be confident officiants at the Daily Office will quickly change that.

Daily morning prayer is a great way to start the day.

The Office and a Daily Rhythm of Prayer

Westminster Abbey ... can inspire a teenager with a sense of reverence and relevance

Some years ago, I spent a few days with my elder son in London. He was still in his late teens and he wanted to see the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum as part of his classical studies. But the highlight of our visit for him was not the marbles, nor the Tower of London, not the dome of Saint Paul’s, nor the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, the Changing of the Guard, No 10, Buckingham Palace, Madam Tussaud’s … The highlight for him was Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey, where we sat in the choir stalls.

Don’t tell me Choral Evensong and Evening Prayer are no longer appealing to a younger generation. The sung offices continue to inspire a sense of reverence and relevance, and make the compelling demands for mission.

I miss the regular worship, twice-a-day, day-by-day, that was part of the rhythm of life when I was a member of the staff at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

It is an Anglican tradition to pray in the versicles and responses and in the intercessions for our governments. Praying for them recognises that they always need to be prayed for, not always because we agree with them, and often because they need to change.

The tradition of prayer in the Daily Office also includes the canticles traditionally associated with Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

In the canticle Venite, we are told about God: ‘In his hands are all the corners of the earth.’

We prayed this canticle most mornings in the chapel at the CITI, and, as I heard and prayed those words, I cannot help smiling as I recall those games at summer camps where we all stood around holding a blanket or a parachute, kept shaking it up higher and higher, and eventually hoping to hop in under it, like a tent.

When God holds all the corners of the earth in his hands, then praying for the earth, all who live in it, and for its sustainability, its resources and its environment, becomes a mission challenge that is part of our spirituality.

In the canticle Benedictus, we ask God:

‘To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
for the remission of their sins …

‘To give light to them that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death:
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

In Evening Prayer, for generations, we have reminded ourselves in the Canticle Magnificat:

‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

‘He hath filled the hungry with good things:
And the rich he hath sent empty away.’

Now, in the simple spirituality of the Anglican offices, that’s what I call praying through the Five Points of Mission in the Anglican understanding of mission.

In Evensong, in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, we are reminded that God’s salvation has ‘been prepared before the face of all people.’ The Christ Child is ‘to be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’ Here personal piety, Anglican spirituality, Gospel demands and mission priorities come into focus together.

I could take further examples, for instance, from the Litany, which we prayed most Friday mornings in the chapel at CITI, and the ways in which it prays for the needs of the Church, our communities and the world.

Part 10,

Praying the Jesus Prayer:

The Jesus Prayer: an image from Balamand Monastery

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό

There is a dictum in The Philokalia, ascribed to Evagrius the Solitary, which says: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’ [Treatise on Prayer, 61].

To pray truly, we can learn from the traditions of others. There are rich treasures in each and every Christian tradition that we can draw on without compromising our own Christian tradition, experience and spirituality. The Orthodox insights into and traditions about prayer have influenced many Anglicans, including Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Many in the Western world have been helped to pray through the books of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.

To pray does not mean to think about God to the distraction of thinking about other things, or to spend time with God in competition with spending time with our family and friends. To pray means to think and live our entire life in the Presence of God. The Russian theologian, Paul Evdokimov (1900-1969), the biographer of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, remarks: ‘Our whole life, every act and gesture, even a smile must become a hymn or adoration, an offering, a prayer. We must become prayer – prayer incarnate.’

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is one of the rich treasurers in the Orthodox tradition than can help each of us to develop our own practice of prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is one of the best-known traditions within Orthodoxy. Its words say simply: Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner’). The Jesus Prayer is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Christianity.

In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with the Scriptural challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox tradition offers the Jesus Prayer – which is sometimes called the Prayer of the Heart by some Church Fathers – as a means of concentration and as a focal point for our inner life.

The exact words of the prayer have varied from the most simple possible involving the name ‘Jesus,’ or ‘Lord have mercy,’ to the more common extended form: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

For the Eastern Orthodox, the Jesus Prayer one of the most profound and mystical prayers and it is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice.

The practice of repeating the prayer continually dates back to at least the 5th century. The earliest known mention is in the writings of Saint Diadochos of Photiki (400-486), a work found in the first volume of The Philokalia, a collection of texts on prayer compiled between the 4th and the 15th centuries. In that collection, Saint Diadochos ties the practice of the Jesus Prayer to the purification of the soul. He also teaches that repetition of the prayer produces inner peace.

The Jesus Prayer is also described by Saint John Cassian (died 435) in his description of the repetitive use of a passage of the Psalms.

The use of the Jesus Prayer is recommended by Saint John of Sinai (523–603) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent and in the work of Saint Hesychios (?8th century), Pros Theodoulon, found in the first volume of The Philokalia.

Later, the theology of the Jesus Prayer was most clearly set out by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296–1359). Its practice became an integral part of Hesychasm, and the subject of The Philokalia. Today, Mount Athos is a centre of the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

The use of the Jesus Prayer according to the tradition of The Philokalia is the subject of the Russian classic, The Way of a Pilgrim. The Russian pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim discovers the Jesus Prayer and with it finds the answers to many of his questions in that key compendium of Orthodox spirituality and prayer.

In The Way of a Pilgrim, the anonymous pilgrim recounts his desperate longing ‘to pray without ceasing.’ He wanders, with Bible in hand, in search of someone who can teach him. Eventually, the pilgrim takes a wise monk as his spiritual father or staretz (стáрец). He instructs the pilgrim in prayer, and gives him The Philokalia to read.

The pilgrim recalls the conversation: ‘Read this book,’ he said. ‘It is called The Philokalia, and it contains the full and detailed science of constant interior prayer, set forth by 25 Holy Fathers. The book is marked by lofty wisdom and is so profitable to use that it is considered the foremost and best manual of the contemplative spiritual life …’

‘Is it then more sublime that the Bible?’ I asked.

‘No, it is not that. But it contains clear explanations of what the Bible holds in secret and which cannot be easily grasped by our short-sighted understanding.’

The staretz compares the Bible to the Sun and The Philokalia to a small piece of glass that allows a person to view its rays, and he reads to the pilgrim instructions from Saint Simeon the New Theologian quoted in The Philokalia:

‘Sit down alone and in silence. Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart. As you breathe out say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ Say it moving your lips gently, or simply say it in your mind. Try to put all other thoughts aside. Be calm, be patient, and repeat the process very frequently.’

At first, the pilgrim is bored, is sleepy and is distracted by other thoughts. The staretz encourages him to persevere, gives him a prayer rope (Greek κομποσχοίνι, komboschini; Russian chotki), and tells him to use it as a counter as he repeats the Jesus Prayer. He tells him to repeat the Jesus Prayer 3,000 times a day, ‘quietly and without hurry … without deliberately increasing or diminishing the number. God will help you, and by this means you will reach also the unceasing activity of the heart.’

After the first few days, the pilgrim no longer finds that he has been set a hard task, but soon finds that he is praying again, both ‘easily and joyfully.’ His spiritual father increases the number to 6,000 and then to 12,000, so that the pilgrim reaches the point where the prayer wakes him up early in the morning. Now his whole desire is fixed on saying the Jesus Prayer and he is filled with joy.

The Pilgrim, the anonymous author of The Way of the Pilgrim, reports that the Jesus Prayer has two very concrete effects upon his vision of the world:

Firstly, it transfigures his relationship with the material creation around him. The world becomes transparent, a sign, a means of communicating God’s presence. He writes: ‘When I prayed in my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvellous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise.’

Secondly, the Jesus Prayer transfigures his relationship to his fellow human beings. His relationships are given form within their proper context: the forgiveness and compassion of the crucified and risen Lord. ‘Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me. If anyone harms me I have only to think, ‘How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.’

This story in The Way of the Pilgrim became familiar to many readers in the west in the 1960s through the popularity of JD Salinger’s novel, Franney and Zooey, when the distressed young woman describes the Jesus Prayer to her boyfriend over lunch in a restaurant. But what are the Scriptural and theological foundations of the Jesus Prayer?

The Jesus Prayer, in its simplicity and clarity, is rooted in the Scriptures, and its words are based on:

● the cry of the blind man at the side of the road near Jericho, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’ (Luke 18: 38);
● the cry of the ten lepers who called to him, ‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us; (Luke 17: 13);
● the cry for mercy of the publican, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Luke 18: 14);
● and the sentiments of the cry of the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23: 42).

Listening:

The Cry of the Thief Crucified by Pavel Chesnokov (Track 13, Authentic Russian Sacred Music).

Three levels of praying the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which the first step taken on the spiritual journey is recognising my own sinfulness, my essential estrangement from God and the people around me. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which I admit my desperate need of a Saviour. For ‘if we say that we have no sin in us, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1: 8).

In order to offer some broad, general guidelines for those interested in using the Jesus Prayer to develop their inner lives, Saint Theophane the Recluse (1815-1894), a 19th century Russian spiritual writer, distinguishes three levels in the saying of the Jesus Prayer:

1, It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation which Theophane defines as prayers’ ‘verbal expression and shape.’ Although it is very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and is only the first step, for ‘the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s mind and heart.’

2, As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. Saint Theophane remarks that at this point, ‘the mind is focused upon the words’ of the Jesus Prayer, ‘speaking them as if they were our own.’

3, He describes the third and final level as prayer of the heart. At this stage, prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer is a gift of the Spirit, and is to return to the Father as the Prodigal Son did (Luke 15: 32). The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit that cries that cries ‘Abba, Father!’’ (Galatians 4: 6).

This return to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the goal of all Christian spirituality. It is to be open to the presence of the Kingdom in our midst.

There is a very great emphasis on humility in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. There are many warnings about the disaster that will befall those who would use it in pride, arrogance or conceit. And in many texts, it is said that those who use the Jesus Prayer must only be members of the Orthodox Church in good standing.

When it is practised on a continuing basis, the Jesus Prayer becomes automatic.

In the Eastern tradition, the Jesus Prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope (Greek κομποσχοίνι, komboschini; Russian chotki). It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross.

The American Orthodox blogger and writer, Frederica Mathewes-Green (Facing East, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp 144-145), gives a vivid and realistic example of how the person who uses the Jesus Prayer constantly prays throughout the day and deals with ordinary, every-day thoughts and distractions.

The person praying the Jesus Prayer never treats it as a string of syllables whose ‘surface’ or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant. He/she considers a bare repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a mere string of syllables, perhaps with a ‘mystical’ inner meaning beyond the overt verbal meaning, to be worthless or even dangerous.

While s/he maintains this practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, s/he rejects all tempting thoughts, paying extreme attention to the consciousness of his/her inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his/her mind wander in any way at all.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is in the mind in the heart, free of images. The stage of practice known as ‘the guard of the mind’ is a very advanced stage of ascetical and spiritual practice. But attempting to accomplish this prematurely can cause very serious spiritual and emotional harm.

Appendix 1: New Testament understandings of prayer

Prayer is doxology, praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and intercession to God.

In the New Testament, prayer is presented as a positive command (Colossians 4: 2; I Thessalonians 5: 17). The people of God are challenged to include prayer in their everyday life, even in the busy struggles of marriage (I Corinthians 7: 5) as it is thought to bring those who believe closer to God.

Throughout the New Testament, prayer is presented as God’s appointed method by which those who believe obtain what he has to bestow (Matthew 7: 7-11; Matthew 9: 24-29; Luke 11: 13).

Lengthy passages in the New Testament are prayers or canticles:

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 1-5);

Christ’s prayer before his arrest, ‘may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26: 36-44);

The prayer for forgiveness (Mark 11: 25-26);

The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55);

The Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79);

Christ’s advice to ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation’ (Luke 22: 39-46);

Jesus’ great thanksgiving prayer in his final discourse at the Last Supper (John 17);

The Believers’ Prayer (Acts 4: 23-31);

Exclamations such as, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1: 3-14);

Saint Stephen’s Prayer (Acts 7: 59-60);

The prayer of Simon Magus (Acts 8: 24);

Maranatha (I Corinthians 16: 22).

The Apostle Paul’s advice to ‘pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men’ (II Thessalonians 3: 1-2).

Prayer, according to the Acts of the Apostles, can be seen at the first moments of the church (Acts 3: 1). The Apostles regarded prayer as the most important part of their life (Acts 6: 4; Romans 1: 9; Colossians 1: 9). They frequently incorporated verses from the Psalms into their writings. For example, in Romans 3: 10-18, the Apostle Paul borrows from Psalm 14: 1-3 and from other psalms.

Appendix 2: Helpful hints on working with parishioners who are uneasy about vocal prayer:

Encourage: Encourage a daily time of individual prayer and devotion: Talking with God in private is the best foundation for talking aloud to God, in a group.

Understand: Be understanding towards those who are uneasy praying with others. Make sure nobody feels under an obligation to pray out loud.

Affirm: Affirm the value of silent prayer.

Provide opportunities: Provide beginners with an opportunity to start with simple public prayer, perhaps asking them not to lead grace but to say a short simple prayer before we eat.

Model simplicity: Model simplicity yourself, and avoid ‘churchy’ language; try to be conversational with God.

Count others in: Think about encouraging others present to add to your prayer. When asked to say grace before a meal, or a prayer before an evening event, we could follow it by saying: ‘Has anyone else got something to say as well?’

Trust in God: Trust that the full Word of God is not in any one person – not even the priest – but in the Church as a whole, as the Body of Christ.

Be confident and honest: It is OK if you do not know what to pray when someone in a gathering asks you to pray. What’s wrong with praying: ‘Lord, we confess we don’t always know how to pray by ourselves. But we thank you that you know our needs before we can even find words to express them. We give this time to you and ask you to continue speaking to us and through us.’

Say thanks: Be quick to thank and show appreciation. For beginners it matters especially when you say: ‘Thank you for praying today.’

Be gentle: Above all, be gentle with others. In a competitive, performance-oriented world, those who are shy or embarrassed about praying out loud should know the church as a place of acceptance and safety.

Appendix 3: Learning from others: Islam

All Saints’ Cathedral, Cairo ... I woke to the sound of the call to prayer from a storefront mosque

Some years ago, I stayed on a few occasions in the Deanery beside All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. I expected to be woken by the bells of the cathedral, but instead was woken each morning by the call to prayer by a muezzin using a large megaphone in a storefront mosque in the street below.

It was a reminder that others can remind us of how our day needs to be punctuated by rhythm of prayer, and how in our casual slumber we need to be reminded that prayer provides deeper rest than sleep.

In Muslim countries I have found myself not merely adapting my prayer life but being challenged and transformed by Muslim attitudes to prayer and faith. The following are examples:

1, For Muslims, prayer is submission. This is implied in the name Islam and is made visible in the posture of prostration.

How much of our prayer is less what God demands of us and more about what we demand of God?

How willing are we to submit to God in prayer?

How often are we more likely to find in prayer that we are asking God to submit to us? This is often expressed physically. Most of us were probably taught to pray in the morning and at night, kneeling by our bedside.

How many of us find this too childish and too humiliating today?

2, For Muslims, prayer requires that coming properly prepared; hence the ritual of a Muslim washing face, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet before prayer.

Do we prepare to pray, in the same way that we would prepare to eat, or prepare before wetting out in our cars on our journey?

If not, what does that say about the priority of prayer in our daily activities?

3, For a Muslim, prayer is individual. And so a Muslim takes off his or her shoes and enters and stands bare-footed before God. Do you expose yourself to God in prayer? Or do you protect yourself from God in prayer?

4, Paradoxically, for every Muslim, prayer is collective too. Muslims stand toe-to-toe with those beside them in public prayer. There is no escaping the other, and therefore no escaping the needs of the other. My needs are only worth considering when I consider the needs of the other.

5, Moving out, for Muslims, prayer is also universal. In prayer, all face towards Mecca, so that all are facing the same way, in concentric circles that are spreading out around the globe.

6, And prayer embraces the whole kosmos. Those circles can keep on spreading out, like the ripples in the pool. But within the circles, Muslims constantly turn to their left and right, to those things, seen and unseen, which are then incorporated into prayer.

How often do want to be left alone at prayers, at intercessions, at the peace, even at the reception during the Eucharist?

It is easy for Christians to see that Islam is a missionary religion. Do you think Muslims see Christianity as a missionary religion?

I could draw parallels with what I have said about prayer in Islam with the spiritual disciplines and expressions of faith in Islam. The ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ are spiritual disciplines rather than doctrinal norms, and they are:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith): This is a simple credal confession … how often do we know and concisely express what is at the heart of our beliefs? This simple credal formula has a mission thrust for Muslims. Anyone who says it becomes a Muslim.

Where is mission at the heart of our Creeds?

2, Salat (Prayer): Muslims are expected to pray five times a day.

How often is the daily life of a Christian punctuated with the rhythm of prayer? Someone becomes a Muslim through a simple confession of faith. It is said one stops being a Muslim when one stops praying.

Do we consider that when we stop praying we stop being Christians?

Is your day punctuated with prayer?

3, Sawm (Fasting): For Muslims fasting is first and foremost a practice associated with Ramadan but it is a spiritual discipline at other times too. Nor is it simply about abstaining from food during day-light hours – it includes fasting from smoking, from sex, and more especially from all expressions of anger. If fasting had the same central place in Christian spiritual discipline, imagine what we could do prayerfully during Lent and Advent.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that teaches us, helps us to realise how, the whole body needs to be committed to prayer and not just, in the Anglican way, the brain and the intellect.

4, Zakat (giving alms): this giving is a spiritual discipline that is a duty for Muslims. It is not charity – as one Muslim explained to me, charity is that giving that begins when duty ends. We still see giving as charity and not as a duty. Islamic attitudes to the spiritual discipline of giving would probably mean USPG and other mission agencies did not have to face up to their present financial problems.

5, Hajj (Pilgrimage): There is an old spiritual song that includes the lines: “This land is not my home, I’m only travelling through.” Muslims make pilgrimages not only to Mecca and Medina, but to Jerusalem, to Hebron, to the graves of prophets, saints and Sufi mystics and poets. Life is a pilgrimage. I have a pilgrimage at least once a year to Lichfield, where I had my first adult experience of faith, and my first call to ordained ministry. It is a way of saying thank you to God, a way of reminding myself of God’s blessing and call to me, a way of not becoming too fixed in my ways. Pilgrimage is a spiritual disciple that keeps us on the move, that keeps us ever-engaged in God’s mission.

Select bibliography:

Joan D. Chittister, Benedictine Prayer: a larger vision of life: living the rule of Saint Benedict today (San Francisco and New York: Harper, 1991).
Urban T. Holmes, A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction (Harrisburg PA: Morehouse, 2002, the Library of Episcopalian Classics), first published in 1981 by Harper Collins, Scranton PA.
Urban T. Holmes, Spirituality for Ministry (Harrisburg PA: Morehouse, 2002, the Library of Episcopalian Classics), first published in 1982 by Harper Collins, Scranton PA.
CP Michael and MC Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types (Open Door, 1991 revised ed), first published in 1984.
Corinne Ware, Discover Your Spiritual Type: a guide to congregational growth (Herndon VA: Alban Institute, 1995).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Director of Education and Training in the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert. These notes were prepared for a training day with Clergy and Readers in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Monday 12 March 2018.

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