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True Prayer - Mark Fletcher - 12-02-2007 10:14 PM

Having attended the Divine Liturgy at Chatham yesterday, I realised when praying the shorter form of Evening Prayer tonight that I have misunderstood what prayer is really about.

Prayer is allowing Divine Life to 'lift you up' and communicate with you. It is not primarily about "saying the words and meaning them" although that is of course important.

Prayer is really about the shocking, rather awesome reality that God does indeed exist and that He is utterly unknowable to your intellect. The immensity and gentle powerfulness of Christ's presence, the unknowable vastness and cosmic immensity of The Father, and the warmth of the Holy Spirit are Realities of such grandeur and power that you can forget that they are actually Real and within reach of your spiritual awareness by focussing your mind on lesser things. Awareness of sin is essential, but allowing it to totally govern your prayer life is mistaken.

I imagine myself in my utter childish helplessness with a "rubber ring" keeping me afloat on a vast ocean. Prayer is trusting the water and learning to appreciate and communicate with the swell and immensity of it all, whereas shutting the Reality out through fear and pretending that my inflatable is the only thing that matters seems really rather foolish. Using the sea metaphor, prayer is noticing the vastness of the spiritual sky, the power of the Spiritual Sun, and the dangers of deep water without proper assistance. I realised that I may have been missing the point of prayer in the past. I am not suggesting that prayer is a nice warm bath. It is surely communication with the Divine at the deepest level of one's being. Just as on the ocean, there may be hidden dangers of various kinds. There could even be sharks.

Have I got this more or less right?


Prayer - John Charmley - 12-02-2007 10:28 PM

Dear Mark,

That seems to me about right. After all, God knows what we need, and He knows what those for whom we pray need; it is not as though we can tell God anything.

It is about our opening up and letting Him communicate with us - He is there, and through the Son and the Holy Spirit we can know and experience Him - and worship is how we do that. The Liturgy, and prayer, lift us into His presence.

My wife, who as I have said is not a Christian, let alone Orthodox, noticed yesterday, at her second Orthodox service, that it was 'like meditation', and she felt, at times, what she called a 'nameless epiphany' - moments, she said, 'of illumination'. She felt no need to try to hold them, but the experience was there. She said that it was as though the words and the spirit worked in unison, and that it was like the words hardly mattered - although in a way she could not explain, they did; whenever she came back to the prayer book, she could find where we were.

I have said nothing, as I don't want to sound pushy - convert fever is not quite my thing, I fear. But, like your reaction - and my own - I find it significant.

In Christ,

John


Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 13-02-2007 04:27 AM

What you have written confirms my own experience. Thank you for that. Your wife sounds a lovely person. I hope that she will come to faith in God's good time, and as a result of your intercession. May God bless you both.


Calling by John Fuller - Mark Fletcher - 13-02-2007 11:15 AM

There is a wonderful poem about self-awareness and prayer which is entitled 'Calling' by John Fuller (born 1937). I read it today in a bookshop in Dover. It was in an anthology of poems called 'Speaking to the Heart: 100 Favourite Poems' by Sister Wendy Beckett. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it on the internet, and do not wish to infringe copyright or get this forum into trouble by reproducing it without permission.

I feel that this book is particularly helpful. Sister Wendy Beckett appears to have experienced the spiritual truths of the Christian Faith. Her brief comments on each poem indicate that she has a deep relationship with God through prayer, and is seeking to help readers to come to faith "through the back door", through the truth she has found in a wide variety of poetry. I cannot commend this book highly enough. It's truly beautiful and profound.

It is hardcover, 176 pages, published by Constable and Robinson on 5 October 2006, ISBN-10: 1845294653, ISBN-13: 978-1845294565.


- Simon - 13-02-2007 09:20 PM

Prayer is really about the shocking, rather awesome reality that God does indeed exist and that He is utterly unknowable to your intellect. The immensity and gentle powerfulness of Christ's presence, the unknowable vastness and cosmic immensity of The Father, and the warmth of the Holy Spirit are Realities of such grandeur and power that you can forget that they are actually Real and within reach of your spiritual awareness by focussing your mind on lesser things. Awareness of sin is essential, but allowing it to totally govern your prayer life is mistaken.


At the conclusion to the Liturgy on Sunday we processed out from the altar with a hymn, as is our custom, and I chose "My God, how wonderful; Thou art..." both as it is a favourite of mine but also as it was relevant to what I had been trying to preach. There is a verse: "Yet I may love Thee too O Lord, ALmighty as Thou art, for Thou has stooped to ask of me, the love of my poor heart." How wonderfully Orthodox - that balance, that tension...

Kallistos Ware (as usual) is very good on this - I do recommend The Orthodox Way in which he explores the utter transcendence and yet also the nearness and intimacy of God.

C. S. Lewis' introduction to his The Problem of Pain is also superb in his consideration of the numinous especially his example from The Wind in the Willows where Mole and Rat encounter Pan and one asks the other if he is afraid and the reply is something like "Afraid? Of Him!? And yet I am afraid." To encounter God is both awesome and yet, and yet - beauty and love too... If we could explain it all so neatly and perfectly we wouldn't need all this ritual to by-pass our inteelects and get straight to the heart. And here I indulge myslef and quote from a paper I once wrote:

"...one Evangelical Christian learnt from his experience of the Coptic Orthodox Church: ?My Orthodox friends have shown me that the Holy Spirit can reveal Jesus through symbols and ceremonies that speak directly to my heart (and afterwards to my brain).? Symbols and ceremonies that speak directly to our hearts are symbols and ceremonies that are right up to date psychologically. For research has revealed that communication between two people is as little as seven percent verbal (the actual words used) with thirty-five percent para-verbal or vocal (the tone of voice: angry, depressed, nervous...) and fifty-eight percent non-verbal (physical posture and gesture). In Orthodox spirituality we would communicate with our deepest innermost selves; we would be in touch with that secret inner chamber, that holy of holies deep within us, at the very centre of our being, where God Himself dwelleth. Thus Saint Clement of Alexandria: ?The greatest of all lessons is to know oneself; for if someone knows himself, he will know God; and if he knows God, he will become like God.? And Saint Isaac the Syrian: ?Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven; for there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the kingdom is hidden within your soul... dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.? With mere verbal communication alone insufficient, it is no surprise that Orthodoxy involves both the para-verbal communication of different chants (such as the mourning tone of Holy Week followed by the festal tone of Pascha) and the non-verbal communication of all these material and physical symbols. Saint Isaac again: ?Blessed is God who continually uses corporeal objects to draw us close, in a mysterious way, to a knowledge of his invisible being.

Hope some of my ramblings help - as I always say feel free to use whatever help and ignore whatever doesn't.


Prayer - John Charmley - 13-02-2007 10:23 PM

Dear Fr. Simon,

I, for one, hope that you will keep 'rambling', because if your words are 'rambling' I could do with more of it.

They are moving, apposite and instructive. One of the things one comes to realise as one 'becomes' Orthodox is the importance of the Liturgy - the ceremony and the actions, the rhythm and the cadences, and your words help us to understand how this is so.

I have long been convinced that the pared down liturgies of the modern Anglican Church missed something of vital importance, and I now begin to apprehend what that is.

Thank you for your words.

In Christ,

John