I’ve been working through a week of guided prayer. Prayer is something that I’ve had great difficulty with – this blog post from February spoke about it. This year I’ve been greatly challenged on two fronts: Firstly, to move away from the loud and more charismatic styles of worship and into those styles that are quieter and more contemplative. Secondly, to address the problems I have with prayer. This week has been illuminating in both areas.
I love tea. I jokingly call myself a camellian – a word I invented to describe a tea-based lifeform, because I consume so much of it. It’s the way I start my day – with a hot mug of tea. What I didn’t bargain on during my week of guided prayer, was that this seemingly insignificant part of my day, would take on new meaning in my desire to improve my prayer time. My prayer guide has never met me before, he’s from West London, so he’s unlikely to know just how important tea is to me.
When you pour cold water onto a tea bag very little happens. Pour boiling water onto it and out the flavour and aroma comes. Going into prayer ‘cold’ as I’ve been doing, isn’t helping me to feel connected to God. ‘Warming myself up’ for prayer, infusing myself, is going to release me and enable me to pray in a way that I haven’t previously done before. It may sound very simplistic and very ordinary; but to think about prayer whilst I’m making my tea in a morning, is bringing me into an attitude of prayer in a gentle and more natural way than if I plonk myself in a chair and try and force something to happen.
On another occasion this week I selected a rock from some items on a table. On it were beautiful pieces of polished marble, carved wood and sculpted metal. But the thing that stood out the most was the rough piece of natural flint. It was hard and angular in a way that I feel I am. Geology is part of my past and part of what I still love, so to select that piece connected my past to who I am now. I can see the imperfections in the silica, I can see the conchoidal fractures where it’s been struck and broken – flaws and scars that echo me in this simple piece of rock. I see it as a way of addressing my fear of change by starting with something that I know and something that I can understand. It’s something that says ‘who you are is just fine, but you know from your own studies of human evolution, Rachel, what people can do with flint if they shape it. Think about the potential for use that I [God] might reveal if I shape you…’ Again, it’s very simplistic on the face of it, but to me it’s personal and reassuring. It speaks to the fear and quietens it.
And today I was given a poem by Joyce Rupp about midlife and relinquishing your security in needing a map. Oh I always need a map! I need to know where I’m going. I detest SatNavs because I can’t see enough of the map on the screen. My trusty Road Atlas of Britain has never let me down (although several city ring road systems have caused deep anxiety). Again, it’s wonderfully appropriate to me. It’s a way to take what I am and place it before God, not to place what I think I am or where I think I am. It is God to decide what I should be, it is God who’s navigating and Psalm 119:105 tells me that it’s God who’s providing the light for my path. It’s not Wembley Stadium floodlighting, either, it’s just enough light for the step I’m on.
I’m not going to be able to attend the final session on Sunday as I’ll be up in North Wales, but my Prayer Guide will share a comment on my behalf about my journey this week. It’s hard to know what to select because it’s all been so personal and meaningful. It’s really broken down a lot of barriers about what I thought prayer should be and turned it into something personal and accessible and which starts where I am: Sat at a desk in Ampthill, with a mug of tea at my side, a piece of flint, the shell of an oyster, a poem about maps and an understanding that God is much closer than I think.