With a h/t to Mthr Gemma
It was one Saturday night After Eight, and me and my mate Freddo, were being paid a Bounty to guard this tomb. ‘Guard a tomb? You say. Yeah that’s a Whole Nut of an idea, I know.
There was this guy, see. We’d executed him on the Friday, but he had said he would come back to life so we were there to make sure he stayed dead! No really, I’m not Lion! You think that’s mad? Join the Club! Now my mate is a bit of a Smartie, so while we were stood, guarding the dead body, we says, ‘why don’t we have a Picnic?’ And I thought, ‘Well why not? I could do with some Time Out’
So we sat down and ate our sandwiches Crème Egg and cress for me, then Chomping some Fruit and Nuts for one of my five-a-day, all washed down with a cold glass of Dairy Milk.
Anyway, back to the Topic. After our food we were Flaked out and… well… I’m not going to Fudge the facts, we fell asleep. I know we shouldn’t have, but we did. We loosened our Buttons, pulled off our Snickers (sneakers) and lay down under the Milky Way.
Next thing I know there is a Crunchie sound, like when you Rolo way the stone. Sat bolt upright and thought… ‘What a Kinder Surprise is this?’ I said. I couldn’t have been more shocked if a Penguin had arrived on a Double Decker bus!
So what was it, this surprise? Only an angel, clothes all Milky Bar white and hair all Curly Wurly – just sat there, on top of the stone! And the tomb was OPEN! (Open Hollow Egg)
Me and my mate, we were in a complete Twirl – we were so scared we called for our Mars – but just before we fainted, we heard a Ripple of fabric from the tomb. Seems he had come back to life after all!
I heard a Wispa as he stepped out. He winked at me and said ‘Aero!’
This liturgy is a hybrid of Anglican and Roman texts which I keep for use in the anointing of the sick. It is usually given as an act of healing and reconciliation which needs to be carefully explained so that it is not feared as “the Last Rites”
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Sprinkling with holy water
If it seems desirable, the priest may sprinkle the sick person and those present with holy water. One of the following may be used:
The Lord is our shepherd
and leads us to streams of living water
Like a stream in parched land,
may the grace of the Lord refresh our lives.
Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ,
who by his death and resurrection has redeemed us.
My dear friends, we are gathered here in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present among us.
As the gospels remind us, the sick came to him for healing; moreover, he loves us so much that he died for our sake.
Through the apostle James, he has commanded us: “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.”
Let us therefore commend our sick brother/sister N. to the grace and power of Christ, that he may save him/her and raise him/her up.
Lord Jesus, you healed the sick:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you forgave sinners:
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you give us yourself
to heal us and bring us strength:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
The priest concludes the penitential rite with the following:
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and reconciliation of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit.
God of compassion,
you take everyone under your care
and know our physical and spiritual needs.
Transform our weakness by the strength of your grace
and confirm us in your covenant
so that we may grow in faith and love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever.
Scripture: Matthew 11:25-30
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Hear the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Glory to you, O Lord
On one occasion, Jesus spoke thus: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest of children. Father, it is true. You have graciously willed it so. Everything has been given over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son—and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ
Laying on of hands
The priest silently places his hands on the sick person and prays for their healing
The priest anoints the sick person with blessed oil.
First, he anoints the forehead, saying
Through this holy anointing
may the Lord in his love and mercy
help/heal you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Then he anoints the palms of the hands, saying:
May the Lord who frees you from sin
save you and raise you up.
Prayer after Anointing
Let us pray…
Father in heaven,
through this holy anointing
grant N. comfort in his/her suffering.
When he/she is afraid, give him/her courage,
when afflicted, give him/her patience,
when dejected, afford him/her hope,
and when alone, assure him/her of the support of your holy people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
In extreme or terminal illness
Lord Jesus Christ,
you chose to share our human nature,
to redeem all people, and to heal the sick.
Look with compassion upon your servant N.,
whom we have anointed in your name
with this holy oil for the healing of his/her body and spirit.
Support him/her with your power,
comfort him/her with your protection,
and give him/her the strength to fight against evil.
Since you have given him/her
a share in your own passion,
help him/her to find hope in suffering,
for you are Lord for ever and ever.
God of compassion,
our human weakness lays claim to your strength.
We pray that through the skills of surgeons and nurses
your healing gifts may be granted to N.
May your servant respond to your healing will
and be reunited with us at your altar of praise.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray…
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power & the glory
For ever & ever. Amen
May God the holy and undivided Trinity
preserve you in body, mind and spirit,
and bring you safe to that heavenly country
where peace and harmony reign;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
I need your voice – many of you know of my Crowdsourced Psalms Project to produce a Digital Psalter. Now I need urgently to make this Sonnet by the wonderful Malcolm Guite:
Palm Sunday by Malcom Guite
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.
If you can help me (it will take slightly less than 2 mins), then please do the following:
- If you have a phone like an iPhone or an Android, there is usually an app to record your voice – often called “Voice Memo” or some thing similar. I use a free Android App called ASR which can be installed for free from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nll.asr If you have better recording equipment, then even better, but I have found that most smartphones are good enough nowadays. You can configure it to record at quite a good quality: I would suggest 192k in MP3 or MP4 format if that means anything to you. If not, just record it as it comes and I will do spooky mysterious things with it with electronics.
- iPhones will record in the very nice .M4a format. This is fine, but please try and set it to the highest quality you can.
- Read (nicely and in the highest possible quality) the above reading. Click here to jump to the optimum settings in ASR…
- After recording select “Share” (or similar) and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- It would be really helpful if you named the file with your name. This will help me collate them.
- I will cut it up with all the others and make these into the reading using the multiplicity of voices, accents, genders etc.
- Can you tell others and ask them to do it for me please so I get lots and lots of voices.
Well, we are nearly four weeks into Lent and I am wondering how it has been for you?
I hope that you have been able to find some time for reflection amidst the busy-ness of daily living. That is always a challenge for me – but very necessary. And I am wondering what has been happening for you in your praying? As we have considered time and place to pray, so today I want to consider Prayer and the senses. As I said at the beginning of this course, my aim was to be more practical than theological, and I hope that this evening I may be able to offer some new insights and things to try as we seek to learn more how to pray.
The Senses. Something integral to being human – and we are bodily people. Most of us, I suspect, take our senses for granted – hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell – unless and until we are deprived of them. A child born without any one of those capacities is, rightly, a source of sadness and pain to those close to them; for suddenly those around anticipate the sense of loss – of deprivation even – a sense of unfairness that a fellow human being should not have the opportunity to experience what we experience and enjoy what we enjoy.
Accident or age can deprive us of one or more of our senses later in life and we are suddenly bereft and left grieving for capacities we once knew and took for granted. Learning to live with such loss is not easy.
And yet there are many who will say that the body’s capacity to adapt is remarkable and where one sense is diminished, another develops extraordinarily to take its place…
The important thing to recognise is that because we are bodily creatures, our senses are very much a part of our praying, whether we recognise it or not. If we think about it, we will probably all agree that hearing and seeing are familiar parts of prayer: when we are together we hear words spoken, either as set prayers or biddings for intercession; and we see words printed on a page, which we read aloud and listen to as we speak them.
But that is only one dimension of hearing; only one dimension of seeing; and there are so many more. So let’s explore each of our senses in turn and stretch our minds, and in doing so, stretch the possibilities for our prayer.
Prayer is clearly about more than just words, but also about the non-words: silence is not just an absence of words, but rather it is a way of being attentive to God and to ourselves which can help us to go deeper than we might in other forms of prayer.
But when we are silent, we are still hearing – and we may well be using other senses as well, as we shall see in a few moments… When you sit in silence you need to hear both the external and the internal ‘noise’ – sounds from round about, but also the sounds from within: a phrase from Scripture; the words of a psalm or hymn that comes into your mind… But what other sounds are there and how might we be active in using our sense of hearing in our prayer?
Let me offer three particular areas you might explore: first, the sounds of nature. Sit in the garden or the local park, or go for a gentle walk on the Moor with your ears open and you will hear the sounds of nature: birds singing; the wind blowing through long grass; the trickle of a stream; the whistling of a buzzard; the scrunch of leaves underfoot; the brushing of a hedgerow against your jacket…. Whilst I’m not one for saying simply ‘You can always find God in the garden’, there is – for many of us – a deep inspiration that comes through hearing the sounds and seeing the sights of our created world. As Gerard Manley-Hopkins reminds us:
The sounds and sights of nature draw us beyond ourselves and can inspire us to praise and wonder at our Creator God. St Francis knew such wonder well and we hear it expressed, of course, in this extract from his Canticle of Brother Son and Sister Moon:
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
But what about the sounds of daily living? Perhaps we regard those as distractions? The traffic on the street; the crying child; the noises in the market place; the marital argument; the hoover; the washing machine. Our instinct is to say that this is ‘noise’ and we may try to escape from it. But these are the noises – the sounds – of life. And each, in its own way, can lead us to prayer: for the safety of those who travel; for family life; for all who trade; for relationships in conflict; for those who care for homes; for those with no-one to care whose labour is with hands and with back-breaking work. The sounds of daily living can be just as much part of our prayer as silence.[vimeo 6017188]
For many people, however, music can play a special part in enabling prayer. It is, of course, so often a matter of taste. But, for each of us, there will be particular pieces of music – or styles or types of music – which help to still or stir us and which can often draw us to God.
Music can sometimes ‘reach the parts that others don’t’ in a way that it is hard to explain.
Music has the power to stir the soul, and is a uniquely personal thing. Whether it’s classical, modern, pop, rap, grunge, Taize or something else, music – with and without words- can lead us into prayer and sometimes even become the vehicle by which we pray. A Tallis chant or a Brian Eno piece, whatever works for you. Modern ways of delivering music: streaming online access to virtually the whole musical catalogues of the world give us unlimited opportunities.
So much for hearing. What about sight?
Well, I have already spoken of nature and few of us would deny the power of a sunset or a glorious vista to stir us within. What God has made is indeed good. But what about the works of human beings? Art, sculpture, photography, icons….
The long history of association between art and religion has borne fruit since time immemorial and never more so than in the Christian era, in a wealth of carvings, engravings, paintings, frescoes, icons, woodcuts and more both inspired by and inspiring of the God in whose image the artist is made.
If you have never used a work of art to inspire you to pray, then please try it; look at it with eyes of faith and be amazed at what God unfolds for you….
And it’s not just works of art that can help us. We live in a visual technological world and the creative possibilities of the internet, YouTube and computer-generated visuals are enormous. Such materials may not be to your personal taste, but for a new generation they offer huge potential for expressing and communicating the truths of God.
Finally, while we’re thinking about sight, let’s not forget the simple power of the lit candle as an aid to focusing the mind and stilling the soul. Whether in light or darkness, a candle can be a hugely effective way of signalling attentiveness to God and to prayer – a way of marking out both the place and the time….
The sense of touch is one we may not have explored before. The classical use of the rosary, not only in the Christian tradition, but by other faiths as well, illustrates the way in which physical connectedness can both enable concentration and engage the body at a different level to the mind.
Holding crosses have become popular in recent years – a simple, off-centred cross which fits neatly into a person’s hand and which can often act as a great reassurance to those who are troubled or sick and otherwise unable to pray.
But what about holding other things from nature – stones, shells, leaves, grass or flowers – feeling their beauty and complexity as an aid to prayer rather than simply looking at them – beautiful as they may be to the eye. Or there may be the seasonal use of objects such as fruits or vegetables at Harvest-time, or nails in Holy Week. And then there is the whole question of the appropriateness of touch when praying with others – the laying on of hands; the holding of another’s hand when praying for them, or anointing the sick with the Oil of Healing (which is always for healing, and not as popular culture understands it as the last rites)
Jesus healed in a visceral way: spittle, mud, physical contact, and when appropriately given, touch can be an important part of the physicality of faith..
Smell and taste are perhaps a little more diffuse when it comes to thinking about prayer, despite the fact that incense as long been an aid to prayer in the history of the Church; and all four Gospels give an account of the woman who anointed Jesus with fragrant perfume in preparation for his burial. There is the distinct smell of the Oil of Chrism used in Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination.
But when we read Scripture and begin to imagine some of the smells and tastes that those in the stories may have experienced, it can become an inspiration to our own prayer and can open up the narratives in ways we have never thought of.
- What might it have smelt like, for example, by the Sea of Galilee?
- What might it have smelt like in the heart of the city of Jerusalem with sheep and goats roaming the streets and spices being sold, and bread baked, and the sweat of humanity all around?
- What might it have smelt and tasted like when Jesus and his disciples broke the bread and shared the fish, and turned water into wine, and picked the figs, and plucked the grain….?
This might seem a long way from prayer and the senses, but in fact it is not. For Scripture can be a way in to encountering God with more than just our minds. It is a way of prayer (the examen) encouraged and developed by St Ignatius Loyola in the sixteenth century, and which has enabled countless Christians since to deepen their prayer lives as they have learned to enter in to the biblical narrative using their senses as well as their intellect.
There is much more that could be said. But I hope I have whetted your appetite (and I use the phrase deliberately) to experiment with new ways of praying for you; ways that encourage you to use the whole of who you are and not just your mind.
If you want to talk more about ‘how’ to use your senses, then please ask. And remember – God gave us our senses to use in all sorts of ways – not just so that we don’t burn the toast!
Next week we will finally come to explore Prayer and Words.
There are probably as many different thoughts on prayer as people in the world, and this is the thing that I want to assure everybody with – no-one, but no-one thinks they are any good at it.
The kind of prayer that we may have been taught at our Grandmother’s knee or in Infant School hands together, eyes closed is probably as far from most people’s prayer lives as infant school itself is, but the danger is that we may not have moved on from that ideal, even though our reality is quite different.
There are two types of prayer: the personal, the private and the corporate, the communal either shared with one other person or a whole congregation and they are two very different things. The latter is a corporate thing: you are leading a whole community in prayer and so your prayers should be collective “We pray for…” rather than “I pray for…” because that is the realm of the private prayer. It’s not about what you think, but where the whole community is being led, so I encourage the leading of prayer with others as a corporate act. Don’t over use words like the prophets of Baal:
The personal is just that: to an extent I cannot tell you, but to equip you with thoughts, ideas and maybe a few good prayers as a springboard, but you are, I am afraid, on your own.
When you started praying there must have been an intention to use Prayer like a Christmas List – a series of things reeled off for Santa or God to grant:
“God Bless Mummy and God Bless Daddy and God Bless Auntie Susan and help make me a Good Boy, Amen Oh and can I have a new bicycle for Christmas…”
But that is a one-way diatribe, not a dialogue, a conversation between two intimates. Prayer involves just as much listening as it does saying.
What God says might not be very loud or clear at all. At the times when his voice has been very clear, I have found it to be exhilarating, overwhelming, challenging and simply awesome, but it is not the everyday encounter with God in prayer. Often He is silent, and it may feel like he is not listening.
As I wait on God, often notions occur to me, as I think the matters on my heart through, some solution, strategy, action sometimes comes out. Often not the kind of thing I would usually think of and certainly not what I am willing to do. It is there, as I think things over, that those senses are guided by God.
For me at least, God seldom speaks, but often nudges. You might want to say that I have come to the conclusions myself, but they are so often so different from my own self-perception that I have to conclude they are Other. And if they are Other, then I can only conclude (because the fruits of these actions are always positive) that they are the promptings of God, rather the distractions of the Evil one.
This is why I say that distraction in prayer is not a bad thing, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit, leading you to think of those things done, not done, needing to be done, from the trivial to the critical, from the intimate to the global. If you are thinking of lunch, then so be it.
Prayer with God is not a test, either for Him or you. You are not being asked to reel off the sickest of our community in your mind, or the places of world conflict and tension (hint: the Middle East is a safe bet on that one). God knows this. It doesn’t matter is someone or something gets missed, for if we pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) the opportunity will come around again. He knows the needs of the world and of you. Prayer is therefore an opportunity for you to recognise these people and places for yourself and to prompt you into action about them.
Prayer therefore becomes a cry for help, on behalf of yourself or on behalf of others and the help which is sought is not merely a passive seeking for the external, supernatural power of God to step into this world and sort it out, but a way for God to use us in these matters – to prompt us to say this, do this, be this, shout aloud for this and to be whatever is needed to sort it out. Prayer therefore becomes a springboard for action.
Prayer cannot do this, unless you are listening. That small voice, that sense that “this is the right thing to do” is God’s response to your prayers.
“But God doesn’t answer my prayers” you may cry, as your lottery ticket fails to deliver yet again. God always answers prayer. In three ways: “Yes”. “No” and “here’s a better idea”. My lack of lottery win is therefore because (and I hate to admit it is true) I would be ruined by untold riches and my worst character traits would destroy me. No is the right answer. There are times when the method of God saying Yes is not what I expected, because he always has a better plan and a wider perspective: I literally cannot see the forest because of the tree right in front of me. So, when I pray for the healing of a person and they die, why children get cancer or run over or lose their parents and are forced to flee alone from their homes I lack the perspective to understand how God works. My own desires, my own selfishness is not God’s purpose, and the seemingly arbitrary cruelty inflicted on innocent, good people is a mystery beyond all understanding. I must recognise that this is not the action of a cruel tyrant, pushing us around like pieces on a cosmic chessboard, but of one who wishes to show us love and be loved in return and yet loves us enough to allow us the opportunity to
fuck mess it all up.
What if God answered all prayers with YES? Bruce Almighty gave us an insight…
Similarly, the timescales of our lives do not fit the cosmic timescale of God. God is outside of time, it’s creator who transcends the boundaries of time and space. He will therefore answer prayer (however it is) in his own good time. It is wrong to seek to persuade or trick God into something simply because it fits our own selfish desires (one of the key reasons why the answer might be “No”). It is said that God has all of eternity to respond to the split-second prayer of someone throwing out a “help me” prayer as their car crashes. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” demands that we do not ask the impossible, nor expect any response in our own timeframe: God’s response will be at the appropriate time (Kairos) and not earthly human time (chronos). Wait on the Lord and accept whatever might come, or be stirred into action to bring it about, under God’s guidance.
If the answer to “What is Prayer” is “Whatever you want it to be” then it might be worth providing a toolkit for you to explore some of the different ways of thinking about prayer. The exploration of place and time, silence, senses and words over the next few weeks of Lent will hopefully provide some ways of engaging in prayer: active, responsive, quiet, reflective or aloud; in stillness or bustle, in action and ritual, music, art or words.
There is no one way to pray and as you seek out what works for you, be aware that no one thinks they can really do it well, and that’s okay; for God will still hear our prayers…
…and he loves them all.