Archives March 2017

Crowdsourcing a Sonnet for Holy Ground on Palm Sunday

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:


  1. 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  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.
  2. iPhones will record in the very nice .M4a format. This is fine, but please try and set it to the highest quality you can.
  3. Read (nicely and in the highest possible quality) the above reading. Click here to jump to the optimum settings in ASR…
  4. After recording select “Share” (or similar) and email it to me at
  5. It would be really helpful if you named the file with your name. This will help me collate them.
  6. I will cut it up with all the others and make these into the reading using the multiplicity of voices, accents, genders etc.
  7. Can you tell others and ask them to do it for me please so I get lots and lots of voices.

Thank you.


Lent 4: Prayer & Senses

Well, we are nearly four weeks into Lent and I am wondering how it has been for you?

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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:

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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.

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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.


What is Prayer?


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.

Lent Talks 2017 #1 Prayer and Place


Several years ago, I had a conversation with an elderly member of a congregation. We got on to talking about prayer and how hard it sometimes was to pray. As the conversation continued, I was surprised at some of the questions I was being asked….

Here was a faithful churchgoer of, probably, sixty or more years who was relishing the opportunity to talk about something that she had done for almost the whole of her life.

Something she said has stuck with me: “You see, Father – I come to the church every week; just as I’ve been to church almost every Sunday of my life. I join in the hymns. I join in the words. But nobody has ever really taught me how to pray. People just think that because you’ve been coming for so long – you ‘know’. But I don’t. And after sixty years, I’m too ashamed to ask…” I left that conversation not ashamed of that person’s ignorance, but ashamed of myself (and on behalf of my fellow clergy) that we should so ‘short-change’ our congregations that we fail to give them the basic tools they need to develop a praying life.

What is clear to me is the deep thirst amongst to speak and learn more about prayer – and it is on the back of that experience and many others over the year that I have decided to offer these short talks during Lent. More practical than theological; more pragmatic than reflective – though I hope they will still be ‘spiritual’ in the best sense of that word, I hope these talks will contain elements of all those things.

My key concern in this series is to ensure that nobody here will be able to say in five, ten, twenty or fifty years’ time – “Nobody has ever really taught me how to pray.” For although prayer is often not easy, there are very simple and practical ways in which we can help ourselves by thinking about how we pray and by exploring some ‘tools’ which may help us as we do.

But a word of warning: prayer is gift. It is the gift of God to us, through us and in us. For we can only pray as the Holy Spirit who dwells within us makes it possible. God speaks to God from within.

As it says in Romans 8

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8.26-7)

Ultimately, it is God who makes prayer possible. But we can help ‘make the connection’ with him by developing a discipline, a framework – and the tools – for prayer which work for us. Prayer is a bit like stepping on to God’s moving walkway – just like those ones you find at big airports. You’ve got to want to go in God’s direction, but once you do – once you step on – God carries you and helps you on the way. And we also need to recognise that what worked thirty years ago may no longer be the best way for us to connect with God today.

This course will, therefore, go back to basics. Over the coming weeks, we shall explore:

  • Prayer and place;
  • Prayer and time;
  • Prayer and silence;
  • Prayer and the senses;
  • and finally, Prayer and words.

I will not be offering profound insights from the spiritual masters – although I hope you will detect their influence on the way. What I will try to offer is some basic teaching in the hope that there may be something fresh, something new, something as yet ‘undiscovered’ which catches your imagination and brings new life to your praying and your prayers this Lent and in the days and weeks to come.

So we begin….

Prayer and place

Where do you pray? Think about it…..

There will be as many answers to that question as there are people here in the Church. What is clear is that all of us pray in certain places. They may not be the same places. They may not be the same places every day or every week. But all of us pray somewhere. It is, perhaps, to state the obvious, but prayer is located; because we are located. As human beings, we live in a created world as created beings. We are bound by space and time. And that both limits us and enables us. If we were spirits, then prayer (if we prayed at all) would be very different – perhaps more like entering into some cosmic ‘soup’ with no bounds and no identifiable beginning or ending. Instead, prayer is an activity which we undertake within the constraints of the physical world and within the passage of eternity. And that means that there are both places – and times – when we pray. We’ll think about Prayer and time a bit more next week. For today, I want to focus on place….

I suspect that the answer to my question ‘Where do you pray?’ will have included answers like: in church at services; in church on my own; at home; in an armchair; in bed; at the meal table; and many more. It may well have included places like: in the bath; in the garden; when I’m out for a walk; in the office. In fact, there is nowhere where prayer is not possible. But perhaps what matters is that we find out ‘where works for us’…. Where are the places or the contexts where we find it easiest to pray and to connect with God? For my experience, both for myself and as I have listened to others, is that for most people there are some places which work better than others; and places which used to work, may no longer do so.

But before we explore where we pray, let’s think about where Jesus prayed:

  • He prayed in the mountains and on the hills. In each of the Gospels, weread phrases such as “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.” (Matt 14.23). Often, he would steal away on his own to ‘re-charge’ (as it were) after some great miracle or exercise of ministry such as the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Sometime, he would retreat to such a lonely place before making a significant decision – like the choosing of his disciples; or some significant event – such as The Transfiguration – the point at which he finally turns his face towards Jerusalem and the Cross. For Jesus, whose tradition as a Jew told him that‘mountains’ were places to ‘meet with God’ – just as Moses and Elijah had done – retreating to such a high and lonely place, in the open air, was an acknowledgement that it was time to meet with his Father to be strengthened and to discern his will.
  • But Jesus also prayed ‘indoors’. Most notably, he prayed in the Upper Room with his disciples on the night before he died. Here, he was not alone, and through his praying he revealed once more – though to deaf ears – the truth of his relationship with the Father and the purpose of his ministry on earth. The disciples, as it were, are allowed to ‘eavesdrop’ on his prayer as he is enfolded in the love of the Father and prepared for the cruel death he will suffer but a few hours – prayer which continues of course in the Garden of Gethsemane in the moments before his arrest.
  • But his praying did not stop at his arrest. Even in the midst of his agony on the Cross, he continues to pray to the Father. He intercedes for the penitent thief; he seeks the Father’s forgiveness for those who taunt and mock and kill him; finally, he commits his own spirit to his Father’s care. Jesus prays in the midst of his suffering both for others and for himself.
  • Finally, of course, he prays even now – our exalted Lord and King in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, the One who “ever lives to make intercession for us”.

The variety of ‘place’ is notable: outside; inside; alone; in company; in public; in the midst of suffering; in heaven…. And, of course, Jesus not only gives us the example of himself, but also teaches on prayer – especially in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6) – where he encourages his followers to ‘pray in secret’ and ‘not to heap up empty phrases’, unlike the Pharisees and the Gentiles who want to be both seen and heard by others.

So where might we pray? Let’s think first about some of the obvious places – though for some people they may not be so obvious….

Most of us pray in church. In the Christian tradition, the place of gathering for the Christian community is a place where Christian’s pray – both with others and on their own. In the earliest days of Christianity, those places of gathering may have been homes, synagogues, public spaces or even outside in market places. It was the gathering of the people that made the ‘church , the ecclesia – not the building. But over time, particular buildings were erected and these became set apart as places for prayer – places where (in some cases) prayer has been offered for centuries….

You, like me, will sometimes have walked into a church building – often an ancient one – and had a strong sense of it being a ‘holy place’. As T S Eliot so lyrically puts it

If you came this way
Taking any route, starting from anywhere
At any time or at any season
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice pray….
(From ‘The Four Quartets’)

In such places, we are caught up into the prayer of centuries- carried on the ever-ascending desire of countless thousands who have knelt before us and in whose place we now kneel – literally preparing the ground for others who will follow afterwards…. One such place for me is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I never cease to be moved each time I visit. It is a holy place.

You may have others. Not necessarily churches.

For each of you there may be similar ‘special places’ which seem to invite us to pause and ponder and prostrate and pray. Relish them – they are the gift of God and of his faithful saints who have gone before us. And such ‘holy places’ are not limited to buildings. They can be in the open air – expanses of nature and beauty that stir us to prayer. Burrator one such place for me. So is the raw beauty and power of nature at Shaugh Bridge as the two rivers meet.

If prayer is difficult or dry, then a visit to such a place may be just what is needed to help us ‘re-connect’.

But it’s also worth acknowledging that – sometimes at least – church is not a place we can pray. There is nothing wrong in that! If you’ve ever been a churchwarden; or even if you’re simply ‘on duty’ as a reader or intercessor, church can be the last place where you can connect with God: there is simply too much going on; too many things for which you’re responsible! If that is true for you, then it is important simply to accept the fact that – for now, at least – you need other ‘places’ as well.

So much for church. For most of us, however, our places of prayer are more ‘domestic’. And it is ‘prayer at home’ that I want to finish with. Because praying at home can be both the easiest and the hardest place to pray. Easy, perhaps, because it is already ‘our space’; it’s where we are familiar, relaxed, at ease. It is comfortable.

But the factors which make it easy are the very factors which also make it difficult! For being in a very familiar place can ‘take the edge off’ what we are doing. Most especially, the possibility for distraction is huge: we notice that layer of dust on the table; we are disturbed by the doorbell or the phone; we are interrupted by a family member who comes into the room unexpectedly; we simply doze off! (Incidentally, I don’t think God really minds if we drop off when we are praying – I often do last thing at night, and it’s rather a lovely way to go…..)

So what can we do to help ourselves? The most helpful tip I can give is to create a ‘place for prayer’. It’s best if can be in a room or a corner away from the hubbub of the rest of the house – whether or not other people live with you. So, a bedroom is often a good space; or a conservatory; of if rooms are limited, simply a chair in a corner of the room that can be turned to face out of a window, or at some sort of focus, that consciously takes us away from looking at the everyday ongoing demands of living. Or you may have a summer house or even a shed in the garden – a place that you can go to that is set apart from the house afar enough away from its distractions. Some people like to pray anywhere; but for many of us setting aside a particular place for prayer becomes part of our discipline. When we go to that room; when we sit in that chair; it’s as if we are ‘keeping an appointment with God’

– consciously giving him our attention, and giving him first priority at that particular moment. We shall think more about ‘taking time’ for prayer and ‘dealing with distractions’ next week, but having a ‘place’ is – for most people – very important.

So what do we do when we’ve set aside our place? Well, despite my earlier comments, it is important that our place is comfortable enough not to be distracted by pains in the back or frozen feet! The type of chair, or kneeler, or prayer stool matters: chairs should be fairly upright, comfortable enough not to distract, but not so snuggly that you fall asleep. Kneelers or prayer stools need to be the right size – otherwise you’ll simply not be able to  settle. And the temperature needs to be just right. One of the reasons I think people come in to pray in the Church is because it’s warm enough to do so; many of our church buildings would simply be too cold….

And all of these very basic things are important because we are bodily people. We are physical. And prayer is not just about what our spirits or our minds are doing; it’s about our bodies too. Think for a moment about how you pray…. Do you prefer to stand; to kneel; to sit; to lie on the ground; to walk; to run; to swim? All of these are possible – and some will work better for you than others… And some will be right on one occasion and not on others. There is no right or wrong ‘position’ – whatever you may have been taught at Sunday School! And what do you do with your hands? Do you rest them on your lap; or hold an object; or clasp them together; or raise them in the air? Again, there is no right or wrong thing to do – but equally, it is important to think about what you do do, and experiment with other possibilities. You may discover that what you thought you should be doing is the most uncomfortable position for you to contort your body into these days…. If it is, then change it! God wants your attention – not your distractedness because of the pain and discomfort you are in!

I am conscious that much of what I am saying is simply common sense. But you would be surprised how often we Christians put ‘common sense’ to one side because we think there are ways that things ‘should be done’. Be freed from such constraints! As your rector, I give you permission to pray in whatever place, environment or bodily position helps you to connect with God. There are no rights or wrongs – though I suspect that if all of us decided to get out of our pews and prostrate ourselves on the floor at the 11.15 or 9.30 Eucharist, we might have a slight problem…..

Seriously, I hope you will take time this coming week to think about where you pray and how you might make it easier to pray – especially in your own home. Move the furniture a little. Talk to your spouse or children or others who live with you – discuss your need of a particular ‘place’ where you may connect with God and see what it may be possible to create. And think about what you do with your body when you pray – what helps and what distracts…

For all these things are important. A first step.


Next week – we shall be thinking about ‘Prayer and time’

With grateful thanks to the staff of Wimborne Minster on whose work this is extensively based.