Prayer: a precious gift that helps us flourish

Prayer is fundamental. It is the oxygen of our faith it’s the fuel for the fire

Last night was Bishop Jonathan, the Bishop of Southampton’s leaving service as he goes off to be Dean of York Minster. It was a sad occasion as Bishop Jonathan has been a great source of affirmation and support to all the clergy in his area and myself included. One of his great strengths is to give people the sense that he really knows them, that he really understands where they are coming from and what makes them tick. It’s very powerful and very supportive. To be known and to be understood by someone else is a vital part of what it means to be human and it helps us to flourish.

That’s why perhaps it’s [prayer] also such a vital part of our faith, our relational faith that has at its heart the Trinity, the core relationship between God, Jesus and the Spirit. But knowing and being understood, is also expressed through the narratives of our faith. The story of the wedding at Cana of Galilee is one of my most favourite of the Gospel stories, predominantly for the intimacy of the interaction between the mother and son. I can picture the scene. I wonder if there were wry smiles, eye rolling or smiles between the two of them, as without even skipping a beat, Mary follows Jesus’ apparent dismissal of her request by instructing the servants to do what Jesus said. They knew and understood each other.

We are about to embark on the next round of BMAPing [Benefice Mission Action Plan] within our benefice [a group of co-ooperating churches] as I mentioned in the notices. This is the process by which we evaluate our work as Parishes and as a Benefice and our work is: how we bring God’s love into the communities around us and make God known to them. We will be evaluating what we are doing perhaps dropping a few things perhaps thinking about starting new ones. We would like everyone to take part in this BMAPing process. Everyone’s contribution will help us to move forward. But the first part of that process will be knowing and understanding: knowing and understanding each other as individuals and our respective parishes; our faith, our strengths our gifts. Knowing and understanding our communities: what are the gifts and strengths of Ampfield of North Baddesley, of Chilworth. What are their needs? But most vitally we must know and understand something of where and how God is already at work in these communities and how we can join in with that work.

So how do we do all that exactly? Well we pray: Prayer, that’s a big word isn’t it: Prayer. So I’m going to have a little think, we’re all going to have a little think about what prayer is this morning and I’m going to ask you to turn to the people around you and just have a little conversation about what is prayer? What is prayer and perhaps, how do you pray? And what are your struggles and questions about prayer? But first of all just talk to people about ‘what is prayer’. I know it’s early in the morning and I know nobody really wants to talk to each other but just bear with me for two minutes and give it a go.

[A period of discussion folllowed]

And there are of course as many ways of praying as there are human beings. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to prayer – But prayer is fundamental. It is the oxygen of our faith it’s the fuel for the fire. Prayer is stillness of mind and soul. We need to be able to quiet the buzz of thoughts so that we connect with God and hear God. But being still as we have discussed can be a real challenge. Trying to find that space, trying to still our minds to get to that point when we can connect with God can be a real challenge. Some people find short repetitive phrases quite useful to repeat to allow them to still their mind things like: be still and know that I am God or the ‘Jesus Prayer’ Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Some people may use bible passages as a way of praying or some people may use music or arts or walking in nature however we do it: the key thing is to keep doing it, to keep exploring and I’d like to challenge you to think about the prayers, your prayers, how you are praying during the week. Perhaps some research, learn a new method of praying try doing it differently come and tell me what you have found so maybe I can try it too.

The intimacy demonstrated between Jesus and Mary in the the story of the wedding at Canna is for me an illustration of prayer. The Jesuit priest and writer Anthony de Mello described prayer in this way: ‘Behold God, beholding you, and smiling’. Prayer is gazing at God as God gazes back at us with love. There is a sense of being known, of being understood and most importantly being loved. That is truly a precious gift a gift that helps us, our parishes and our communities to flourish. Amen.