Heaven does not ‘Wait’ But Is Here For Those Who Congregate

Last week in church an interesting thing happened. It is normal practice for our priest to ask if anyone has an announcement. Mostly no one does, or gives us information about an up-coming event that is important to them. But once a month one of our members gives us a small talk on the mission agency that she has chosen as our ‘Mission of the Month’, to which our Mission Giving will go that month. Sometime s we pray for people who are going into hospital at that time. Last week, one of our members got up and said “I would like to read you something from a book that I have been reading.” She did. It was about how God’s love is the kind of love that pays attention to the unlikely people, and the ones that are considered ‘different’.

I was aware that this person was expressing her love for God for having loved her, and also expressing her appreciation to the congregation for loving her too.

I guessed this because just beforehand, at the communion, there was a space next to her. She said to me as I was coming up to the communion ‘stand here next to me’ I had made a move to stand next to my guest, who had moved to the other side, but at the request, I moved next to “K”. “Why?” is asked. “Because I’m always afraid that no one will want to stand next to me!” “Ah, never!” I replied.

My connection with “K” goes back a bit. “K” was a member of the congregations Christian formation group, and renewed her baptismal vows late last year. I noticed that she had a tooth missing in front. I thought “As members of the Body of Christ, we ought to be able to do something about this.” So I approached the vicar, to get his permission to speak to her, and then spoke to “K”. I said “I think that we ought to be able to do something about helping you to get a new tooth. I would like to take up a collection in the congregation, and I will start it with a certain amount, and make up the rest if need be, so that you can have a tooth.” I t was a bit of a risk to take, because of the sensitivity of the matter, but “K” was rapt that we would think of such a thing and since then has discovered a way of receiving a tooth within her budget.

These stories stay in my memory because they speak to me of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.

There is always talk of the decline of the Church, and in the town, I think that we are viewed as a king of benign, but irrelevant-to-those-who-do not-go’ kind of club, like any other club. People an pick and choose whether they go or not, and if it ‘floats your boat’ then well and good, but if not, it makes not much difference to anyone. It seems to me as if people sing with Don Williams

“I don’t believe that heaven waits for only those who congregate
I like to think of God as love he’s down below he’s up above
He’s watchin’ people everywhere he knows who does and doesn’t care
And I’m an ordinary man sometimes I wonder who I am
But I believe in love I believe in music I believe in magic and I believe in you.”

But I think that the reason Don Williams can sing this song is that people do congregate in order to show the kind of love that God is.

In order for all of the small stories that I have told here to happen, those involved have needed to have reached out beyond themselves to tell us something or to share something with us. They have needed to cross a boundary so that some more intimacy might be created. This is what it means to me to be a member of the Body of Christ: to be a sheep of His fold, because in these small acts of sharing, or service, we are being Him to one another.

It is the story of Jesus that guides us in the kind of love we give and receive. It is in the gathering of the congregation that we not only ‘have communion (Eucharist)’ but that we ‘have communion’ one with another.

In this case, heaven is not ‘waiting’ but for those t who ‘congregate’ a slice of heaven has become real, not then, but now.

At the end of the Eucharist last Sunday, the vicar said “I would like to begin remembering people’s birthdays. Can we make a list to that we can remember those among us who have birthdays?

Now in general, this is not such a bad idea. As the vicar said “Being born is part of the ‘order of creation’. By this he meant that being born lets us participate, whether we know it or not, in God’s creation of the world. Creation itself belongs to God, and is worth celebrating.

But I think that it is more important to celebrate our Baptism days. This is when we began to participate in the ‘New Creation’. It is because of our baptism that we become members of Christ’s flock. It is because of our baptism that we learn about the kind of ‘boundary-crossing love that we receive in Christ, and which we then offer to others. It is because of our baptism that we belong to people whom we would never belong to otherwise.

Last Sunday was for me a true day of ‘Church’.

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What I Learned About Passion From ‘Billy Elliot”

Last week I went to visit a friend of mine who is a priest in New South wales. Just in passing, he mentioned that he had told his bishop (also a friend of mine) that I would be coming. “That would be loud”, replied the bishop.
At that moment I had a pang of ‘so-this-is-how-other-people-see-you!’

Most of the time it is possible to live, only dimly aware of such things, but from time to time, like this time, I am now aware that the first thing this episcopal friend of mine thinks about me (despite my many gifts) is that I am ‘loud.’ Well maybe.

So the blow to my ego overcome, I went home. During the following days, I happened to see the movie Billy Elliot on the TV. For those of you who have not seen it, Billy Elliot tells the story of a boy from a coal mining district of England, who wants to become a ballet dancer.
Clearly there is opposition (at first) from his family, who do not have the equipment to understand what this ambition might be about.

One scene then just moved me to tears.

Billy is at his ballet class. His father comes in and announces that this will be the end. Billy goes into a toilet cubicle in the building, and just ‘lets fly’. As I remember it now it is a mixture of dance steps and wild lashing out. It looks like all of his energy, all of his passion is just let out, but confined too: in the toilet! Billy goes on to become a lead dancer, not least, thanks to the huge personal sacrifices made for him by his father.

So I tell this story because it represents some of my own dilemma, as I reflect on my life in the Church.

I must admit that I am like Cardinal Newman here. My sense of passion or longing for god was not pure. Like Newman I can say

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

It seems to me that before the passion for God that is truly pure can be expressed, other things must be dealt with first. I thought of becoming a Jesuit, but then understood that my own sexual life was no where near as mature as it needed to be in order to accept a vow of celibacy.

It was insecurity that made me want to ‘choose my own way’

But now, and behind all of the other passions was the passion to, like Billy Elliot, just flow as a person: to take all of the energy that is a part of my life and to let it just Go somewhere!!!

I recently found this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke* which seemed to capture what I am like She says “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”

Unfolding is right, but for what I sense, I don’t want to unfold, as much as ‘burst into life!’

Now the institution that I joined, to provide a strong structure for this ‘going’ was the Church. The down side of this place is that often people have described the amount of energy that I have brought to work as a priest as ‘too much’ or ‘loud’.

Too often, being the ‘artist’ that is represented by the combination of calling, skill and passion that is the priestly life is smothered in the art of getting things done in parishes, or by the call for everything to be done ‘decently and in order.’

Well I agree with things being done decently and in order, but I do not like it when this call results in Eucharists that are not full of passion and upon which is not placed the weight of the souls who attend.

The up side of this place is that it has as its central action, the sacraments. These structures that have the capacity to hold the weight of a soul. They have the capacity to allow me to flow as a person.

Like being a ballet dancer, knowing how to put on a Eucharist takes great skill. It takes great planning, and it takes great knowledge, and an inner ’feel’ for the thing. But when all this comes together, in the Spirit, then we can all fly!

The other day I went to the ANZAC service, sponsored by our local RSL branch. Like most of these, the ceremonies are lead by a ‘master of ceremonies’ who announces what is going to happen. Those who attend can then be relatively passive, as they watch what others have trained to put on.

The difference between this kind of ceremony and a Eucharist is that in a Eucharist, there is rarely a ‘master of ceremonies’. Everyone has their part to play, and the Spirit ‘with ah, bright wings’ hovers over our midst, inspiring, and co-ordinating what happens. There is less passivity in such celebrations.

Being a priest in the Anglican church has meant that the kind of flowing that is represented by the movie Billy Elliot has been possible, though more rarely than I would have liked. But they have occurred frequently enough to keep me hopeful, and in the long run, able to withstand the epithet of being ‘loud.’

*Cited by + Kay Goldsworthy’s foreword to ‘A Kaleidoscope of Pieces’ (Alan Cadwallader Ed. ATF, Adelaide 2106)

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A Story About Innocence and Misunderstanding: Holy Week

A student whom I was supervising in a course on pastoral care told me this story. He said “ I was playing football once, and not doing very well. The coach said to me “Listen young man, pull your socks up!” So I reached down, and pulled up my footy socks which at that stage were around my ankles. This literal interpretation and misunderstanding of my coach’s wishes only served to make him think that I was mocking him, and made him angrier. I was even more hurt at his anger, because I was emotionally innocent.

Now this student was a grown man. But at the time he told me the story, he was in touch with something from his youth. He was in touch with a self which is vulnerable; a self which was wanting to please, a self which was misunderstood.

I tell this story because I have remembered it this Holy Week.

Fist of all, I remember it because Holy Week brings out in me the same kind of self: ‘Child Self as’ Eric Berne might have called it. Holy Week touches on my most fervent desire to love God. It brings back into existence that five year old boy who in 1957 took his grandmother’s hand and ‘went forward’ at the Billy Graham Crusade at our Show Grounds.

It brings me into the company of Brother Charles de Foucauld who prayed
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
This is what I want to do this Holy Week. The ‘Child Self’ is often denigrated in favour of the ‘Adult Self’ but it seems to me that a the Child is that part of us which is without distance from their love. This is the self that is activated for me in Holy Week.

This is the first Easter that I will spend in retirement. Normally, I would be channelling my devotion into preparing the Church for Maundy Thursday and the days that follow: gathering the right vessels, preparing the garden for the Watch of the Passion, getting ready for the Easter Vigil. This year another priest has the governance of these celebrations, and they are not the same as I would have done them.

This year I will not be presiding over the Great Three Days. Instead, I have been asked to cook the fish at the breakfast.

This is part of the grief which is associated with retirement, which touches my deep self too. My first impulse was to say “ I have been a priest for 36 years, and what am I doing on Easter Day? Cooking a BBQ!

But then during Monday, this song crept into my awareness.

“God make my life a little light
within the world to glow
a little light that burneth bright
wherever I may go

God make my life a little flower
That giveth joy to all
Content to bloom in native bower
Although the place be small”

The singing of this song comes from the same person who ‘went forward’ at the Billy Graham rally. This song comes from the same place in me that during Holy Week wants to pray Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment. It is teaching me, yet again of the necessary humility that goes with retirement. The experience of this week is about a redirecting of my devotion: I do not have the power to direct the way the Easter Mysteries will go as an expression of what it means to me to be a Christian, but I can do the simple things that are asked of me.
So this week touches my deepest and truest desires, and teaches me what it means to be a follower o Jesus, but in ways that I have not expected, or find comfortable.

But Holy Week, as reflected in this student’s story, also reminds me of how easy it is to be misunderstood. It reminds me of how ‘the system’ can ignore an individual’s desire to do their best but instead, reacts in self protective ways that roll over the truth of an individuals intention.

I have been on the receiving end of this. I know a friend of mine who at this very moment has for ‘institutional’ reasons been placed in a precarious situation regarding their employment: despite this person’s obvious gifts.

There are no prizes for guessing who went there first! It’s just that it is not easy to ‘rejoice in our sufferings’ when one’s income depends upon maintaining the good will of those who have institutional power.

All of this suffering, and more: all of this humility: and more, Jesus took onto himself and showed forth in his person. Why? To be the New Adam: to be the first human being since the Fall to be truly free of the power of those things that are death dealing, that do have power over us. In my case, it was the power of pride that had to be conquered, and the power that institutional misunderstanding has over otherwise good intentions. Thank you to my student for telling this story, and helping me to come to Holy Week in a new way.

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More on Living Before the Face of god From Samuel’s Anointing of David

Last Sunday, the reading from the Common Testament came from 1Samuel 16and told the story of Samuel’s anointing of David. One part of verse 13 stood out fro me. It said “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.”

I noticed that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David after he was anointed. Before that, David had been considered an unlikely candidate. He was not present because he was the youngest, even though he looked handsome when he did appear.

So here is what struck me. I was reminded of that list that comes under the heading ‘Children Learn What They live” .Part of it goes

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy….

This is not the whole list, but you get the picture.

So with David, we can carry on the metaphor “If people live with the sense that they are chosen and loved by God, they grow up with the Spirit of the Lord”

David’s having the Spirit of the lord is, according the story, not a matter of his qualification for the job, but of his being named as the Lord’s Anointed.

This story fits with my own, where, on growing up I was called a ‘problem child.’, but on the practice of ministry, I came to see myself as ‘being ordained’ by the people with whom I was working. Then, at the ordination ceremony, I was formally ‘anointed’ as priest, and so then had to live into what was already spoken about me.,

Other people too I know, who have a tradition of prophesy in their congregations, have also told me that when someone speaks word of prophesy about them, this has an effect of guiding their lives in that direction.

The other thing about this story is that it highlights once more the idea of ‘living before the face of God.’ Just to recap. The Gestalt psychology people say that a ‘self’ is that entity that is constituted by the boundary of an interaction between an organism and an environment. Now the bible calls this interaction ‘living before the face of…’ If we live before the face of God, then our ‘selves’ are going to be called into being by that interaction. If we live ‘before the face of ‘ other realities, then our ‘selves’ are going to be a result of that interaction.

So in David’s case, being anointed by Samuel brings him directly ‘before the face of the Lord.’ It is not surprising then that the spirit of the Lord comes upon him at that time, because he is now ‘living before the face of’ the Lord.

Even when he falls away from God at times in the future, David’s life is now always lived in relationship with God.

This is also true for me. As Luther said, living before the face of god is a definition of faith, and it is not a possession, that means that we can forget about god, once we ‘have’ faith, but that our lives are now determined by our relationship with God. We are continually being ‘born again, or ‘born ‘from above.’

This is also the same idea that St. Paul has when he talks about our ‘being ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘being ‘in Christ’ and being ‘in the Flesh.’ The word ‘the Flesh’ represents everything else that may determine our lives, apart from the Spirit of god. But in Faith, by believing in Jesus, we are no longer ‘in the flesh’ but ‘In the Spirit’. This is exactly the same thing as living before the face of God.’

So the Bible has a number of metaphors that all point us in the same direction, and they are all answers to the same question “Before whose face are you living”

There is one other thing that strikes me as important about this story, and that is about the inherent unity of ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ There are some people who place a lot of emphasis on the ‘outside’ of worship and Christian life, sometimes at the expense of their inner piety and the inner truth of their lives. Others, in reaction to this over emphasis on ‘externals’ go the other way, and try to be as simple as possible. This has the effect of impoverishing what can be a rich sensual environment for expressing the love of god.

The story of Samuel and David shows me that there is an inherent unity between the inside and the outside of our lives. David did need the anointing with oil, in order for this to be the sacrament of his inner calling by God.

St. Paul says the same thing in the Epistle to Timothy (2 Tim 1:6) when he encourages him to ‘…Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.’ God’s calling to Timothy needs fanning into a flame, he needs to ‘live into hi calling’ as we would say, but the laying on him of St. Paul’s hands completes this inner state. As humans, we are beings that have insides and outsides forged into an organic unity. To neglect one of these at the expense of another is to put asunder what God has joined together. That has been the project of my priestly life, especially in Church affairs. I have wanted to let the inner fire that comes because of living before the face of God be brought to light through the way in which the liturgy has been conducted. The riches of the liturgy, help fan the inner fires.

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On Hearing Hard Truths

When I was fifteen, I was at a church youth camp where there were about 600 young people. We were having a lovely time. Then we were visited by Evan Jones, the minister from an inner city parish. He said to us “ Next door to my church is an institution for blind young people. They don’t get the chance to go on camp. Will you accept them into your camp and help them to have a good time.

I remember my anxiety’s going sky high at this suggestion. None the less we did it, and had a great time. Evan became a prison chaplain too, and I remember him to this day.

Evan was one of those people who, in a Christian’s journey are one of those ‘tough people.’ He put challenges to us privileged, white yet insecure teenagers, to serve the blind teenagers. That is why I remember him.

Over Lent, I have been reading Stanley Hauerwas’ commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel. Stanley is another one of those ‘tough’ Christians for me. He says things that make me think “Wow! That is tough! We, as a Church, and in particular as an Anglican Church are just so far away from this picture of what Stanley thinks Church is.

Here are three examples:

Stanley is talking about Jesus’ controversy with the Sadducees over the resurrection (p. 191 Kindle edition of Brazos Theological Commentary on St. Matthew). About the Resurrection he says “All we know about resurrection is what we are privileged to witness in Jesus’ victory over death…making it possible for us to share in the subjection (of death) through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We need to know no more about resurrection than what we have been given through the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ.”

I feel like saying ‘Take that!” after reading this. This account of the Resurrection takes us simply out of the realms of speculation about empty tombs, and places us directly into the realms of the present power of this event. Are we demonstrating the victory over death that Jesus makes possible? Am I still subject to the powers of darkness that have been conquered? The answer to both questions is ‘Yes, in part’, and I guess with St. Paul “Yes, and in hope of further living into this reality.”

But more than this, Stanley Hauerwas brings us to every Sunday morning: to the Eucharist. All we need in order to be able to experience the resurrection is to really ‘be present’ at the Eucharist. There will our lives be transformed. I believe this, but the thing that Stanley Hauerwas’ comment does is so sharply close down speculation, and put is in the place where we need to be to ask the right question, but more, to be questioned rightly! Take that!

Then we go in in Matthew’s gospel to the conversation with the lawyer about which commandment is the greatest. Jesus gives the proper answer ‘You shall love the lord, your God etc..( the shema).

Stanley Hauerwas goes on to say (p192) “Such love is no vague generality, but rather is manifest in the concrete and daily care of god for his people. We know what it means to love God only because of God’s love for us through the Law and the Prophets. This love can be harsh and dreadful, because to be loved by God is to be forced to know ourselves truthfully…such love requires a lifetime of training in which we are given the opportunity to have our self-centredness discovered and overwhelmed.’

I remember being at an accreditation meeting for a Supervisor of Pastoral Care. I quoted Hauerwas’ other idea about the story of Ananias and Saphira as being the paradigm for Pastoral Care because it shows how the job of love is to bring us into a true knowledge of where we are up to with god. This idea was rejected in horror by the candidate!

But my experience is exactly the way Stanley Hauerwas’ describes it. The tough love of God and our neighbour, beginning with Evan Jones’ challenge to a 15 year old teenager has been my experience of how I have been transformed: by the bringing to light of the hidden things of darkness, but within a framework of someone’s being committed to me.

This is why we need strong bonds on our institutions, like Church and marriage, because in order for such transformation to take place we cannot act, or be treated like ‘volunteers’ who can go at any time, especially if we are offended by inconvenient truths.

Stanley Hauerwas says it better “ Unfortunately, the emphasis on love as the defining character of the Christian life not only resulted in the Christian accommodation to the world’s standards of the good, but also made it difficult for Christians to understand what it might mean for us to face the demands of love. In particular, the separation of love from the one who has come to teach us what it means to be loved by God by making us disciples, tempts us to sentimental accounts of love.’

Then the story moves to Jesus’ attack on the Pharisees in the Temple precinct. Stanley Hauerwas’ reflection on this is that Jesus is attacking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He says (p196) [not to be a hypocrite] is a hard lesson to learn for crafty creatures like ourselves, capable of transforming any position, even the position of being a slave or a servant into a position of power and prestige. We desire that others regard us without the necessity that we regard them. Such is our fear of being otherwise lost in the cosmos.”

This comment hit me between the eyeballs because I think it is what I do! No one has put it quite like this though. This comment has made me more aware of the regard that I offer to others. And of the regard that I expect.

So there you are. More truth from someone who, like Evan Jones is prepared to tell the hard truths. May God send me more of them, hard though it be to hear what they say.

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More on Humility, Riding and The Baptismal Life

I had a riding lesson this week. We loaded up the horses and went to the teacher’s place. The lesson was occasioned by the fact that with the ‘green’ mare whom I am riding (Hattie) we are running into the odd problem with her.

So the lesson begins. I ride around a bit so that Caroline (the teacher) can get look and what is going on. Next comes the surprise. Caroline looks at my leg and says “I think we need to change your position. Think of making a ‘frog’ with your legs. And by the way, do you put your weight on the outside of your foot in the stirrups? It needs to go on your big toe and the inside of your foot. Then you need to make ‘the frog.’

Well I tried this. I always walk on the outside of my foot. Trying to change the weight on my foot, and make the ‘frog’ stretched muscles and made me feel very uncomfortable. (Since then, I’ve practised walking with my weight in a different position). So we had the lesson, doing exercises on keeping balance too.

I woke up on Thursday morning to go riding feeling as though I did not want to go. I was thinking “What?!! Here I am thinking about bringing on this ‘green’ horse, and the teacher begins by fixing up my legs!”

Anyway, I went. I practised what Caroline had showed me. Lo and behold, Hattie went much better! So I am gob smacked. How does that work?

I said to my riding companion, Tamara “You know, even though Hattie went better today, it was a bit of a blow to my ego to go back to a lesson, to have my leg position corrected! I used to be able, just with a shift in weight to do canter changes from the walk! On any rein. Now I’m worrying about where my legs are! ”

So we began to have a conversation. The thing is, that with a ‘green’ horse, which one is trying to educate, it is about what they need, not about what I need. Uneducated horses need us to be absolutely correct and clear, otherwise they become confused. Riding an ‘old school’ horse is relatively easy, because they are tolerant of our mistakes, and know how to do much of the stuff, because they have already been schooled. Bringing on a ‘green’ horse requires much more of the rider.

So here is another thing that I’m learning. Skill in riding is not about how much I can do and how good I can look to the untrained eye. Skill in riding is about knowing how to offer what the horse needs at any given moment. And sometimes that means unpicking old habits that I could have previously got away with, but no longer. As Caroline said “ The horse is a mirror!”

Riding offers another lesson in humility! I have to ask myself, the question “What do I really want? To look good, at a superficial level, or to make a difference to the education of this horse, for the sake of her fitness, and the sake of the riders who come after?”

Why should I be surprised. This lesson in unpicking unhelpful habits is just another aspect of living the ‘baptismal life’. It’s simple! Caroline, the teacher, is like the Holy Spirit. Her eyes see the difficulty and bring it to my attention. I am ‘convicted of sin’. Not in the sense of being morally wrong, but in the sense of having ‘missed the mark’. My legs ‘missed the mark.’ So having ‘died’ to that way of being, I am now in ‘the tomb’ waiting to ‘groove in’ the new way of being ‘on a horse’.

I await in hope the day when the fulfilment of this ‘death’ both to my ego and to my unhelpful posture will be raised up to a new life.

After riding on Thursday, and talking about the horses, we moved on to talking about being able to ‘learn’ in general. Tamara told me that her son, in grade 3 (8 yrs. old) said “You know mum, there are kids in our class who are afraid of making mistakes.’

Now Tamara’s son is a ‘high energy particle’ he is as smart as anything, with great energy. He is going to make a lot of mistakes, but as he is, surrounded by love, his mistakes will not be the end of the world, but opportunities for learning. What is more, being surrounded by love, and making mistakes, his sense of self-esteem will become firmly established in the genuine achievement and pride of having learned something, through making mistakes.

In the light of the riding lesson, it is no wonder we started talking about that!
Underneath the ‘skin’ of adulthood lies the person who wants to please others. Underneath the skin of adult life lies the person who takes pleasure and pride in genuine achievement. Underneath the skin of the adult lies the one who needs to be continually taught about humility. Thanks to Hattie, Caroline and Tamara, I continue to ‘on the Way’ as a Christian.

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Praying: ASt Home and In Church

In church the other week I noticed the intercessions (prayers of the people). I noticed that the person preparing them had put a lot of time and effort into what they were saying, and said it in such a way as to make me believe that they were really praying, not just reading something out of a book). That made it possible for me to pray the prayers along with them.

Then came the time for praying for individual people. I went through the list of those for whom I regularly pray.

Then I began to think. When I say my prayers at home, I pray for the same list of people. Does it make a difference whether or not I say these prayers in Church with others, as part of the Prayers of the People or not?

Well, in one sense the answer is ‘No’. On both occasions, I bring before God those for whom I want to pray. That is the same.

The other thing that is the same is this: The famine in East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula has been in the news recently. So these people have been on my mind. Then in the psalms for this week, there is mention of the righteous, and how God looks after them. One verse read in Psalm 37: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”, and psalm 33 “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His loving-kindness, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.

Reading this, I first of all said “Which you don’t!!!”. And then remembered those poor people dying in the famine, and then gave my Lenten ‘alms’ to World Vision and the Australian Board of Mission.

So here is a structure. Via the media, I become aware of some need. Because of t the way my consciousness has been shaped through years of going to Church and being a Christian, I am not filled with distain for those whose ‘karma’ has made them live in Africa where there is famine. I do not say ‘It is a dog eat dog world, and everyone is responsible for themselves. “ Instead, I am filled with pain at their pain.

And then the reading of the bible prompts me to say something to God. First in anger because what is said in the psalms does not seem to be true in this instance. Second I express my sadness at the situation. Then I do what I can about it.

And here is the reason why doing the Prayers of the People in Church is important. This structure of response that happens to me personally, I have learned from the structure of the Eucharist. This is the way that the ‘Ministry of the Word’, the first part of the Eucharist, works. We prepare ourselves to hear God’s word by bringing all that we are into Church. We bring something. “Almighty god, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden”. I bring my heart, I bring my desires and secrets. What I bring is the ground that is ploughed up and into which the seed of God’s word is planted. Then I hear the Word of God read and preached. Then, in response I pray with the whole congregation. Then the whole congregation either goes out to do something as individuals, or as a group.

So here is the thing: What I do individually, I have learned from the Eucharist. As I keep saying “The Eucharist is the intensive, symbolic form of the more extensive, less symbolic form of life lived while not in Church. The structure is the same. Church life is not a removal from ‘life’ but the way in which we learn what ‘life’ is!

So that’s one of the reasons that we need the Prayers of the People. They tell us how to pray individually, at home. But there is more.

The Prayers of the People are done in a Group. In Church, it is not just ‘me saying my prayers’ but it is we, as God’s priestly people who are saying our prayers. At the time of praying the prayers of the people, it is as if the whole of our town is before God, but not all of the town is doing this action. Not everyone knows about God, not everyone cares. But just as in ancient Israel, when the priest went into the Holy of holies, representing the people of Israel, in the form of a breastplate, so we, as Gods chosen ones, represent the whole of our town before god on a Sunday morning. We are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.“ (1 Pet. 2:9)

Going to Eucharist on a Sunday is not something we do to do a favour to any one, nor is it something that we do in order to ‘get something’ but it is our royal duty, as God’s priestly people, to come to intercede on behalf of the whole town, and then the whole world, which does not know even its need, much of the time.

There are those who say “I do not need to go to Church to pray, I can do it at home’. Well yes you can (just as I do). But what I can’t get at home is the formation in how to pray, what to pray for, and the knowledge of how God views the world. That comes from the structure of the Eucharist itself and of regular listening to God’s word in the preaching. And what else I can’t get at home is that sense of the collective offering of my ‘bounden duty and service’ as part of God’s priestly people. We do something of Sunday morning on behalf of the whole town.

So although I say the same list of people in my personal prayers, and often pray for the dame issues, the Prayers of the People are an indispensible part of any Christians life.

Posted in Living Before the Face of God, Psalms, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment