Christians pray, or should, for heaven’s sake! But people without a faith commitment sometimes are caught up in a consciousness of something wholly other and wholly benign. Forget the easy tingling of a threatening unkown, which film producers exploit for entertainment. I mean being lifted out of ones self, for a moment, sometimes a shared moment, which cannot be grasped after, lest it fade away.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,”
William Wordsworth (Sonnet 1806)
Everyone embraces the chance to escape from the turning mill of our daily round – but how? Getting in touch with Nature comes well for those with time and opportunity. If you want to be close to God, get close to his creation in all its wonder, terror and beauty. But a parallel touching base is another kind or withdrawal, not just into ourselves full-stop, but allowing him to access our consciousness, or indeed our unconscious and needful self.
The popular British writer and broadcaster Rabbi Lionel Blue once said that his name for God was ‘Whatshisname’- perhaps because he wanted people to approach the idea of someone wholly other without the prejudice of childhood images of a stern uncle-figure, or pictures of an old man with a beard in the sky. You know what I mean. You don’t have to call him anything, just be aware of the possibility that he may desire your attention and response in a way you may not imagine.
The theologian Fulbert Steffensky suggested in a talk given in Hamburg, that the older we are, the more discipline we need to practise, to be fully engaged with the open flux of living and growing. Some fortunate people pray (I pray you, an old expression, means asking someone for something important) without really doing it intentionally. Most need to set aside a time for it, as we do for other important things. I think we should be in touch with our feelings. The play of refracted light in a summer wood may bring pleasure, and we may then be taken out of ourselves thus. But mind and will need to be engaged as well in an enterprise which may take on the aspect of an adventure.
In essence, prayer is the asking for answers to the deepest questions. For this, you need to be still and quiet, with mind deliberately
excluding wandering thoughts, not by fruitlessly pretending they are not there but by just returning to a wakeful open consciousness.
Keep returning to the traffic noise in the street below, or to the sound of children playing, or to the murmer of the stream, or to whatever
you are immediately aware of around you.
You may have read so far without the impression that you are being ‘got at’ and I am thinking of you, who were determined not to be caught
out reading spiritual stuff! I am thinking of you, who do not want to read the Bible, or who have read bits and found it all confusing or
off-putting. I am thinking of you, who have tried church and not liked it, or you, who need to sort your ideas out before you risk even the
idea of church-going.
There’s no right or wrong way of praying. Pray as you can, not as you cannot. Do what works. If it doesn’t work, try another approach.
Some can pray by reading a newspaper in a busy place. Others really crave aloneness. Others pray while they are doing a task for someone else.
However you go, I wish you the chance of finding yourself and God there. Or finding youself, because Whatshisname is there?
Knowing how to start
A good way to start, is to find some writing that expresses somehow what is unsure within us.
Two pieces of writing which might be helpful at taking a direction, knowing how to start.
Where is God?
He is not just in the unseen.
He is not just in the seen.
He is nearest us, where the seen and unseen mingle,
where things are transparent,
where forms take shape and dissolve,
where a word is uttered and then hushed,
there, at the turning point,
at which we meet the mysterious,
Ourselves and God.
Jörg Zink 1982. translated
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 motion. 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 or words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying…….
We shall cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot from ‘Little Gidding’, The Four Quartets