A prayer utters itself

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After I had written yesterday I realised how indebted the piece was to a certain Carol Ann Duffy poem, for which I have a great fondness. A few years ago Carol Ann Duffy edited a book of poems called, Answering Back: Living poets reply to the poetry of the past. Duffy invited poets to select a poem and write a response to that poem. This fantastic word game produced a dizzy array of creative pieces that far surpassed simple agreement or contradiction. If I had been a player in the game I would have made a response to this poem, not to contradict, correct or preach but because upon these words I can build, in words of my own, experiences of being with Christ in prayer

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy

So much of my more recent faith journey has been an un-learning of bad habits, bad theology and bad ways of living that I long called Christian. Mistakenly called Christian.

So many of the things I once called faith I later realised were not faith at all.   I had devised for myself a kind of Christianity that was ill fitting and difficult to manoeuvre in. I had manipulated myself into its strange shape and I hobbled along semi paralysed by its restrictions, nursing sores at the places where it rubbed.

During this time there were many occasions when I wanted to abandon my faith entirely but I could not get Jesus and the words He spoke about knowing God out of my mind. It bothered me that He spoke of love and freedom when the faith I had was characterised by neither of these things.  I was tying myself in knots, as I was pulled this way and that by every contradictory teaching and idea. I did not want to abandon Him if there was still a hope that through him I could know real love and real freedom.

During this time I would often identify more strongly with secular, even atheistic writers, than I did with Christian apologists, theologians and preachers. Theses worldly men and women helped me find new words and new ways of seeing and with their help I began to break free. Their diagnosis of religion would maybe pin-point a religious persons lack of heart generosity towards others, their inability to cope with the complexities and challenges of everyday life or their refusal to allow their faith to be scrutinised.  Their generosity, desire for community and love of good things showed up my misery and pessimism for what they were.  But more than this, secular writers, philosophers, humanists and people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds were opening my eyes to the richness and depth of everything that is good about being made human and all its diverse possibilities.

This poem describes the yearning of the human heart to make something of loss, life and moments of gratitude: universal human experiences. It explores the idea of what a person must do when she want to pray but has no God to pray to or lacks suitable words to express herself.  Who of us has not laid sleepless at night, the World Service in the background, and thought out our own vespers to the plaintive sound of the shipping forecast? Who had not sat at an upstairs window as the light fades listening to the  sounds of other peoples perfect lives, alone with our memories and grieving the loss of people no longer with us?  Who has not found an indescribable comfort in some everyday detail of life or a sudden joyous moment of pure thankfulness for something that is surprisingly good but without an outlet to express that joy or thankfulness?

I will never tire of hearing the words of God- alienated hearts and the God-reconciled hearts and all of their yearnings and prayers.  And we should not be afraid to say when we find God in the strange, the unexpected or just the downright ordinary places of life.

We will find our words.

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Matthew 11.25-30 The Message

You may also like to read, In which I do what I can

 
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