Tuesday, 17 March 2020

A Self-Isolator Attempts to Pray


* In light of the decision to suspend public worship in the C of E, I've decided to revive this blog as one way of digitally reflecting on prayer & worship with parish and beyond in extraordinary times.*

Last night I had a chat with a senior colleague about what suspension of public worship might mean for us in the C of E. He said, (words to the effect) ‘perhaps it’s an opportunity for us to pray.’ For as diaries empty, services stop, and our public activities are suspended, what are we called to do as the people of God?

This past week I’ve been in self-isolation with some COVID-19 symptoms. I suspect it’s not COVID-19 and my symptoms, though unpleasant, were ultimately too mild to warrant a test.  Nonetheless, it has been a salutary and, at times, uncomfortable experience.

One of the things that has come home to me in this past week of isolation is how difficult it is to pray and yet how necessary it is. I’d love to be a mystic and a ‘proper’ person of prayer, but especially when I’m poorly, I often struggled to sit down, pray and listen to God.

However, this experience of finding myself a kind of ‘short-term hermit’ or anchorite – where I have had to rely on the kindness of friends to bring me food etc. – has reminded me of my vocation to pray.

Indeed, since I started to feel a bit better, I found myself asking for people to send me prayer requests via Twitter. I have received many and have taken them to God.

Rather unexpectedly, the deeper I’ve gone in to self-isolation the more connected I’ve felt with prayer and the better able to take the concerns of others to the Living God.

This has not been grand work or impressive work. Being alone has reminded me of my insignificance. I might like to pretend that I am ‘this’ or ‘that’, but self-isolation has taught me that I am, for the most part, irrelevant.

The real question God presents is this: am I – are you, are we – prepared to be faithful? Will I/we dare pray, for others, for the world, for myself/ourselves? Will I/we dare to be exposed to the living God?

Like most modern people I am almost infinitely distractible. Indeed, over the past seven days I’ve watched a lot of crap on Netflix; I’ve flicked through my phone in search of entertainment. I’ve searched the Net for the latest updates. I’ve wasted time.

I actually think that’s okay and normal. I’m no more a saint than you. As humans, we are time-wasters. We have a gift for it.

However, I have also felt that call that the anchorites know, that the likes of Julian of Norwich knew: to pray and listen and hold others in God’s wondrous Love.

In the days and weeks to come, when public worship is suspended, I hope that we all can find time to listen to God; to hear his still small voice in the oddness of the days we are living through. I hope we can pray for others and ourselves and become alert to the extent to which we are in each other’s hands.

I hope we can pray this prayer of St Julian of Norwich:

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Saviour.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen

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