Reflection of Prayer and Spirituality
Fr Owain Mitchell
Last month, we reflected in general terms on what prayer is, before going to consider briefly some of the barriers to praying. This month, I shall begin by outlining my typical daily prayer life, again drawing out the barriers and so forth.
Every day, my alarm clock nags me into submission, and as I get out of bed I pray my awakening prayers before using the bathroom and praying the prayers of ablutions. this helps me to make sure God is my very first thought of the day.
I then spend approximately 20 minutes in bible study, 20 minutes spiritual reading and 20 minutes on a book of doctrine. This is a vital element of maintaining a healthy spiritual life and being able to minister effectively to you. Just as a doctor, teacher or any other professional must keep up to date with developments and thinking in their areas of expertise, so too must a priest. But reading and study, in terms of discipleship, are less about gaining ‘book knowledge’ so much as growing in ‘Godly wisdom’. It may sometimes feel that we cannot recall anything we’ve read, but then a word, phrase or interpretation will pop into our minds when we need it. After an hour of reading and study, I say Morning Prayer.
Most days, I then go and celebrate the Eucharist somewhere in the group. On those days when there is no eucharist I use a form of spiritual Communion.
When my diary commitments allow, I say the Midday Office.
At about 4 or 5 p.m. I then say Evening Prayer (all Clerks in holy Orders are under an oath of canonical obedience to say the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer each day … but I would be lying if I said I did this every single day … some days, it’s just not possible!)
At about 9.30 each day, I say the Office of Compline. I begin this by reflecting on the day, and confessing the way’s I’ve fallen short using the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins and their opposite virtues as an aide to my reflection on the day past – a form of examen.
Before going to sleep, I pray for my loved ones, the people in this group of parishes, for God’s protection over us all before spending (if I’m still awake by the end of these) some time in contemplation. This helps me to make sure Go is my last thought of the day.
Each Friday, using my various prayer lists, I pray for those for whom my prayers have been asked, and for those to whom I’ve ministered during the year. I also pray for those whose weddings, baptisms or anniversary of death, celebrated by me since coming to this group, fall in the coming week (Years Mind). I pray a itany of some form and various other prayers such as the Te Deum, the General Thanksgiving, the Angelus and so forth. I tend to favour those classic prayers which were such an important part of the Book of Common Prayer services, but which now, although included in Common Worship, don’t feature in the liturgies so much. Friday is my day off, it is my Sabbath. It is important that I take this day of rest because God commands us to take a Sabbath rest, but it isn’t all about doing nowt! It’s a day of rest from work which frees us to focus on God without distraction and so I aim to spend an hour extra in the morning at prayer.
There are other times of prayer which are not fixed in my daily rhythm and routine, such as contemplation, or making my confession and spending time with my Spiritual Director every other month and an annual retreat, all of which feed into shape my life as a disciple.
Why do I do this? As noted, some of these are required of me as a priest in the Church of England. others I do through choice – not to be holy or to feel good about myself, often I am frustrated! I feel frustrated because sometimes I get to the end and struggle to remember what the psalms and bible reading said, or I’ve caught myself getting distracted and have to begin again. But most of all, I do all of this primarily as an offering to God, a humble sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, taking my place and joining the whole church here on earth and in heaven, past, present and future, in worshipping God. We do not pray for our own benefit; prayer is first and foremost an offering to God, so we do not pray expecting to get anything from it – though we so often do – we pray in order to express our love, sorrow and gratitude to God. Prayer also keeps me anchored or rooted in God, and I could not cope with all the stuff that comes my way each day without god’s help. Another important reason is love … as poor as my love for God is, when we love someone, we want to spen time with them, to be ourselves with them, to listen to them, be influenced by them. Prayer enables us to be attentive to God. How can I obediently do God’s work if I fail to stop and listen to Him? And I pray in the hope that God will take my heart of stone, and turn it into a heart of flesh, filling me with love, compassion, concern for justice, a heart which brings Him honour and pleasure, transforming my life so that I become more Christ-like. To pray is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
This is all part of my personal discipline. Some may pray more, others less. And that is fine. We offer to God what we can, when we can. Sometimes you will feel so close to God in prayer that you glow, on other occasions, you may feel He hasn’t been listening or has been far from you. But rest assured, God always hears and answers prayer, just not always in the way we think He should. As we grow closer to God, our desire to be with Him increases. A rule of prayer should therefore start off simple, balanced (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication) and manageable. He knows our intentions, and the struggles and distractions we face each day, so we must not try to measure ourselves against each other. I am convinced that it’s better to try and pray, even if we do this badly, than not to pray at all.
Next month, I shall try to unpack a little the various forms of prayer.
“Yet we do not pray in order to provide ourselves with defences against danger, but in order to face the danger through the power of God who has been there first, who has cleansed the waters and harrowed hell” (K. Leech)