January 2017

Reflection on Spirituality and Prayer

Fr Owain Mitchell

Over the coming months, I will attempt to offer you some of my personal thoughts, preferred models and reflections on prayer.

Because this subject is so vast and we can only touch the tip of the iceberg, it’s difficult to know where to begin –  particularly in a general introduction like this – so please forgive me this month as I simply blurt out things as they come to mind.  I’ll expand on these broad brushstrokes in the coming months.

The first thing to note is that God is central to our life, and prayer is central to our relationship with God. Prayer is simply our attentiveness to God.  As Christians, we believe that God comes first. This is reflected in the Ten Commandments, the Summary of the Law, the Lord’s Prayer and in so many other tenets of our faith. Until we get our relationship with God right, the rest of our lives is so difficult.  And getting our relationship with Him right (or as right as fallen humanity in our broken world can) does not prevent us from being hurt.  Pain and suffering are guaranteed (Unless you take up your cross and follow me).  But our spirituality, our prayer, our relationship with God strengthen our faith, hope and love, and enable us to endure (those who endure to the end will be saved) and help us to seek to live well before God and alongside each other. Prayer is the compass that helps us find our way home to God.

We are members the Church of England.  Often you may hear people call us the Anglican Church, there’s actually no such thing!  The Anglican Communion is a body made up of a vast number of Churches from around the world who hold similar doctrines (teachings and beliefs) but in which there are also many differences.  The Church of England is a reformed Church which sought a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and so seeks to include sensitively a wide range of churchmanships,  high, low, liberal, evangelical, etc. Similarly, there are many other denominations or expressions of Christian belief – Roman Catholicism, Non-Conformists, Free, and so forth.  Whilst in terms of teaching and belief, theology and so forth, there is a huge range of diversity, in terms of spirituality we can (with careful discernment) draw from all of these, if God is at the heart of them. Elements of the Church of England’s spirituality are unique to us, but we should not be afraid to draw on the spirituality of other denominations if they help us draw closer to God in our prayer lives. (It’s worth bearing in mind here the internet – which is both a blessing and a curse! Be careful about where you look, there are some fantastic resources available on the internet, there are also many dubious sites which could lead the undiscerning away from God rather than closer to Him.)

From this, we should remember that we are all diverse – one size doesn’t fit all.  If one model of prayer doesn’t work for you, don’t give up, try others.  And if the pattern you currently have has become stale, freshen it up by using a different discipline.

Another important introductory thing to note is that one’s prayer life can be paradoxical.  It is the simplest thing we can do, and yet the most difficult. It can bring times of extreme joy and the deep inner sense of being close to God, and at other times, we can feel so far from Him.  We can use the simplest methods of praying – such as contemplation or arrow prayers – or some quite complicated models such as the Rosary. Even those who we might regard as masters or experts of prayer and spirituality the Desert Fathers, the Medieval Mystics, contemporary saints such as Padre Pio and Mother Theresa all spoke of difficult times in their prayer lives, and their experiences of unanswered prayer and being far from God.  So our prayer life requires effort and discipline (a realistic rule of prayer is extremely useful), it requires an open heart and mind – we might not feel close to God, we might feel our prayer is going unheard or that we aren’t getting anything out of our prayer time, but we don’t pray for our own benefit, prayer is our sacrifice to God, it’s about time given to the one Who created us, gives us life, and longs to be close to us.  No matter how hard it may be, don’t give up, those moments of illumination, when we know we have seen and recognised God in the very depths of our soul, far outweigh the hours, days even years when we feel we haven’t.

We pray in so many ways, individually and corporately. Prayer is about moving from the mind to the heart. It’s about feeling rather than knowledge “learning not WHO we are or WHAT we do, but feeling in the very deaths of our being THAT we are God’s beloved children, and that God is in each of us.  Prayer is relational, it’s about spending time with God, but this time spent with God transforms us, and therefore it transforms our relationships and the world around us.

Next month, I’ll outline my own personal discipline, by way of a starting point. From this, I’ll try and draw out for you some of the barriers to praying – time, energy, imbalance between how we feel physically, emotionally and spiritually and so forth, and some of the things I personally find helpful.”

The soul that journeys to God, but does not shake off its cares and quiets its appetites, is like one who drags a cart uphill(Saint John of the Cross)