Reflection on Spirituality and Prayer
Fr Owain Mitchell
Our whistle stop overview of spirituality and prayer thus far has reminded us of a number of key things to consider… the fact that our spirituality and the way we pray forms and informs our lives of discipleship; that we need both to feed and nurture our spiritual lives, which we do through a balance of prayer, reading, reflection and our relationships with others; that there will be times of aridity as well times of fruitfulness (perhaps more so!); that not everyone is suited to all types or ways of praying, but that there are a huge variety of models and methods of praying, and that we should not be afraid or reluctant to experiment, in doing so, we must give unfamiliar ways of praying a fair chance before deciding that it is or isn’t for us. We have reflected on the fact that primarily, our prayer is not for our own benefit or about ourselves, it is our humble offering to God, made attentively in the Spirit, through which we hope to worship and adore God, discern His will, and grow closer to Him and our fellow humanity. All of this, and the other things we have considered, sustain and nurture us in our lives of discipleship. They are vital to our transformation into the image of Christ.
Last month, we began to look at the moral implications and outliving of our lives of discipleship, prayer and spirituality. Lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of prayer shapes the law of belief, or to put it more simply, how you pray shapes what you believe. If discipleship, prayer and spirituality are about deepening our relationship with God and becoming Christ-like disciples, formed and informed by our prayer, study and reflection, we need to work to deepen that relationship, and we must expect to be changed. We begin to think the way God things, to look at the world around us through His eyes, to want to build our relationships and the world around us as He directs us. We are therefore called to make ethical decisions, and moral choices which are often counter-cultural.
Last month, briefly reflected on the ethical and moral implications of our lives of discipleship by beginning with considering how our human generosity reflects God’s abundant generosity to us. How does our attitude to money, time, gifts and talents correlate to our experience of God? We have touched many times on the subject of relationships, and how these are shaped by our prayer and spirituality. Our relationship with God has moral and ethical implications for our relationships with one another. Jesus was quite clear about this, and it is seen time after time throughout the bible.
At its simplest, sin can be understood to be rooted in fear, which is a lack of faith in God. This lack of faith in God opens the way to self-love, rather than the love of God self-love is pride, the first of the seven deadly sins, which is overcome by humility – the opposite of self-love (The others being avarice which we overcome by liberality, lust with chastity, anger with meekness, greed with temperance, envy with love and sloth with diligence.) Self-love or pride rather than love for God leads us to defy God, and not let God be God, which is sin. Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; but we are all fallen, broken people. We are all susceptible to the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil. And as disciples, as those who through our spiritual lives seek to walk more closely to God, by our imitation of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit we try our hardest to be the people God created us to be and wills us to be, but we stumble and fall so very often. Thus we try to live God’s way with every fibre of our being.
We try to be the best we can be, and to do the best we can do, and to offer to God the best we can offer. But some days our best is not quite as good as it is on other days. We get battered and knocked about by life; we get hurt by others, and we hurt ourselves. Our faith and our trust in God can be knocked by the things going on in our lives. Yet we persevere. We confess publicly – and some privately – our failings, and we turn back to God and ask for His forgiveness; we turn to priests and seek absolution; we seek out those who have hurt us, or whom we have hurt hoping for reconciliation. Jesus teaches us and demonstrates to us the importance of forgiveness. Time and time again we must forgive and seek to be forgiven. We pray the Lord’s Prayer many times each day, asking that God will forgive us as we forgive others, and if we are not willing to forgive (ourselves as well as others) how can we hope to be forgiven?
But forgiveness is counter-cultural. Where there’s blame there’s a claim, and because you’ve hurt me, I demand compensation. No – that is the world’s way, it is not God’s way. God calls us to turn the other cheek. God wills us to focus on our own faults, and let others worry about the splinter in their own eye. God asks us to pray for our enemies (which can rightly be understood in the broadest of terms – not only physical enemies, but spiritual and emotional – our pride, avarice, etc. are just as real enemies to our spiritual lives as the people who are rude to us, cruel to us and who sin against us). And this makes us vulnerable – some will consider us weak because we don’t fight back, we don’t stand up for ourselves and we accept their unkindness and inappropriate behaviour by forgiving, praying and loving. But we stand firm and continue to turn the other cheek and forgive because this is what we believe God does for us. This is the right way, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated.
In baptism, after anointing the candidates with the oil of catechumens, the celebrant and people say to the candidate, “Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ, against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life”. To say ‘Yes’ to God is to accept His standards as our moral and ethical compass. We continue to fight valiantly as disciples, firm in our faith. Doing this makes us vulnerable. It is to live in the world but not be of the world. Doing to others as we would have them do to us means being examples to those around us. At times this is frightening. At times, it is extremely hard. But it’s the right way. And as with everything else, it boils down to prayer, study of our bible, reflection and perseverance. By dying to sin and death, we live in the hope of sharing in Christ’s resurrection. To fight against sin, the world and the devil and to forgive and seek to be forgiven, is a discipline – something we have to work hard at. Yet the rewards are beyond our imagining – in this world and the next.
“Grant, Lord, that we who are baptised into the death of Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with Him; and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection, through His merits, Who died and was buried and rose again for us, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”. (Collect for Good Friday)