An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part One

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Starting my Ordination Training has once again made me examine my pattern of prayer.  Over the years I have used lots of different patterns and sources in my attempt to take my focus off myself and onto God and others.  I have had times when it has worked, when I have tapped into a rich seem of inspirational liturgy but such times have ebbed and flowed with an unhelpful inconsistency.  This inconsistency has meant that the focusing and calming effect of prayer became vulnerable to be lost, drowned out or shut out by the distractions and pace of everyday life.

At the Sarum College’s Summer School it was noticeable how the framework of prayer on which each day was built gave a focus and protective sheen to the day.  We embraced a structure of Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer, something often referred to as the Daily Office.  Each session of prayer took precedence over anything else at that time of the day: so we prayed before we had breakfast and began lectures; we prayed after the morning’s activities ended and before lunch; and we sealed the day with prayer before we ate dinner and relaxed.  Maybe prayer before a meal was out of a sense of humour, as much as thanking for the time past and the time to come, because the prayers were often said to an accompanying soundtrack of rumbling stomachs!

My pattern of prayer away from theological college has not normally been so regular.  There have been times in my life when I have embraced a pattern and source of liturgically structured prayer, but it has often not been strong enough to withstand the demands of everyday life and its use withered.  The consequence has been that at times I have often relied upon listening to a short piece of contemplative prayer on my commute into work or as I settled down to sleep after a busy day.  Sadly even those briefest moments of focused prayers have sometimes been absent, their return would remind me just how bereft and detached from God I had felt without them.

The time and space given to prayer at college meant that although we did not end the day with a corporate session of Night Prayer (often also known as Compline or Examen) I still found that  I was more focused and conscious of God’s presence throughout the day, from rising to going to bed.  That we did not do them together was in itself not a bad thing, there is something particularly intimate about Night Prayer that benefits from being done alone and immediately before sleep.

I tried to continue using the Church of England’s pattern, structure and liturgy of Daily Prayer (Common Worship: Daily Prayer) after returning home from the Summer School, but it was a very different experience doing it alone. At college I had enjoyed its rhythm, length and phrasing; the schedule of the day also allowed time to give it its proper attention and time. There were no competing priorities or distractions, the liturgy, prayers and Bible readings were the undiluted focus – life outside of the theological college bubble is rarely like this.

At home, instead of dwelling on the words and letting them take me deeper into God’s presence, the looming demand of the school run and commute to work caused me to skim read the the liturgy.  Whilst the length of Common Worship’s Daily Prayer was blessing at home there were more words than could be fitted into the time available, no matter how early I rose or how late I stayed up.  And whilst saying the Daily Office with others at college was enriching, saying it on my own was dry and hard to absorb.  The prayer became another task to do, not a focusing or structuring of the day around a relationship with God. Prayers were short, rushed and inwardly focused, driven by whatever was in my life at that moment.

When I finally admitted to myself that Common Worship: Daily Prayer was simply not going to work with my life away from college I knew I needed to find something that would. To continue with it with my work and family life as it currently is would be to repeat the past: my enthusiasm would weaken, the liturgy would be resented as a task rather than appreciated as a way into God’s presence, and my prayer would be ineffective.

I am also conscious, having started training for the ordained priesthood, that if I am going to be able to encourage those I serve to have a healthy prayer life I need to be able to practice now what I will be preaching later.  I need to find patterns and sources of prayer that fit in with the busyness of my life now.

Reflecting on my patterns of prayer has led me to experiment with a deliberate trial of different prayer books, websites and mobile-Apps (computer programs in old-school language).  By deliberately and systematically trying out various sources I hope that I will find one or a combination that will help sustain a healthy prayer life, one which will withstand the pressures of work, family and study.

Over the next few weeks I will be trialling different ‘Daily Offices’ which, to varying extents, have been gathering dust on my physical or virtual shelves:

I am deliberately using sources that I have used in the past, albeit inconsistently, because I know they have the real potential to become established and effective in my daily routine. That said I will be looking out for other sources that I might be able to take advantage of in the future (such as the Discovering Prayer website and the Scottish Episcopal Church). I will also be looking at how other I can make better use of technology to improve my prayer life, such as reminders, appointments and apps like PrayerMate that help prayer become more organised and focused (the JustPray website has links to a few of these apps).

My focus will be on finding sources that are distinctively different to, yet complimentary with, the Church of England’s full Daily Office.  Variety is important: being too used to a single source of style can become stale, keeping prayer as an opportunity to tune into God rather than letting it become just another take to do.  My hope is that I can not only find a pattern and style compatible with life as a parent, employee and student but also to find ones that will ensure my enthusiasm for prayer endures for the long-term.

I will be reporting back in a second post on my Experiment with Daily Prayer but am interested to hear how you keep your prayer life healthy and what you use.  Please let me know by commenting below (and let me know if you do not want your comments published).

Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training

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Sarum College in Salisbury

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training. Continue reading

Tears for Fears

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The Font in Salisbury Cathedral

I am now, officially and undeniably (even to myself) an Ordinand.  This week I have begin my training at Sarum College in Salisbury, a place which echoes from my past and which will be embedded in my future, for the next 3 years at least.  Although it is largely a non-residential course it has started with a weeklong Summer School: a chance to build community and get used to the fact that I really am an Ordinand.

Part of the week’s programme has included a mini-silent retreat: from Midday Prayer to Evening Prayer we have been silent.  Having been on a silent retreat before my BAP I was looking forward to this part of the week with eager anticipation.  And as I did during my pre-BAP retreat I gave control of my fingers to God and let Him reveal to me what might be on His heart and to help me articulate what was on mine.

What you will read is the result of the writing.  Normally I type away on an computer with a large screen but this time I used a phone, with interesting results: I could only see a limited amount of what I had typed and only saw the full picture when I read it on my iPad later.  It isn’t polished but it is, with a few spelling corrections, what was the silence revealed to me as I sat in Salisbury Cathedral on the afternoon of 23rd August 2017. Continue reading

Nothing to lose

 

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Preparing to worship at New Wine

 

The New Wine festival is taking place in Somerset this week and next. I can’t be there but reading tweets from those who are, and listening into some of the sessions being streamed live on the internet, has reminded me what a key moment my last trip to the festival turned out to be on my journey towards ordination training. Continue reading

Time Turning

 

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Hermione Granger’s Time Turner (TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.)

My family have discovered Harry Potter this year, and not just the films. The books have grabbed my son’s interest like no other book has done before; a previously reluctant reader he now can’t stop reading and has encouraged me to read the books too. So as a family we came across the character Hermoine Granger using a Time Turner in Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban in order to turn back time so that she could study more subjects. Going to services ordaining priests and deacons has been like having a time turner myself, only turning time forwards not backwards. Continue reading

Leaving the Shadows

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There is a time for everything, a time to be anonymous and a time to be named.

Writing anonymously or under a pseudonym is nothing new and the reasons for doing so are numerous. Anonymity is a mask that enables both good and bad. It can be hidden behind by those seeking to abuse or to avoid abuse. It can remove perceptions of a person or reinforce them. It can be liberating or confining.

Like many, when I began exploring my sense of calling I searched for other people’s experiences; I didn’t find much and as I began my journey I soon discovered why. Exposing the deepest confines of our soul to ourselves is difficult enough, exposing that to others is on another level entirely! Exposing developing yet incomplete experiences and thoughts adds to the vulnerability: views and understanding change over time so to talk about something can create unhelpful misperceptions, especially when a blog post is read in isolation. It also risks ridicule and embarrassment when naivety or errors are exposed.

When I started this blog I had one thing in mind, to be as open and honest as possible as I explored whether I should be trained for ordination. I had seen people begin exploring ordination with rose-tinted glasses and be hurt when the challenges came. Some of those I spoke to as I took my first tentative steps wanted to make sure I went into it with my eyes wide open; the discernment process, the training for ordination and the life of a priest would not be a fairy-tale bed of roses, at times the thorns would be undeniably present. Continue reading

The Gap Between

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Respect and tolerance is a two way road.

Recent events suggest that we are good at loving our neighbour in times of need but less so when we find out what they might think.

In typical British fashion the country reacted to the terrorist attacks London and Manchester by sticking two fingers up at terrorists, supported those affected and carried on as normal. When tragedy struck those living in Grenfell Tower the community came together just as they had after the terrorist attacks; churches, mosques and others opened up their doors, hearts and wallets to rally around to support those in need.

But when it comes to expressing views or engaging in debates we seemingly find it easier to hate our neighbour than love them. Those who agree with us and live within our neighbourhood of opinions are wise people of distinction, those who don’t are our enemy to be cast out or defeated. Continue reading

A Tribal Sales Pitch

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Discerning which opinion and direction is the right one to follow.

Everyone has an opinion, even if that is to sit on the fence or have ‘no opinion’, and most are quite happy to share it, but often how we share it says as much about us as it does about the thing we are talking about.

When my wife was pregnant this was all too obvious, almost everyone we met had a tale to tell and advice to share: “don’t eat peanuts”, “eat peanuts”; “don’t give the child a dummy, you’ll end up regretting it if you do”, “give the child a dummy, you’ll wish you did if you don’t”; “breast is best”, “bottle milk is fine”; “I did this, you should too”; the list goes on. They wanted to help us bring up our child as well as possible but their opinion would often conflict with another well intended piece of advice.

Opinions and advice can help people to make a decision, but they can also be a way of justifying a decision we have made. Promoting the pathway we took helps us feel good about our decision, if we admit to it’s flaws that exist we can wonder if we decided correctly. One strengthens our position, the other opens up to nuances that can be perceived as a weakness by ourselves or others. Continue reading

A Rescue Plan for Humanity

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Celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday, 16th April 2017

Did you hear about the sheep who got his head stuck in a traffic cone and had to be rescued? The RSPCA said he was fine afterwards, although he did look a little sheepish! And did you hear about the Swan that was stuck on the roof of a restaurant? Apparently the bill was too much! Thankfully some firefighters rescued it and returned it to a nearby river. And finally, did you hear about a man and his dog who stopped a cyclist from disaster with some bread? It was a Matter of Loaf and Death! Three ‘strange but true’ rescue stories, okay two of them: Wallace & Grommit used buns not bread to stop the bike.

There is another true but far more dramatic and important rescue, one that really is a ‘Matter of Life and Death’: Jesus’s resurrection. Within Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts Peter helps people to see God’s rescue plan for humanity that the resurrection unlocked.

Acts is a book full of eyewitness accounts and pioneering ministry, and where church as we know it began. It starts 40 days after Jesus’s resurrection with an account of Jesus ascending into Heaven having spent the time in between visiting and being seen by a whole host of people (Acts 1).  10 days later the Disciples spoke in languages they didn’t know but those who witnessed it did.  They had received the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised.  It was the first Pentecost.

Peter stood up to explain what had happened and help make the connections that gave birth to the church we know today (Acts 2). Continue reading

At the foot of the Cross

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Jesus on the Cross, St Mary’s Convent, Wantage

Whilst on retreat at St Mary’s Convent in Wantage in March I often found myself sitting within a water garden at the foot of a sculpture of Christ on the Cross and began writing, through which God helped me discern where and what He was calling me to do.  Today, on Good Friday, I revisited and finished it. It isn’t exactly poetry or fully thought out, it is more a staccato steam of consciousness!   Continue reading