An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part Two 

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In my previous post I wrote about my determination to find a pattern of daily prayer that suited being a working parent.  The combination of the school run, a days work, family life and church had made if difficult to find enough space and time to connect with God through dwelling on liturgy and scripture.

I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.

This post is part reflection and part review of these and the impact focusing on applying them to an inconsistent and complicated schedule had on me.  As I found out when trying to do Morning, Midday and Night Prayer, not each format is necessarily suited to each part of the day.

Praying Through the Day

Sitting at my desk in the quiet of the early morning, before my children awoke and the day began in earnest, the tactile process of opening a book and turning the pages drew me deeper into God’s presence than the tapping and swiping of pixels on a screen.  The books engaged more senses than my sight: the texture and smell of the covers and the pages within; my fingers slowly but deliberately finding the pages to read; and the light that fell upon the words before me.  The softness of a book and the light in which it is read is inviting, the harshness of the light from computer screen is not.  And though I found Time to Pray helpful in various ways not having it in book form meant that I found it more attractive later in the day than in the morning (it is available in book form so in time I may find myself buying a copy to use).

With time limited (and my inability to get up early enough) the reduced length of the Morning Prayer in all 3 sources was helpful.  With the reminders of historic moments and calls to action within Common Prayer I found my prayers being more purposeful and less tokenistic than before.  With the Northumbria Community’s Daily Celtic Prayer I found my prayers more emotionally driven and intimate, perhaps driven by the more poetic language.  The repeated refrains scattered throughout Time to Pray helped them to cut through my tired state and bed in, but the lack of a ‘thought for the day’ meant that the effectiveness of the session depended on my reaction to the Bible readings.  All were short enough not to be rushed, enabling a decent amount of time to contemplate the liturgy and readings.

Maybe I am alone in this but I often find the Psalms dry and challenging to engage with, especially when presented with a large number of verses.  Although Time to Pray is a shortened version of Common Worship: Daily Prayer there is still a fair bit from the Psalms which, along with the other Bible readings, are drawn from the Church’s lectionary.  My understanding with and use of the lectionary is such that I have yet to fathom or discern any order or continuing theme.  Common Prayer is quite the opposite, the Bible readings follow on from the day before.  By gradually expanding a reading over several days the overall story and message was consolidated and embedded much better than having unrelated scripture each day.  The Northumbria Community’s’s Bible readings are often single verses which penetrate deeper into my soul and provide more to contemplate than a long reading.

Whatever peace the prayer provided I found that the stress of the school run could easily replace it.  Even if the peace remained I found myself drawn to and appreciative of the Jesuits’ Pray-as-you-go to listen to as I continued into work.  Having engaged in prayer with my hands and eyes before breakfast, engaging in my prayers with my ears as I prepared for the rest of the day was a moment to savour and one which brought the peace back.  Knowing that I would be using Pray-as-you-go meant that on occasions I used it as my sole source of Morning Prayer, choosing to use the single session of set prayer from my digital copy of Time to Pray at lunchtime.

Whatever the source, Midday Prayer was always a varied affair.  The environment in which we pray can have a big impact on the prayers and there are few places in my office in which I can comfortably remove myself.  A good set of headphones and some gentle instrumental music were essential if I was to have any hope of finding some distance from the distractions. Both Common Prayer’s and the Northumbria Community’s were short enough to be used well within a short lunch break whilst still leaving enough time to eat.

The timing of Evening Prayer was a challenge.  Like many parents the time after work was concerned with collecting and feeding my children before the all-important bedtime routines began.  By the time quietness had descended upon my house, and the essential chores had been done, the onset of tiredness did not particularly make reading liturgy an enticing prospect. At times like these, just as when driving, having audio sources of prayer was invaluable.

Throughout the 3 weeks I drew upon not only the audio of Pray-as-you-go but an audio version of Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer which is both sung and spoken.  Although different both the sung and spoken liturgy were particularly helpful but they did have challenging side-effects: the lack of feeling that often comes when words are spoken in unison can be off-putting; and when reading the liturgy I would hear the tune in my head, a distraction that could turn the contemplative prayer and worship into a nice sing-along session.  Common Prayer includes songs within its sessions but only the App includes audio-tracks of the suggested songs, both the book and website include sheet music that resolutely remained either silent or out of tune in my head.

Just as a contemplative audio provided a good start to my working day, praying along with the voices of others or listening to an audio Compline or Examine ended the day well, particularly when heard immediately before sleep (the Jesuits’ Pray-as-you-go app and website has audio versions of Examen Prayer and the Northumbria Community’s Daily prayer album has a Compline for each day of the week).

So what?

As I experimented with different patterns and sources of daily prayer I quickly realised, somewhat unsurprisingly, that spending a week at a time with a sources wasn’t going to be long enough to perfect my practice. The variations in life that make one day easy and another hard mean that there will never a single solution that will endure, instead whatever we do needs to adapt to an ever changing environment.

Focusing on spending time in prayer and anchoring my day in God’s presence did have benefits beyond finding liturgy and readings that inspired me.  It brought a sense of God’s presence throughout the day: when stressful situations occurred it did not take much to return to a peaceful perspective.  The gap between my conscious and subconscious awareness of God’s presence narrowed.  Before I began my experiment God could be hidden under layer upon layer of thoughts and tasks.  Praying more regularly found space for God alongside them.

With our busy lives it is a challenge to make time to simply be with God and it is all too easy for the world to drown out His voice.  This experiment has shown me that having a variety of formats and sources of a Daily Office is essential if the inspiration is to remain fresh and flexible enough to fight through the ‘things-that-must-be-done’.  It has reminded me that more important than a Daily Office is the desire to pray and spend time with God.  The practice of regularly dwelling on liturgy and scripture provided a foundation for the moments when they were unreachable: on the days when a session of set prayer was not possible my mind turned to God more quickly than before.

So although I set out looking for a single source of guidance to aid my prayers during each day I found I used several.  I found a relaxation with prayer and a realisation that the motivation to pray and connect with God is the most important factor.  That motivation can become the prayer because, as I found when I read or spoke no words, our souls don’t always need words to communicate with God.

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. 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

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

Climbing up to Cloud 9


I keep being asked “have you come off Cloud 9 yet?” and it’s made me question myself why I’ve not been on it.

It isn’t surprising that people expect someone to be ecstatic when they have been recommended to train for ordination (see Going to a BAP, again!), and it has been humbling to see the reaction to my recommendation.  When we see someone work hard for something and then achieve their aim we are generally excited and pleased for them (that doesn’t mean it cannot also be painful for us, especially if we hoped for the very same thing). But being recommended for ordination is not an achievement to be gained, it is a decision to be discerned.

Continue reading

Going to a BAP, again!

My retreat from social media is over. My return to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) has been completed. The results are in and a chapter of my life that begun back in January 2013 is over. It has involved 1 Vocations Chaplain, 5 Examining Chaplains, 3 Diocesan Directors of Ordinands (DDOs), 2 Bishops’ Advisory Panels, 2 Panel Secretaries, 6 Bishops’ Advisors and 2 Bishops; with far greater numbers of people that have accompanied on my journey with encouragement, wisdom and prayers.

But what happened? As often is the case there is a before, during and after to this extended blog post of going to my second BAP. Whilst my blog post Strange Days (aka Going to a BAP) covered what goes on at a BAP in detail this post will aims to illustrate the value of finding peace and living in the moment with God through challenging times, because returning to a second BAP was truly a challenge. As for the result? Well, it wouldn’t be right to write the ending before the beginning! Continue reading