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).

Tears for Fears

The Font in Salisbury Cathedral

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

A Rescue Plan for Humanity

Easter Sunday 2017

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.

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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

The Lord’s Prayer at the School Gate

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Waiting at the school gate in Wellow, Somerset

Each school day morning I arrive in a village with my children before any other family. We park, we chat, we pass around the tic-tacs (another story), then walk down to the school gate where we watch the traffic pass by and the rest of the families arrive.  It is a time I cherish, a time to share and a time to pray, and so I do.

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Silent Thoughts

Warning: this post contains plot details and spoilers from the film Silence by Martin Scorsese.

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Martin Scorsese is not one afraid to ask challenging questions about the nature of man and faith, questions that some find simply the mention of a step too far, even heretical. Faith is something that has been a subject of exploration in his life and films. Having once sought to become a priest he famously adapted and filmed Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ, exploring the idea that Jesus may have struggled with his contrasting human and divine nature.

In his latest movie Silence he has taken more challenging areas to explore by taking Shusako Endo’s novel about 2 Jesuit priests who travel to 17th Century Japan in search of their former mentor who, according to rumours, had renounced his faith. At that time Christians in Japan were suffering under a brutal regime seeking to wipe out the faith. They were forced to renounce their faith, an act known as apostasy, by stepping on an image of Christ known as a fumie. Those that refused to apostatise were tortured, often to a slow and excruciating death.

The title alludes to Gods seeming silence or absence whilst people suffer for their belief in Him, and as the priests watch the persecution unforced around them their faith is severely tested. Whilst believers’ faith gives them strength, the priests struggle to maintain their own faith as the silence breeds doubts.

The film illustrates some of the challenges the persecuted church went through then, and still does today. One of those challenges is the decision whether to profess and practice a faith in public and risk the consequences or to hide their faith away, even publicly renounce or denounce it, and consciously act against the God they privately believe in.

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Depressingly (dis)honest

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 2012, Photo by Frank Gunn

Walking the tightrope

Over recent years we have seen an increased awareness about mental health issues but how honest can we be when talking about them? How certain can we be that as well as more people talking about mental health issues more people understand them?

In a blog committed to being open and honest about what it can be like to discern whether I should be ordained it is perhaps strange to question the degree of honesty, but every disclosure brings with it a consequence. People disclosing their struggles with mental health can get sidelined and loose jobs.  I fear they might find routes towards ordination blocked too because of misunderstanding speaking louder than God’s will.

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Shown the door

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Doors closing or opening?

I’m not paranoid, I know people are watching my every move.

As you try to discern if God is calling you to be ordained it can feel as the Church is watching and analysing your every move: CCTV cameras trained on you, hidden cameras in place to catch you unaware, spies and informers reporting back to headquarters. Of course that is nonsense, there is no need for the church to watch or inform you because you will be informing on yourself, and willingly so.

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Communication Breakdown

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Communication breakdown
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
Led Zeppelin

I started the summer waiting to move into the next stage of the discernment process: meetings with Examining Chaplains and a Bishop to decide if I should go to a ordination selection conference (the BAP). I was still waiting by the end of the summer.

I had suspected my Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) had been a little optimistic in his planning for the next stage of my discernment journey but I had no reason to question his judgment on how the next stage would progress. Prior to heading off into retirement my DDO was handing those he was guiding to the remaining DDO , for her to arrange the meetings.

Whereas when I reached this stage before I had been asked to write 3 essays to give the Examining Chaplains an insight into my mind, personality and faith (see Rescued from the darkness; Defining Ordination is harder than you think!; and Challenging and Exiting Times). This time though things had changed, and sensibly so.

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