Prayer Pot

Since moving into a new room a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been keen to set up a special prayer space in my new abode. My old house was too small, but my new room is lovely and spacious, and as such I’m lucky enough to have a mini bookcase in my bedroom dedicated to prayer and spiritual development:

Prayer Space

The books themselves are important to me – most of them are compilations of prayer or Office books – but the thing I’m most excited about is the space on top of the bookcase.

After recently reading How to Pray by John Pritchard, in which he places emphasis on the physical space in which we pray, I realised that I didn’t really have anywhere special to go and talk to God. I have church, but that’s no good at midnight when I need to take time to engage with prayer. Of course, one can pray anywhere, and praying in front of an icon is no more or less valid than praying on a bus or a park, but having a dedicated prayer space can help with the frame of mind and concentration needed. I certainly feel at the moment that, as well as prayer in day to day life, I need somewhere at home where I only ever go to pray, that doesn’t remind me of anything else. I wanted to keep it simple, so there are only a couple of things on the top of the bookcase, all of which are very special to me.

The cross is self-explanatory – when praying to God, what better to look at than the symbol of his sacrifice? Looking at the cross always brings to mind, for me, not only this but also the words of Julian of Norwich during her illness and near death: ‘everything except the cross was ugly to me, as though crowded with fiends’. Everything should be ugly to us except the love displayed through the cross, and the joy we can take in this demonstration of God’s special care for His creation.

To the left of the cross I have an angel statue which was given to me by some dear friends at my baptism. Whenever I look at it I’m reminded of the day on which I gave my life to God, and of my baptismal promises to reject evil and to fully love God. I’m also reminded of a sweet conversation with my friends in which they told me they’d hunted high and low for an angel with short hair, as I had short hair at the time.

In between the cross and angel, not very visible in the picture, is an ammonite fossil which I found on the beach at Whitby. This reminds me of my vocation, as I was staying with a community at the time, but also of my favourite saint, Hilda, who was Bishop of Whitby and one of the greatest women the church has ever seen.

Finally, I have a new addition to the space: a prayer pot. I often find it hard to bring other people into my prayer without it feeling very contrived and awkward. So, I now have a pot which contains dozens of screwed up little pieces of paper, each with a name or intention written on it. Each day, during prayer, I can take a piece of paper out and pray for that person, remembering the times I’ve had with them, and coming to better understand them through God. Even when I’m not praying for them, they’re there, real, physical reminders of the people, permanently next to the cross and in the most special place I can personally offer them.

So, when I pray, I am reminded of the passion and crucifixion of my Lord, of my baptismal vows, of the strength to be drawn from the examples of the saints and from prayerful discernment of my vocation, and of God’s love expressed through friendship and the loving kindness of the people I know and have known. These things together enhance my prayer life beyond words, and I am ever grateful to the loving God for speaking and listening to me every day through prayer and contemplation. Amen.

Advertisements

Jesus and Socialism

Christianity, and in particular the faith propagated by my own church, the Church of England, is viewed by many as a warm, cosy blanket into which we retreat from the harsher realities of the world. It’s easy to see why people view it as such: the Anglican church is, to many, a comforting English tradition, fitting in with afternoon cricket games, boarding school and afternoon tea. I often make jokes about church really being about tea, biscuits, and gossip. I made one such joke to someone the other day, and was met with the response: ‘Really? Isn’t it about…you know…revolution?’

I make no secret of my ardent socialism. I believe that a socialist world would be a far better world than the one we currently live in, and I believe it’s an ideal to which we should strive in order to secure happiness, harmony and equality. For a long time I had a great deal of animosity towards the church because I saw it as an institution whose main job was to uphold a conservative status quo, not to encourage and enact an overturning of deeply engrained injustices in the world. In one of my first conversations with a now good friend, he told me he believed that one couldn’t be a Christian without being a socialist; my immediate response was to balk at the suggestion that Jesus and the Bible had anything pertinent to say about justice or equality. Being nice and kind to other people, sure, but not serious, grass roots social action. A few years later, and having actually read the Bible, I’m now quite happy to entirely retract my previous sentiments and agree with my friend.

The New Testament in particular presents us with several undeniable instances of communal living being the ideal towards which all Christians should strive, and I want to focus on a couple of those in this post. It’s tempting to also sift through scripture to find some passages promising condemnation of the rich and the greedy, but I want to focus less on the negative and more on the positive: rather than discussing what we shouldn’t do, I want to explore what the Bible tells us we should do once we dedicate our lives to Jesus.

John is probably my favourite Gospel, but Luke runs a close second. While John expresses the beautiful and the sublime to be found in the story of Jesus and in the profession of faith, Luke is rather more straightforward, giving us some excellent practical theology. 3:10-11 is a lovely example of Luke’s blunt and direct narrative: John the Baptist, instructing people in ways to prepare themselves for the coming of the Christ, tells the crowds who have come to be baptised by him: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (NRSV). There is nothing ambiguous or figurative here: this is a direct command. In order to prepare ourselves to love and follow Jesus, it is a moral imperative that we share what we have, that we abandon any greed which we are harbouring. This passage encourages a certain level of discomfort, as it demands that we who have much absolutely must give what we have to those who have little.

Given that Acts is traditionally attributed to St Luke, it’s no surprise that we seem this theme of sharing and of communal living in both texts. The Book of Acts presents a beautiful view of communal living at one of the most important points in the New Testament. After the Holy Spirit has descended on the people at Pentecost, and they begin to truly understand the significance of what happened at the crucifixion:

“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43-47, NRSV)

This is one of my favourite verses in the entire Bible – like the aforementioned passage from Luke 3, it’s so easy to overlook, but in it rests the most beautiful and perfect view of living in harmony with the world. It’s reminiscent of the peaceful living presented in Psalm 104, and reminds me of the ‘fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ in the words of the Grace. It reminds us that we are all one body in Christ, and reinforces the need for us to live together, to live communally as that one body, all striving towards peace and harmony in God’s creation to better glorify His name. I have an ESV Study Bible which has a very fun bit of commentary on this passage of Acts: “Though some people have referred to this situation as “early communism”, this is clearly not the case…”. I’m sorry, ESV editors, but it absolutely is the case, and it is the most perfect model we have of living a Christlike and Christ-centred life.