2016/17

2016 has been an awful year for me. I’ve lost one job, started a new one, and given up volunteering for a charity that has meant a great deal to me for many years. Relatives have suffered ill health, I was nearly sectioned, and I’ve had no less than 3 failed and destructive relationships (points 2 and 3 might have more than a passing relationship to one another).  I went from starting the year quite sure I was called to be a nun, to ending it quite sure that I was called to almost anything but. I’ve probably not had a year as full of epiphany and development since I was a very small child.

My faith has taken quite a blow this year. It’s very challenging to have the rug pulled out from under your feet, vocation-wise, and be left unsure of where you stand or where you belong. I’ve felt upset, confused, angry, and frustrated. Above all else, I’ve felt distant from God, more so than I ever have in the 4 years since I started going to church. My prayers seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and it’s taken me longer than I care to admit to realise that this is primarily because I’ve been praying for the wrong things, from the wrong place.

A lot of people hate resolutions, but I feel like it’s good to have ideals as long as they are undertaken with the understanding that they are often very challenging to maintain. Since I was a small child, one of my greatest loves has been reading and writing, and these have both suffered over the past few years. It’s all too easy to eschew them for other ‘more important’ things that feel they should take precedence over what feels like a leisure activity. But, for me, reading and writing is often an act of prayer, and therefore should take precendence over most other things. So, this coming year, among other things, I’ve decided to read a book a week, write a blog post a week, and write in my private journal every day. I hope that, through these things, I will reconnect with God, with my faith, and with the hope that faith promises to us all, especially at this most special time of year.

Amen.

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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.

On Prayer

One of the worst things about depression is the absolute apathy that can come with it. It’s not all doom, gloom and misery; most of the time it’s simply a numbness.

I’ve been very frustrated with myself for not managing to write much recently. It’s a double cruelty that depressive episodes not only burden one with such emotional lethargy, but they also take away the ability to engage with any kind of outlet which might alleviate the difficulty. I find it hard to write because I find it so, so hard to care in moments like this. I even find it hard to pray because I just cannot formulate the words, or even the general sentiments, in my mind.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe contains a lovely little description of prayer. The children are told that Aslan knows full well what they need, and will give it to them in due course, but he likes to be asked all the same. I know that my ability to pray doesn’t stop God from knowing my mind, or knowing what I need, and I know that God understands and is compassionate when I find myself unable to pray, but I’d desperately like to be able to ask. Instead, I find that these acutely apathetic episodes stop me from being able to.

In times like this, I’m hugely grateful for the Lord’s Prayer. At a Mass I recently attended, the priest talked about the difficulties of prayer, and of the difficulty we all at least occasionally face when we try to sit down and talk to God. In these times, the priest said, when we can’t work out what to say, or can’t focus our minds, or can’t even work out what exactly it is we need to pray for, God has given us a beautiful and simple prayer which can be used over and over without becoming stale:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from evil.

Amen.