At the end of November, I was able to spend a few days away at St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling. It’s a great privilege to share in the life of a community who make prayer their principal work, offered to God for the church and the world, and for the time I’m there to try to make it my main occupation as well, undistracted by emails, phone calls and meetings. (It’s useful in this respect that there’s no Wi-Fi and only fleeting phone reception at the Abbey.)
The challenge, as you can probably imagine, is to sustain the renewal in prayer that flows from that once back in the ordinary stuff of life. It’s not going to be the same, of course, but we are all called to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5.17). That doesn’t mean we should all be monks or nuns! It’s about seeking to maintain an inner prayerfulness at all times, a readiness to offer up to God every situation and to be listening for his guidance.
That comes more easily, though, if we are able to set aside time regularly when our attention is principally on God’s Word, as revealed in the Scriptures, and responding in praise and prayer. It’s an ancient Christian practice to do that towards the beginning and end of each day, so we can look ahead in prayer to what we expect to happen and then reflect back on what actually did happen in prayer as well. Do you have a pattern, a rhythm of prayer and bible reading, and if so, what does it look like? Could it be strengthened in any way? Might you consider joining, even if it’s just occasionally, one of the services of daily prayer that happens in the parish, online or in person?
One of our parish objectives for the year has been to ‘Foster the life of prayer within our parish’, and I’m grateful to Jo Purle, who has adult education and prayer as the parish focus for her ministry, for taking a lead on this. One of the highlights for me was leading the Lectio course at St Mary’s Ashford Town Centre during Lent: I learnt so much from the book, the videos and the conversations we shared. We also had the wonderful array of prayer stations at our Pentecost service, and the parish prayer morning with Lyndall Bywater in September at Kingsnorth. We’ve started to pause in the middle of every PCC meeting to pray together in small groups. And of course, all kinds of things have been happening in each church community that ‘foster the life of prayer within our parish’. I hope you’ve been able to benefit from something in all that’s been offered.
One of the great themes of this Advent season is ‘Keep awake!’ Contrary to the pre-Christmas T-shirt worn by the Vicar of Dibley, being ready for the coming of Christ is not about being (much less looking) busy. The alertness Christ asks of us is much more to do with Paul’s instruction to pray without ceasing: in every situation, being able to say, silently or even aloud, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’
The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen
Abbey photo courtesy of http://mallingabbey.org