As we are invited to make Lent a particular season for prayer across the diocese, Bishop Lee reflects on our struggles to listen to God and how we might grow in our practice of prayer.
In the opening chapter of her book Everyday God, Paula Gooder writes about discovering God in the midst of the ordinary and finding it transformed into the extraordinary. The challenge that we face, says Paula, is whether we have sufficient curiosity, time and courage to turn aside and listen to what God has to say.
Bishop Mike has invited us to make this Lent a season for prayer, with a particular focus on our diocesan aim of creating connections with God, with each other, and with our communities. Prayer may be foundational to the Christian life yet many of us acknowledge our prayer life is not all it could or should be.
A primary task of ordained ministry is teaching people to pray but we deacons, priests and bishops have our own struggles with prayer. Tom Wright tells the story of the clergy at Notre Dame Cathedral when German bombs began to fall on Paris. Apparently the cry went up, Stop the Daily Office, lets pray! One wonders what these ministers thought they had been doing each morning and evening in their liturgy.
In sharing a little of her own journey into ways of praying and listening for God, Paula recognised that different chapters of her life have needed changes in what helps her be present to God. Pressed for time as a busy mother she adapted how, when and where she prayed, reminding me of the wise saying Pray as you can and not as you cant. Some clergy find the Daily Office endlessly sustaining and energising; others (and I admit to being one of them) require more variety in the liturgical resources they draw upon, as well as how they use scripture as a place of encounter with God and a springboard for prayer.
As a commuter to London for many years, the crowded Metropolitan Line train became a chapel for me though no one would have realised this. Reading the Bible and using aids for prayer have since become a wonderful resource with the advent of smart phones and tablets. Most days I spend time in quiet with God before commencing work but for early journeys to Bristol I have discovered Pray as You Go, the daily podcast produced by the Jesuits which I can listen to via Bluetooth in the car. There is music, reflection on a Bible reading, and a lead into prayer. You will be pleased to know that being attentive to God has not prevented me being attentive to the traffic! Of course prayer is something for any time and in any place, yet it is in making its practice a habit that we grow more attuned at listening for Christ and to him.
Just as Moses encountered God when he turned aside to examine the burning bush, so God offers moments with the potential to transform our walk with God. In a conversation with a car salesman this week, I realised that his curiosity had been sparked when he discovered I was a scientist as well as a bishop. It turned out a previous customer an old lady as he described her had also spoken to him about our Lord and given him an embroidered cross. In pointing out that it seemed Jesus was trying to catch his attention I invited him to go away and pray that, if this were so, God would provide a third and unmistakable encounter. I think he has sufficient curiosity and time but he will need courage to make that prayer and truly be ready to respond.
Curiosity, time, courage. Which of these needs attention if you are going to put yourself in the way of listening and responding to God? This Lent is an opportunity to do just that.