Missing the Point?

It’s easy to miss the point of anything, isn’t it, and the fact that lockdown is giving some people too much time, and others too little, means that a querelous dissatisfaction with life is becoming more and more evident in some quarters. It often takes the form of angry little diatribes on Twitter or Facebook, childish squabbles that leave all parties feeling diminished. We all know people who have to be right all the time (not us, of course), who will pick away at minute details until one really wants to scream. Or there are those who like to reply to comments on our behalf, not always accurately and sometimes in ways that cause major misunderstandings we have to try to resolve. Then there are those who assume that because they read something ten, twenty or sixty years ago, it has achieved the status of eternal verity. Even as I write, there are disputes going on in social media about the ‘correct’ spacing after a full stop, the ‘correct’ timing of today’s prayer for healthcare workers and the ‘correct’ way to introduce people to Christianity.

If you don’t mind my pontificating a little, I can give you the answer to all three questions: single, doesn’t matter, depends. Only one, you notice, is specific. Years spent designing books and other printed matter means that the typographical standards known as Hart’s Rules are second nature to me — or at least, I know when I have broken them. But what about those other two, the ‘correct’ timing of today’s prayer for healthcare workers and the ‘correct’ way to introduce people to Christianity? Why do I claim that the answer should be ‘doesn’t matter’ and ‘depends’? It has to do with what I believe about prayer.

Prayer is much more important than the times of prayer, by which I mean that whether we pray for healthcare workers at 11.00 a.m. or at 1.00 p.m. is, in an important sense, immaterial. There is no time in eternity. As Christians we pray in Christ, and that is what matters. Now, I can understand that someone arranging a church service, whether in church or online, has to fix a time for assembling people together, just as we do in the monastery for the Divine Office, but surely proportionality applies to an extraordinarily brief silent pause? One minute? I shall barely have time to register it! All the time that has been lavished on deciding whether it is to be observed at 11.00 a.m. or 1.00 p.m. would surely have been better employed in praying, would it not, because that is the point of the exercise?*

What about introducing someone to Christianity? I don’t think there is one ‘right’ way, particularly where adults are concerned. One has to try to meet the needs of the individual one is trying to help. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) provides a programme many have followed with advantage. I know the method I myself have adopted on occasion would not meet with everyone’s approval, though it seems to have worked, if by that one means the person concerned seems to have grown in faith and love of the Lord. The key words here are ‘faith’ and ‘love’. I am a great believer in reading and reading deeply and widely, but I know it is not enough. Unless we pray we shall only know about God, not God himself. If those who act as catechists do not encourage prayer, it seems to me that an opportunity is being missed, an opportunity of enormous significance for both the individual and the Church as a whole.

Lockdown means that a lot of people are becoming bored, chafing at its restraints and seeing only negativity. Trying to spiritualise the experience doesn’t help, especially if one has fixed ideas about what the spiritual is. This morning I tried to encourage someone to think of it as a temporary experience of cloister. As Benedictines, most of our searching for God is done outside choir, doing routine things in routine ways, often in circumstances that are anything but glamorous or romantic. Cleaning a bathroom, listening to another’s grumbles or complaints, coping with a headache or bout of hay fever, doing what someone else asks or decides rather than what we would choose, experiencing loneliness or anxiety or any other feeling of inadequacy or pain, these are not earth-shattering events perhaps, but they are the stuff of which saints can be made. The secret of transformation lies in prayer, and prayer is nothing other than the desire to be pleasing to God, the point of our existence.

  • I am not referring to the discussion on our own FB page but speaking more generally.

Note: No audio today as I am too breathless to record.

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18 thoughts on “Missing the Point?”

  1. Dear Sr Catherine, I am sorry you are breathless and pray you may soon feel better. Thank you for today’s thoughts – searching as ever. I am reminded of a quote (I think it is from Michel Quoist) – “If we really knew how to listen, if we really knew how to look around us, our whole life would become prayer”.

  2. Thank you Sister – I agree with you on all substantive points. I lived in a spiritual community for a few years and one of the most useful takeaway points was seeing work (by which was meant all the daily activities of cleaning, tidying, gardening etc.) as ‘love in action’. Suddenly the day becomes filled with prayer/meditation rather than mundane chores.

    PS Would you prefer to be addressed as ‘Dame’? I just noticed that you have a Wikipedia entry. #impressed

    • Thank you, Peter. I really don’t mind what you call me — Dame is a formal title with an interesting history behind it but difficult to use these days without sounding quaint. I community we usually use ‘Sister’ — unless there is a disaster in the offing, in which case ‘Dame’ seems to surface.

  3. Excellent and thought-provoking, as always!
    Point 1, reminds me to be careful in the administration of punctuation.
    Point 2, it’s not when you pray (or for how long) that matters more than the decision to bring things that concern, or delight, before the Lord and seek His response and direction.
    Point 3, I’m not an extremely extrovert person (yet I worship in a Pentecostal Church!) so my approach to sharing the Good News tends to be a quieter, gentler attitude of encouragement. I was once told “Live a life that invites questions, then draw up a chair and chat!” – so that’s what I try to do. Sometimes we might be the person who makes someone else pause & change their view of the stereotype “Christian” (with all the negativity of the world’s perception of ‘church folk’!) – maybe we’ll never know the path they’ve started on, but God can and will use us to draw others to Him.
    Within the confines of the current lockdown, I’m trying to avoid confrontation on social media. Some arguments can’t be won with a keyboard, but they can often be turned into occasions to disagree, with respect. (….and often a smiley emogi!) 🙂

  4. My comment about the timing of this morning’s prayer was because I like to do things together. I have often wondered about the efficacy of numbers. I know Our Lord refers to “two or three gathered together” but I have complete confidence that He hears me when I am alone. But I also have recollection of WW2: whenever the King called the Nation to prayer, churches were filled to overflowing (queues outside Westminster Abbey!) and on each occasion a miracle followed, Dunkirk being a prime example. I was not trying to be contentious – as I near the end of my days I am seeking – and I find your daily offerings most helpful.

    • I make the point in this post that I was NOT referring to the discussion on our own FB page. It was clear to me that people were thinking about doing things jointly and on our page I simply tried to reassure those who are not free at a given time that it doesn’t lessen the efficacy of the prayer. Elsewhere I have seen a full-scale row erupting! That does strike me as pointless. Obviously, I do believe in the power of prayer, so no disagreement there. Let us pray for one another.

  5. On target as ever. Thank you. I think the punctuation debate might originate from those of us who were trained to type for a living, and we were taught (wrongly obviously) to put two spaces after a full stop. As with many things, it’s not “right” – it’s “habit”…

    The best quote I’ve ever heard about evangelism is “building bridges of empathy for Jesus to walk over”. It seemed to sum up what we as chaplains tried to do each day. My observation is that “conversion” is the work of the Holy Spirit – and we don’t need a right or wrong way – we need His way!

    Praying for you as ever…

  6. Wonderful again. Thank you. So very helpful. I think your your answers are exactly right to those two questions….’It doesn’t matter’, and ‘it all depends’… They made me smile. I’ll have them up my sleeve!

  7. Sorry for the breathlessness. I hope that you a comfortable. Thank you for your words. It is quite interesting isn’t it how deeply ingrained in our minds is the idea that there are some things (jobs) more important than others.
    Knowing God is knowing love.
    Sorry for my wandering words! Not sure about the punctuation.

  8. On the point of prayer, I read the morning prayer (Lauds), spend time at the online Mass and read the Night prayers on Universalis. However, I take my hat off to religious who manage to pray through their daily chores. In the evening when I look back over my day, I realise that I have not offered any of the actions or chores up to God nor thought of Him much throughout the day – to my shame.

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