As with the Synod, so with the Parliamentary debate about tax credits: they are both giving rise to a great deal of politicized prayer. By that I mean someone decides, quite sincerely, what they think the ‘right’ outcome should be and prays earnestly for it to come about, often solliciting the help of others. I can’t tell you how many requests for prayer have come to the monastery, urging us to pray that this view or the other may triumph (significant word) at the Synod, or that ‘the evil Tories’ may be foiled in their ‘plot against the poor’ or, alternatively, that all opposition may be wiped from the face of the earth. As you may have gathered, I have no intention of saying anything much about the Synod until it is over, and I won’t be drawn into party politics, so you may be wondering how we cope with such requests. How do we pray in response?
The answer is as simple as it is disappointing to many. We ask God to ensure that what he wills comes about. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, because we all have opinions, but it is the only honest way of praying when our knowledge is imperfect and our view of any situation partial. If someone who hasn’t done a stroke of work all term asks us to pray for good exam results, I trust an open-ended prayer of the kind I have described may lead to a realisation that some effort of one’s own has to be put in. We are asked to to pray for a specific result, but what God chooses to give may, ultimately, prove much better. So, too, with the Synod: those sure that the Church ‘needs’ such and such may be surprised to find that the Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily agree. Similarly, the policies advocated by a political party may have good or bad points, but we don’t have to ask God to take sides.
What I think is important, though, is that we bring to our prayer a sense of reverence, not just for God but also for the people and situations we are praying about. One of the sad aspects of the media debate surrounding the Synod, for example, has been the name-calling and bitterness that goes with the polarisation of views and demonisation of those who hold different opinions. It is much the same with party politics. A prayer request that refers to someone as ‘evil’ or ‘hardline’ is not one I want to take before the Throne of Grace. That isn’t just middle-class niceness asserting itself, or a wimpish desire to avoid conflict: the fundamental disposition of prayer must always be profound humility and reverence. Anything less, whatever else it is, isn’t prayer. In fact, it is a hindrance to prayer because it fills us with our own noise and deafens us to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. At least, that has been my experience, born of innumerable failures to pray as I ought. On that basis, I think I can safely say, learn from my mistakes.