A Few Words about our Prayerline

Nuns pray. It’s what we do, day in, day out. Our prayer takes many forms. In the Divine office we seek to hallow the different hours of the day and mark the unfolding of the liturgical calendar with an ancient form of prayer derived chiefly from the scriptures and early Christian writings (the so-called Fathers of the Church). There is also the slow, meditative prayer of lectio divina — what you might call the characteristic activity of the Benedictine — and the simple, uncluttered, contemplative prayer of the individual, which proceeds from and flows back into the Divine Office and lectio divina. In addition to these, there is intercessory prayer. One of the chief ways in which you might have come across this is via our email prayerline, which is open every minute of every day. People name their requests for prayer and send them to us via the form supplied. Complete anonymity is assured. We in our turn read through the requests and take them into our prayer.

Recently, we have noticed a new development. Some people are happy to take us at our word, and the little message we send assuring them of our prayer is enough. Others, however, have begun to ask us to send emails or letters to reassure them that we are indeed praying for them. I have come to dislike that very much. To begin with, I think it was just my curmudgeonly nature asserting itself. Another email to send! I wasn’t happy, either, at the idea of breaking the guarantee of anonymity surrounding prayer requests. If we enter into correspondence with one, why not with another? How would we manage to keep up, anyway? But then I began to think a little more about why I was so irritated and realised that it wasn’t just the thought of having to send another email/breaking anonymity. Asking for assurance that we are praying is very like saying, I don’t really trust you; yet trust at the heart of intercessory prayer. We name our need to God, trusting in his love and mercy. Prayer isn’t magic; and we don’t (or shouldn’t) demand of God that he ‘prove’ himself to us. Our prayer reflects the nature of our belief in and about God, and I think the way in which our email prayerline operates should, too.

So, if you have sent in any request for prayer, please take my word for it that your request has been read and either has been, or will be, taken before the Lord in prayer. What he chooses to do with it is his business. I think we can safely leave it up to him don’t you?

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Heaven in Ordinarie: the Poetry of Prayer

I offer you a thought so simple you may find it embarrassing, but I consider it worth making nonetheless.

Towards the end of every Office, when attention may be beginning to stray, we have a kind of threefold litany. In English it runs

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

May the help of God remain with us always.
And with our absent brethren. Amen.

In these three short phrases we express what we believe about the Church: that she exists to praise and thank God, a work which will continue into eternity; that the dead are members of the Church whom we pray for as we do the living; and that the company of believers extends beyond what we can see and hear to encompass all the baptized. It is a reminder, as we return to our work, that what we call rather abstractly ‘the liturgy’ is in fact a concrete realisation of our hope and trust in God. We give thanks; affirm our faith; and ask for God’s help in the most direct way possible.

George Herbert speaks of prayer as ‘heaven in ordinarie’, and I think these concluding versicles are a beautiful instance of what he meant. They trip off the tongue almost automatically several times a day, but they contain within themselves a whole world of meaning. They are the poetry of prayer no less than the psalms and canticles, and as with all poetry, they do not yield all their secrets at once. If you pray them today, try to do so a little more slowly, allowing the richness of their meaning to sink in.

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