Prayer is Not a Production Line

Regular readers know that our email prayerline is an important part of our service of others. All day, every day, we receive numerous requests for prayer. Some are heartbreaking — pleas for someone who is dying or in terrible circumstances, perhaps; others are more run-of-the mill requests, to get over a bad cold or have a safe journey and the like; all are taken seriously and prayed for perseveringly by the community. Sometimes we smile over a request, when it is obvious that the person asking thinks of God as their Fairy Godmother and wants, not just good health and happiness but academic and financial success as well — oh, and a nice house, a good car, a beautiful girlfriend and a few other things into the bargain. Usually such requests make it clear that the one doing the asking doesn’t have time to ask God about any of this himself (and possibly isn’t actually doing much about it, either), so please would the nuns pray, thanks (the thanks bit is optional). One thinks of sausage machines! At the other extreme are those who are almost afraid to ask anything, and hedge and qualify their requests with so much humility, one wonders whether they see God as a loving Father or as a slightly malevolent Power to be placated.

What I suspect few of the people who use our prayerline appreciate is that they are being prayed for by real people who are genuinely interested in their concerns. And if we are interested, surely God is even more concerned? You are the apple of his eye, how could he not care? Occasionally, we hear back from someone we’ve prayed for, especially if something has turned out well. That is always a joy. But I often think of those who have turned to us in desperate situations, full of blankness and despair, and wonder what has become of them — not out of curiosity but out of a sense of connectedness. Prayer is not a production line. To intercede for others isn’t like turning a tap on or off. When people ask us to pray, we pray, and we are all caught up in the prayer of Christ, our eternal High Priest, who alone prays perfectly and unceasingly to the Father.

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Secret Fears

Our email prayerline reminds us that most people are not consumed with worry about LIBOR, Leveson or the presidential election in the States. They worry about cancer, children, foreclosure, exam results, jobs and family finances. The big questions debated in the media are acknowledged, but it is the personal that predominates. We may be concerned about climate change or the future of the NHS but the secret fears we voice in prayer tend to be much more individual. Yes, I want to pray for all sick children, but especially my son/daughter whom I love so much I can scarcely bring myself to name what I dread. The aching tenderness of these petitions makes the gift of the Son of God and his death on the Cross all the more to be marvelled at. Truly he is a God of tenderness and compassion.

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One Year On

This time last year Quietnun and I were in the U.S.A. I had gone there to attend the Benedictine Development Symposium in Schuyler, Nebraska, where I was scheduled to give a talk about our online ministry, followed by meetings with Quietnun in New York and various places in Connecticut and New Jersey. Most of our meetings concerned the development of the community and the need for permanent accommodation, but we also managed a couple of visits with our postulant-to-be and some good friends nearby. It was fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Never having been in the States as nuns, we were surprised by how kindly we were treated by everyone. The legendary friendliness of Americans is real enough, so we had to keep reminding ourselves we were guests in a foreign country. The fact that we spoke a similar language did not mean we could assume perfect understanding!

Where are we now, one year on? We have learned a lot; and we have found what we hope will prove to be a permanent home here in Herefordshire. That was not at all our idea when we went to the States last year. We have been powerfully reminded that our ways are not always God’s ways, that following his leadings means we have to give up ideas of our own and be prepared, at whatever age, to start anew. It means abandoning the loved and familiar. We had already done that twice, but who are we to limit the call and grace of God? So, one year on, a little like Abraham, we find ourselves having taken up our tent pegs and moved on into the unknown.

Probably most of you can resonate with that to some degree. One bumbles along, more or less happily, thinking nothing will ever change, and then some event, some person perhaps, causes a change we are totally unprepared for. Why should this happen to me, why should it happen now? In our case, we accepted the move to Howton Grove with joy because it means that others can now join the community. Other changes can be much harder to accept. We struggle, don’t we, hoping against hope that something will not come to pass. Our email prayerline is full of people’s secret fears and dreads: that a cancer may not spread; that the bank will not foreclose on a mortgage; that a son or daughter who is estranged may return to the family; that a husband or wife may not divorce. What has not changed for us, and never will, is the duty to take all these concerns into our prayer and intercede for others.

Today, if you have time, spend a moment or two in prayer for those faced with difficult transitions. They will never know you have prayed for them, but by praying you invite God into situations from which he may have been, in some sense, excluded. Intercessory prayer is dangerous, of course, but being surprised by God may be exactly what someone, somewhere, needs.

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