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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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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Asking for Miracles

People tend to divide into two groups when it comes to asking God for favours: those who never do, and those who never do anything else. Prayer is more than just petition, but it does, at times, include petition. Sometimes people will say, ‘I’ll pray for others, but not for myself’ and then wonder why they are making such a bad fist of being Christian. We sometimes forget that conversion has to start with ourselves, and it is a grace we must ask for in prayer.

I have no difficulty asking God for favours. Indeed, right now, I am asking him for nothing less than a miracle. We have done everything we can to prepare the way but we have reached the end of doing. We ask with perfect confidence and trust, prepared for a ‘no’ as well as a ‘yes’, because the point about asking God for anything is that we ask not for our will to be done but for our will to be aligned with his. That alignment of will is the secret of Mary’s obedience, the heart of her prayer for the Church. Genoito moi kata ta rhema sou, Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. Let it be to me according to your Word. Amen.

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Information Overload and Compassion Fatigue

Two phrases which have become commonplace, ‘information overload’ and ‘compassion fatigue’, strike me as having enough truth to make them useful and enough untruth to make them dangerous. At the moment, it is difficult not to be caught up in the tragedies unfolding across the world: Japan, of course, but also Libya and Bahrain, Ivory Coast; and those by no means over but already gone from the headlines, the floods and earthquakes which have wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands if not millions. We know too much, but we know it only briefly; and though we do our best to respond, there comes a point when the wallet is, if not empty, at least not as full as it used to be and we are faced with making hard choices: life for you, but not for you.

In the monastery we are, to some extent, protected from both information overload and compassion fatigue. We don’t have unrestricted access to the media and we don’t have much material wealth to share with others. On the other hand, as anyone who has lived this kind of life will tell you, whatever we see or hear makes a much greater and more lasting impact precisely because our access to the media is limited, while not being able to help materially can be painful. So what do we do?

Our first response to any tragedy is prayer. For some people, prayer is a last resort, something one tries when everything else has failed; but to pray perseveringly, committing the outcome to God, trusting him absolutely yet ready to accept that prayer may not be answered as one would wish, is harder than it may seem, yet it is open to any Christian by virtue of the gift of prayer poured into our hearts at baptism. It is not a soft option, a cop-out. It means taking seriously Christ’s role as Eternal High Priest and uniting our prayer with his. It means taking time, wasting time. When we think we can’t take any more, can’t give any more, there is always that inner jar of nard to be broken and poured.

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Pondering the Prayerline

One of the most popular parts of our web site is the Prayerline. Every day we download numerous requests, and from time to time certain patterns emerge. At the moment, the bulk of requests from the U.S.A., for example, concern financial worries: finding a job, avoiding foreclosure on the house, affording medical care. We find it easy to identify with these needs. Just like everyone else, we have the monthly challenge of finding rent and council tax, affording utility and household bills, keeping a car on the road (we live in a village) and generally making ends meet from a variable income (we run a small design company.) Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about affording essential medical care because the NHS continues to provide a cradle to the grave service of which we are rightly proud.

British prayer requests tend to be family-centred. There are pleas for people in hospital or facing a life-threatening illness, broken relationships, estrangements. Requests from South America or Asia are often concerned with getting on in the world: prayer for exam success or admission to a particular course. From Africa come requests for the gift of children and freedom from evil spirits. From many parts of the world come requests from those who experience persecution because of their Faith.

Whatever the request, we hold it before the Lord, confident that God will hear our prayer. Nothing is too small for his notice, nothing too big for him to deal with. He may not answer as we or the petitioner might hope, but that is his business, not ours. Our business is simply to ask.

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