Sunday, 26 May 2013

Acts 3 - Devoted to the Prayers

Prinknash Abbey have been celebrating a centenary this march.  It is one hundred years since the monastic community on Caldey Island decided to become Roman Catholic and a part of the Subaico Congregation of the Order of St Benedict.  It was a few years later that they moved from Caldey Island to Prinknash.  This year they have been joined by their mother Congregation, the Cassinese Benedictine Congregation, one of whose monoasteries is at Monte Cassino and so are known as the Subiaco-Cassinese Congregation.

Abbot Francis writes movingly of the importance of ‘Being open to the call from God – whatever that might be and wherever it might lead us – and that, he suggests, takes courage and perseverance.  “If we are to  be faithful we need to have complete trust in the one who calls.  This is why St Benedict, right at the beginning of His Holy Rule shows us the importance of developing a listening heart; for it is in the silence of our own hearts that the Holy Spirit communies with us, in ways that are beyond words.

“Discerning God’s will for us on our journey through life is seldom easy – even Jesus would at times go off to a quiet spot, away from his disciples and the crowds, to pray to his Heavenly Father, to gain the strength, the courage and the discernment to carry out his Father’s will perfectly.”

Those words are wonderful – ‘it is in the silence of our own hearts that the Holy Spirit communes with us in ways that are beyond words.”

Hold on to that thought for a moment.

That afternoon I spent an hour with Sylvia Lauder, Artist in Residence at St Luke’s church as we planned an evening we are going to share together a fortnight on Tuesday as part of the Cheltenham Open Studios week.  The talk we are going to share is entitled ‘Finding the Light’.  Last year Sylvia visited Bethlehem to stay in a Convent that once was in the Judean Desert and now is in the shadow of the wall that surrounds Bethlehem.  She was there to ‘write an icon’.  She is going to share her experiences and I am going to reflect on the significance of icons as I have encountered them in three very specific instances.  For 10 years Sylvia has had her studio in an unuseable gallery over the entrance door to St Luke’s church.   She spoke of the importance of the silence in that convent, in her own experience in the church – a silence in which there can be a sense of the presence that is so powerful.

Hold on to that thought for a moment.

Driving from St Luke’s where I had just seen John on his way into surgery, over to Min who has returned home from hospital this week I was listening to the radio news.  Full of the horrific aftermath of the unutterable things that had happened with the murder in Woolwich.

He was speaking with the General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain – speaking of the need in the aftermath of such terror not to be drawn into the terror and play the terrorist’s game by descending into fear and recrimination among the faith communities.  But rather of the need for the communities of faith to come together and be a support.  The General Secretary of the Muslim Council could not have been more outspoken in his utter abhorrence of what had happened and appealed for a neighbourly love to be shared across the faith communities.

Three images I want to  hold on to for a moment.

Prayer precedes Pentecost.

What’s fascinating as we move on beyond Pentecost is that we see that Prayer proceeds from Pentecost.

I know the verse so well.  And yet as I was preparing for today’s services I saw it afresh.

There are four marks of the church that are noted

The Apostles’ Teaching
Breaking of Bread and Prayer

But I looked that Acts 2:42 verse up again.

And I noticed it said,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

That’s an interesting expression.

Not ‘prayer’

But ‘the prayers’

The  Day of Pentecost over the next thing that happens is a healing and it is so easy to focus on the healing and then the explanation of the faith that goes with that healing that Peter gives in the rest of Acts 3.

But I want to notice the very opening words of that account.

One day Peter and John were going tup to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Very interesting glimpse of something they did and something that was important to them.

A reminder of the pattern of prayer that went on in the temple.

It is something you catch a glimpse of in the Book of Daniel – an incredibly powerful book that speaks of the challenge there is to faith in a hostile world and tells of the way in which faith is sustained in the face of a hostile world.

Daniel far away from Jerusalem in the hostile environment of the court of King Darius does something very particular.

He went to his house which had windows in its upper room open towards Jerusalem, and he got down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him just as ever he had done.

A pattern of prayer.

The value of a pattern of prayer – the important of ‘the prayers’.

Here in Jerusalem Peter and John, those close friends, following in the footsteps of Jesus made their way to the Temple and there to share in the prayers.  At the hour of prayer, 3 o’clock in the afternoon they were going there to pray.

St Benedict did what all those who have sought to bring reformation into the church have done – he wanted to go back to the roots of the simplicity of following in the footsteps of Jesus – the communal sharing in community of the early church.  And he too found it valuable to have times of prayer through the day.

The hours of prayer that still that community in Prinknash observe.

That Convent in Bethlehem had its heart the rhythm of a praying community that so moved Sylvia.

And Justin Welby and Ibrahahim Mogra.  I googled the story.  And it was one of those moments I found quite moving.  The Archbhishop of Canterbury had a scheduled visit to Leicester last week – he rearranged things and saw to it that he shared with key members nationally of the Muslim and Christian communities. The press release was moving – and I felt spoke so appropriately into the awfulness of all that had happened.

I recognised the place he made his statement to the press.  It’s on a kind of island where the main Evington Road forks.  On one side is the infant school I attended, Evington Valley infants School.  On the other side is St Philip’s church – now a centre for dialogue between faith communities that is doing remarkable work in building bridges in the community in Leicester and further afield – nurturing the kind of dialogue that is steadfast to one’s one faith while being loving and open towards the faith communities of others.

And on that ‘island’ in the fork between the two roads – a Mosque.

Many of the customs of Islam were drawn from the church of the time – and the centrality of prayer is one of them.  The prayer times through the day.  Important to honour and respect a praying people.

At this kind of time when terror threatens to fracture our society, maybe prayer is the thing we should be committed to.  Praying for the society we are in to be at one with each other.

It’s not quite me to celebrate a birthday.  I was more than a little reluctant.  Thanks to Felicity for getting family together with church family as well – and good to share.  A birthday is a day to think of parents and remember.  And that was the spot where my mother died all of ninenteen years ago.

Moving in a strange way.

How do we respond to the nation’s sense of tragedy in the wake of the murder in Woolwich?

How do we respond to our own sense of tragedy in the wake of such sadnesses?

Maybe we need to go back to the recognition given by Peter and John in the days after Pentecost that it is important to be committed to the prayers. To the hour of prayer.

Cultivate a pattern of prayer.   Five times a day has dwindled to three times on a Sunday and then to twice on a Sunday and then to once.  And what about during the week?  The value of a pattern of prayer.

The thing is that when there is a pattern of prayer it keeps the channels open with God and through those channels the grace of God’s love can be released in all sorts of  healing ways into our lives and into our world.

No comments:

Post a Comment