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prayer in and beyond words

Heavily borrowed from “Prayer in and beyond words”, in Called Again by Alan Jamieson.


For some people the issues of truth and meaning are far less pressing than the sense of a deeper personal reality to their faith; the knowledge that they are deeply connecting with God.


For those who have an EPC (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) faith belief structure (within or outside of church involvement) prayer is typically a means of communication with God, it is seen as “essential” and is strongly focused on results and answers. Prayers are often very wordy, and full of clichés and Christian code, and can be so disconnected from the rest of life and our deepest feelings and passions that they are to put it frankly, boring. I remember on more than one occasion sitting down to pray and finding some time into my “wordy” prayers that I wasn't listening. And if I wasn't listening why should I expect that God would? The prayer had the “right” words in it but it didn't mean anything to me, it wasn't drawn from deep within me – I wasn't being honest.


In contrast those in the midst of the deconstruction of their own faith often talk of prayer as an “occasional experience focusing less on asking for things and more on prayer as a connecting point with God.


Our image of God changes as our faith crumbles under the weight of questions, grief, pain, despair and failure. Unsure of who it is we are approaching we fearfully wait on the sidelines of prayer. Resentment can also hold us at a distance, God has let us down, and it can continue as an open wound that never heals. It takes courage to face God in our fear and vulnerability with our resentment and hurts.


This is often the beginning point of the psalms – the prayer book of scripture. The cry of David from two of the psalms conveys the pain:


“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?

Why are you so far away?

Won't you listen to my groans and come to my rescue?

I cry out day and night.

But you don't answer and I can never rest”


“Yahweh, don't shut me out;

Don't give me the silent treatment O God”


These are the upfront and honest prayers of a struggle caught in fear, the silence of God and personal resentment.


Desert experiences (or as St John of the Cross puts it “dark nights of the soul”) strip us of the unnecessary. We cannot move into new ways until we set down the old. Patterns of prayer that don't work are shown to be empty when the heat is really on and they have to be discarded; sometimes with a great deal of anger and frustration about the sense of being sold a dud.

The process of walking through the times of questioning, doubt, failure, hopelessness, and despair, alters prayer profoundly and irreversibly. Prayer becomes about not only allowing contact with God, but enables ones “true self” to grow.


Somehow prayer seems to move from a focus on the details of methodology and finding “answers” to the simplicity of being with. Prayer is born in listening and is the response of deep listening. Listening to ourselves, others and the world.


Reconnections in prayer often begin in nature. Listening to the waves and wind, seeing the ocean in its various moods, observing the flight of a bird, climbing a mountain or laughing at the antics of a kitten can all be fuel for prayer. Gently and fully aware of all that holds us back we stop hiding and running to listen and watch.

Over time we can begin to move from listening to nature to listening to our own inner selves, our inner truth or to unpacking our dreams and the messages they convey. From here we begin to listen to the pain and struggles of the world or even to the words of scripture and to bring the fruit of these listenings to our prayer.


St John of the Cross was imprisoned in a stuffy hole in the ground encompassed in darkness, solitude, stillness and silence. He faced the worst of all punishments; absolute solitude coupled with fear of the prospect of torture and death. He states that finding God is like sitting in a dark room on one's own. Then after some time we realise we are not alone. There is someone else in the room. God has always been there and a silhouette is slowly becoming clearer.


“There in the midst of obscurity, the presence, imperceptible, dark and gentle”. In the darkness we cannot rely on our senses to lead us, we need to trust the journey/process/mystery/”that other”/God. It is, as John describes it, a journey into an unknown land where all the road ways are new and in which we have no prior knowledge or map. It is a journey into uncertainty – a journey of mystery, and requires faith and courage. “The fruit of the night journey will not be a soiree for a self-preoccupied spiritual elite but the realisation that the world's wounds are the spaces through which God enters.” We begin to realise we are part of something much bigger than we had previously realised. Jean Pierre de Caussade described prayer as that moment when “our soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.”

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