The Rector writes …
The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore comes out of a different tradition of faith from our own, but some words of his could easily have come from the mouth of Jesus during the long days and nights he spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his years of public ministry: “Day after day, O Lord of my life, shall I stand before Thee, face-to-face. With folded hands, O Lord of all worlds, shall I stand before Thee, face-to-face. Under the great sky, in solitude and silence, with humble heart, shall I stand before Thee, face-to-face”. Tagore’s positioning of himself before God, is mirrored in some words of Yves Congar OP: “In order to erect the bridge of prayer towards his Father and provide himself with favourable surroundings, Jesus had a great liking for the marvellously tonic solitude of places where a vast horizon stretches out, where the soul can feel withdrawn from the noises, the agitation and the competition below”.
In his account of Jesus’ temptations, Saint Luke begins by saying: “Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness”. The implication here is that this was a peripatetic experience for Jesus and that he was on the move, constantly searching, during the forty days out in the Judaean desert: it would appear that his was something like a pilgrim journey as he struggled within himself and was forced up against the Tempter. Not only was Jesus seeking to discern the Father’s will, but he was trying to find a place conducive to that discernment. What was true for Jesus is true also for us: place is not just incidental but goes to the heart of our own journey. Because soul and body, heart and mind, exist in unity, the environment of our praying is important
T S Eliot once wrote about the village of Little Gidding near Cambridge (where a religious community had once been formed) “you are here to kneel where prayer has been valid”. We will all have places where we have found something of God – most probably in a church or holy site like Walsingham or Lourdes – but they could equally be within our own homes or indeed, as with Jesus, out in the countryside or in a mountain range. Just as Jesus was” led by the Spirit”, that same Holy Spirit does (if we will let him) help us to find helpful contexts in which we can discover more of God.
Saint Cyprian says: “what prayer can be more spiritual than the prayer given us by Christ?” and he continues: “to pray otherwise than he has taught us is more than a mistake, it is a fault”. Cyprian, as indeed all other great teachers about prayer, base everything in the pattern giving to Jesus’ disciples in the “Our Father”. For the Christian, the simplicity and tenderness, the trust and confidence, offered by the Son has to be normative in our own relationship to the Father. “The great prayer which occupies the whole of the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, is like the summation of Jesus’s prayer, It brings together all the themes of the ‘Our Father’ and the other prayers reported to us in the Gospels. It is the prayer of Jesus going forth to his Father for our salvation” (Yves Congar). It would pay us all to re-read this passage of Saint John as we move nearer to Holy Week.
Father Congar also makes the point: “Jesus loved to pray”, and it is worth asking ourselves if we can say the same? Are our times of prayer just a daily chore to which we feel obligated and which involve going down well-worn paths, or is there something joyful as we anticipate God revealing something fresh about his own Being? The season of Lent provides each of us with the opportunity to re-find the importance of prayer in our own daily routine and perhaps part of that evaluation might be a consideration of where and how we pray, and where and how we might pray better. “God thirsts, that we might thirst for him” (Saint Augustine).