A Wing and a Prayer

Wednesday, May 27th

Whitby Abbey

I remember, before I was ten years old, staying with my grandmother in Cardiff overnight. She decided it would do me good to accompany her to the weeknight prayer meeting at her Baptist Chapel. It was only the men who spoke, as I recall. They spoke at length with the kind of oratory and rambling we Welsh are masters of. I only knew extemporary praying until late in my teens. I was Chapel, and only Church people used prayers that had been written for them. Just not right!

Come the swinging sixties and I had already wrestled myself free from using Thee, Thou and Thine. It was a breath of fresh air to find books like Michel Quoist's Prayers of Life (1966) and contemplate the nature of prayer.

The Telephone

I have just hung up; why did he telephone?

I don't know... Oh! I get it...

I talked a lot and listened very little.

Forgive me, Lord, it was a monologue and not a dialogue.

I explained my idea and did not get his;

Since I didn't listen, I learned nothing,

Since I didn't listen, I didn't help,

Since I didn't listen, we didn't communicate.

Forgive me, Lord, for we were connected,

and now we are cut off.

Michel Quoist

So much for all that verbose, 'off-the-cuff', one-way monologue to keep God awake, if not the congregation. So, what is prayer, and how do we do it? 'Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.' Something like that, it seems to me. If it's a dialogue, it's as much a listening as a talking, a conversation with someone as you walk along or sit and relax with. If that is the case, it will have as many moments of stillness and silence as it does verbal communication.

Michel Quoist's main tenet was that 'the whole of life would become a prayer.' It isn't an art form as much as a way of being. Seeing messages in everything and reaching out in response to the environment around us in wonder or despair and lifting our souls to God in whatever way comes naturally.

When our church buildings are closed, we can still go online to hear a prayer if we so wish. But we can also discover our own ways of praying, alone or alongside others - in our anguish or our joy, in our loneliness or in our new sense of togetherness. Like on a Thursday evening when we join in a prayer of thanksgiving for the NHS and put our hands together, not while we close our eyes, but while we clap our hands. How many of us are thinking of people we know who are at risk when we clap? The experts call that a prayer of intercession. When it comes to prayer, there really are no experts, just participants.

Here is a modern day equivalent of Michel Quoist's view of life, prayer and the kitchen sink:

I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.

So, for now I just ask that:

When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70th Birthday, SW!)

And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie. 

And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.

And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.

And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.

And that when I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you may it be counted as hearing a homily.

And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.


The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author

There are people who have let the problems of today Lead them to conclude that for them life is not the way But every problem has an answer and if yours you cannot find You should talk it over to Him He'll give you peace of mind When you feel your life's too hard Just go have a talk with God Many of us feel we walk alone without a friend Never communicating with the One who lives within Forgetting all about the One who never ever lets you down And you can talk to him anytime He's always around When you feel your life's too hard Just go have a talk with God Well He's the only free psychiatrist that's known throughout the world For solving problems of all men, women, little boys and girls When you feel your life's too hard Just go have a talk with God When you feel your life's too hard Just go have a talk with God When your load's too much to bear Just go talk to God He cares I know he does

Stevie Wonder

Footpath in the Peaks

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