On the pilgrim way: Prayer time
“I joined prayers using a wooden spinning top”
Over the summer, I changed my time for morning prayer. For many years, I went to my study after breakfast, lit a candle, arranged some little stones around the candle to represent the particular people or places on my heart at that time, said to myself: “This is the day the Lord has made, let me rejoice and be glad in it,” and waited… The length of time, seemed, latterly at least, to depend on when I found myself listing jobs or making shopping lists. Then – a bit dispirited – I would blow out the candle and get on with the day. I am now waking earlier and my husband later, so I moved my prayer time to before breakfast. I now find that the 8am bell from the Roman Catholic cathedral over our garden wall provides a much more satisfactory ending. Interestingly, I am much more able to truly rest in God until that bell strikes.
Recently, I joined the Othona Community on the Essex marshes for evening prayer. It was in the middle of a busy family week there, with lots of children and quite a number of adults with no church connection of any kind. The old Othona-member leading the prayers of intercession used a little, wooden spinning top. He spun the top on the ancient flagstone floor, asked us to pray for the refugees pressing into Europe, and, in dead silence, with our eyes fixed on the top, I had a real sense of concentration of prayer. Then, one by one, various people came forward, mentioned someone or something on their hearts, and spun the top. For the little children, it was a wonderful way of holding their attention (however, one or two just wanted a go at spinning the top). For the rest of us, it seemed that being given a finite space of time really deepened our prayer. And then – because it was Othona – with its open welcoming spirit, because of the candles and the semi-darkness, and because there was a simple activity – a shy young girl with no church background came forward, spun the top and asked us to pray for her disabled friend.
I realise how much more relaxed I felt with the spinning top – and in my new morning prayer time – than when I have no idea how long a silence is going to be. It sounds like putting God into a straitjacket, but it is actually to help my human, time-bound, spirit to relax and open up to God.
The story that touched me most this summer is of Sam, our 15-year-old autistic grandson. When asked about his favourite thing on the family camping holiday on St Agnes in the Scilly isles, he said it was to sit on the beach each evening and watch the sun go down into the sea and the stars come out. God’s giant timer!
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the October 2015 edition of Reform.