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Reform Magazine | September 23, 2019

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I want to resist conclusions about prayer’

Sheila Maxey tries to describe – and not analyse – prayer

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I am very hesitant to speak, let alone write about prayer. It is so easy, as mere mortals, to find ourselves, in our heavy-footed way, analysing, quantifying, drawing conclusions and so missing the mystery and the point of prayer. So, I just want to remind myself of a couple of recent experiences – and try to resist any conclusions.

A friend of one of our church’s knitting/shawl ministry group has recently heard she has probably only got months to live. We parcelled up a shawl and sent it with our prayers. She will now be on our list of people we pray for at each meeting – six years of names, some still in this world and some now in the next. This friend is a woman of strong Christian faith, and a pastoral heart, so she went round her cancer ward showing others her shawl. ‘How lucky you are to have people praying for you like that,’ said several. So, we parcelled up two more and added two more names to the list.

The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Essex – built in the seventh century out of the rubble of a Roman fort – is probably the oldest church in the country where worship is regularly offered. It is always open, and walkers down the track (no road, of course) or from along the sea wall, often go in. The parish has left slips where visitors can ask for prayer. Every Thursday morning, the local vicar takes a Communion service there. Last week, he was joined by eight of us from the nearby Othona Community. As he shared out prayer slips, each of us read out what we had been given. ‘Pray for Owen who is going through a bad time,’ read one. Another: ‘Remember Jean struggling with cancer.’ ‘Pray for our mum because we miss her so much.’ There were about 20 slips. We added our own current concerns – personal and worldwide.

We had been at the Othona Community for a few birdwatching days. Each evening, some of us gathered in St Peter’s chapel for prayers. There was a circle of wooden benches, and the door was wide open to the fields and sky. A central candle flickered on a low stool. We sang. We heard the Bible read. But then we settled down to silence, and the chance to light a candle for some person, some country, some issue, for oneself.

One evening there was a new young man. He was walking the sea wall, trying to deal with difficult events in his life. It had turned cold, and he really did not fancy camping at the beach, so he asked if he could camp in the shelter of the community site. Someone brought him to chapel. Afterwards, he said to me that he felt the chapel service had been specially meant for him.

I am finding it really hard to keep to description and not draw conclusions. One bird watcher was inspired to write a meditation on Revelation 19:6. She called it: ‘There’s a murmuration of angels flying round the throne.’ Just so.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the June 2019 edition of Reform

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