With my 'lads group' last night, though only two turned up (!) we talked, or rather I talked and they got easily distracted, which is OK because I get easily distracted so it was fun too! Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the subject was prayer, and as I was preparing the evening and digging out some of my old notes (some of them up to 25 years old EEEK!) on prayer I realised how much my feeling about prayer has changed.
I was brought up in a tradition which said that praying in Church was good, praying in homegroups was good, but the impression given was that the best kind of prayer was alone either morning or evening as part of a 'quiet time'. Now I can see that a daily discipline of prayer is important, and I love to pray - but quiet times just aren't me. I don't do quiet very well. I like to read, I like to spend time just sitting and thinking, but an extended period of what feels like 'forced' silence just fills me with horror, and boredom, usually. When my bishop announced that we were going on a silent retreat before our ordination to the priesthood, my heart sank. I bought a bottle of whisky to take with me (it was a four day retreat), took lots of spare batteries for my walkman, and prepared to wander off to the shops a lot in the hope of conversations whilst buying lots of packets of gum. As it was, the talks given by the retreat leader were fantastic, as was the shared worship, but the rest of the time - especially meals - was pretty grim. A friend of mine who was also on retreat and who likes that quiet kind of thing, was gracious enough to take time out of his solitude and taught me to roll cigarettes! It's since then I've been a regular smoker. That's how much I loathe silence.
I guess it is because I am from a very big family, numerically big that is, not all of us are wobbly and wide like me. I very rarely had silence, and still get my energy from groups of people rather than solitude. When I work, or write, when I was doing my exam preparation at University, when I prepare sermons, I always have music, or the TV or the radio on as it helps me to concentrate.
Oops, distracted again, the plan was not to tell my life story. It's all relevant though.
As I prepared the talk on prayer, i reflected again how much i dislike the idea of silent prayer being the 'best' kind of prayer. Obviously as I've got older i value silence more, i can sit for long periods of time with no distractions, and things such as the three hour meditation for Good Friday are Oases of calm in a very busy life. But that's not my preference. One of the great liberations for me in my prayer life was when my Spiritual Director said to me 'pray your way - if you like noise, put on music, or shout your prayers, or sing them, or play your guitar, whatever.' This idea of praying in a way that matches our personality means that prayer, though it often requires discipline and focus, isn't a chore or a burden. It's true that praying can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be miserable because you feel miserable. Sometimes, often even, it will be challenging, as opening up to God serves to challenge us, praying for a broken world breaks us and acknowledging our own sinfulness pains us but we don't need to make prayer a painful thing to do.
One interesting book I have on this subject is called Pray Your Way and looks at how different personality types respond to different types of praying. Good book.
Anyway, all of this came about as I thought that now I love to pray, and i don't feel guilty when I don't pray, I feel as though I've missed out on something wonderful and good to do. And I don't get hung up about where and when and how I pray, I just pray. God wants to listen, and to speak to me, I want to listen and to speak to God, and just as I don't plan my relationship with my wife and kids, but we share things, we work things out together, we grow and love, so my prayer life should be.
So I wrote out some notes for the lads last night, I'll post them on the deep stuff blog here.
Time to go, i need to get some sorting out done in my life, or rather in my study. What a mess.