I am not great at formal prayer and I’m getting worse! God is with me, and I live in his presence, so I’m finding increasingly that words are not helpful, that he knows my fears and longings and praise and accepts my thanks. He is here in my heart and head, and words just clutter up that unity, dispel it…. I dunno, diminish it. Having said that, I do find myself saying some odd things to the creator of the world “Oh, look at that amazing sky!” and “Don’t you love to hear that sort of throaty laugh?” as if he had not created the sky and given us the gift of laughter. I think of it as a sort of close marriage, one where a couple don’t have to continually put into words their hopes for the day and for the future, or their love for each other; their hopes and love are still there, primary, central, essential and the two hearts beating under one roof share a consciousness. And sometimes the words just have to spill out. Sometimes silence, sometimes laughter, sometimes sharing the deepest, hardest thoughts, two hearts beating as one (and all that). .
Anyway, I want to talk about prayer. I think. Today, Good Friday, I decided to mark the day by really really, no, really, getting into the gravitas of remembering the death of Jesus on the cross. Me and my decisions. I would be there in Jerusalem, conscious of his fear, and his resolve, his great courage, and I’d meditate on the sacrifice and the humility and the cost and… well, you get the idea. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh?
On the way to the beach I followed my usual pattern, getting ready for prayer, reminding myself intentionally that this was a huge privilege, one hard-earned by the death of Jesus, a privilege the patriarchs of the OT couldn’t even dream of… walking with God, being with Jesus, the one who is mighty and righteous and pure. No barriers between us. A gift from him and nothing to do with me. Freely given, gratefully received. That five minute car journey each morning is a discipline, a stern reminder, a call to attention (well, I was once a soldier).
As I walked onto the sand I brought to mind, as usual, all those I love and pray for, thinking of the prayer in Ephesians, thinking of a few Psalms, but mostly simply bringing them before God, or my mental image of them, longing for their even closer walk with him. My prayer is short on words but rich in imagery, as I think of each loved personality, quirks and all…. each of you…. bing… bang… bong. “Lord won’t you please let him know he’s loved and so precious? Bring him nearer to you today, even nearer? Fill him to overflowing with your essence, truth, vitality, resolve and steadfastness. ” “See her, Lord? She needs you so much right this very minute, to know you and to love you and she can’t do it on her own, the world is tugging at her – go on, Lord, please, grab her tight.”
Is my mood annoying you? Sorry, I can’t shake it off. My heart is just full of joy and my soul is dragged down with sorrow. How can I walk a sensible line of moderation with all that going on? I’m babbling.
Anyway, listen. This was the beach I took you all to, all you people I love. Look at that! No filters needed.
And then, I thought, time for the serious stuff. The meditation.
And I couldn’t do it. Yes, even though I was so aware that this is Good Friday, the day to remember, to prepare for the agony of a brutal death, the sadness of the body abandoned in the tomb, all I could think and feel was joy. I was bung full of joy! I looked out over that whispering silver sea and I said to my Lord “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a seal now? That would be such a confirmation of everything.” And as I looked… a disturbance on the surface, a dark shape…. A seal! A seal!!!
A s- …. oh, no… The shape moved strangely… lifted…. And the ‘seal’ flew away. Not a seal but a cormorant, followed by another. I laughed aloud. There on the sunny cold beach, God and me laughed at my bonkers mind.
Did I need the miraculous appearance of a seal to let me know that God was with me? Nope. No no no. Faith doesn’t rule out miracles but it doesn’t demand them, either.
It was a funny and delightful moment but it was enough to remind me that sometimes my mind is a clamour. Sometimes I am so busy being with God and marvelling and shouting my bright ideas at him, studying this and looking up that, and having a lightbulb moment…. that I don’t listen. So, I listened. I listened and there was perfect silence. Even the sea was silent. But I knew his presence. It was enough.
And as I came off the beach an hour later, I met someone I’ve known for 5 years. This blog is where I write my beliefs loud and clear because I have to do it somewhere or I’ll burst… but in everyday life I don’t carry a Bible around with me, or give out tracts, or try to convert people, or throw Bible verses at their heads…. I don’t hide my faith and joy, and sometimes my pain, but I don’t proselytise either. That’s for God, not me. I just try to be honest and open, a good friend.
But this bloke, a deffo non-believer, funny and rebellious and cheeky, someone who delights in being that bit contrary, walked across the strand to talk to me about Easter, and then about the Bible. I really didn’t have to say very much at all. “It is” he said ‘the best book in the world.’ I was too stunned to say much. And he spoke with knowledge and understanding about eternity, and death, and I recognised thoughts from Ecclesiastes and some from the parables. What was my role in that conversation? To be wise and clever and come up with fabulous insights? To teach and enlighten? No, my job was just to listen. To give him someone who would pause and be still, with him. To recognise that God was there before me. I think God had prepared me for that exact moment, just an hour earlier.
A couple of years ago our Pastor had a little saying, a saying that I and a late dear friend, Jane, just loved. He would say “Jesus is brilliant. He says the words our hearts need to hear.”
I would add to that, “Jesus is brilliant, he silences our clamour so that our hearts can hear.”