Prayer in later life - 'new depths of praying can open up'
One of the joys of high summer is having more time to read, to catch up on articles set aside to enjoy when there are fewer time pressures (writes Debbie Thrower). Angela Ashwin's recent piece in the Church Times (August 11) is a wise answer to the perennial question: 'How does prayer make a difference?'
I have a well-thumbed copy of Ashwin's The Book of a Thousand Prayers (Zondervan, 2002), a useful part of any Anna Chaplain's tool kit with an apt prayer for just about every situation!
So when I saw she'd written an article for the newspaper on 'Becoming attuned to Christ' I knew it would contain gems. And, indeed, it does...
Here's her perspective on prayer in our later years:
'As we grow older we may start thinking. "All I can do now is pray," as if this were a measly last resort. Yet, as our physical capacities diminish, and we become less busy and active, new depths of prayer can open up.
I am inspired by a Poor Clare Sister near us. The more elderly and stiff her frame becomes, the more her eyes sparkle with love and humour - sure signs of a soul ever-increasingly soaked in prayer into eternity.'
On the question of how our prayers for others actually work, she gives such a helpful explanation:
'We affect each other more than we perhaps realise, through our actions, attitudes, and intentions. This human co-herence may be easier to recognise in negative contexts, where destructive energies seem to gain a momentum of their own. Gossip, suspicion, and hidden power-agendas from a few people can poison an entire workplace... Crucially, the opposite is also true.
'Through our human interconnectedness, every loving action and attitude releases a positive energy in to the world. And, whenever our good intentions become prayer, even our most distracted intercessions will be taken up into Christ's healing, redeeming work in the world.'
She cites the succinct words of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple:
'When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't, they don't.'
A friend asked me the other day whether I had a good book on how to pray? An obvious place to start would be Amy Boucher Pye's 7 Ways to Pray (Form, 2021).
One reviewer, James Catford, chair of Renovare said of it: 'Prayer is communication with God about what we're doing together. No other book offers so many rich and practical ways to go deeper with him. I wish I had discovered 7 Ways to Pray years ago, and I will be keeping my copy close to me in future.'
Peppered with stories of her own experiences of prayer and its effects, this is an encouraging book for all of us when we find it difficult to know how to begin.
Another recommendation I have for you is BRF's Bible in Ten (BRF, 2023) which really is unlike any other book I have ever read. You think you'll dip into it for a few minutes and soon discover you've galloped on to the next chapter, and the next...
The cover's strapline - 'Quite how people made the Bible sound so dull is a mystery. this is the book that proves it's anything but', is fully borne out by Dave Kitchen's approach to unpacking the entire library of different types of stories, poetry and prose the Bible encompasses in short, pithy, paragraphs.
The author guarantees 'any book of the Bible cracked in ten minutes or less.' It is a wonderful way of simplifying, sometimes, baffling texts. A reviewer hit the nail on the head when she wrote:
'Dave Kitchen has put in the hard miles of study to give us a shortcut to understanding the big picture' - Abby Guinness, head of Spring Harvest
She's absolutely right. It's an addictive read and a boon to those preparing sermons, too, who welcome a witty, memorable way of seeing more familiar parts of the Bible afresh.
Finally (and coincidentally!) I'm grateful to Janet Parker for, as ever, faithfully sending me every week a new colouring sheet which can be copied and distributed among care home residents or those spending time at home who'd relish an absorbing - thought-provoking - pastime.
This week's features Jacob's dream of a ladder spanning heaven and earth. As always, the sheets come with a short explanation of the theme, questions to consider, and prompts for prayer. Available at the Five Parishes website Just click on 'Bible in Pictures' on the Home page.
Focusing us on the importance of prayer, at every stage of life, Janet adds:
'Heaven is our ultimate goal, living alongside Jesus. But we can do that today. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus lives in us, loves us, cares for us and, when we ask, will always help us. This is God’s Kingdom. It is not just something for the future but for now although with all the horrors and bad news from around the world it can feel far away. That is why we need to pray in all circumstances, support each other in our faith, and ask God what he wants us to do. No matter our own situation or circumstances there are things we can do. When we come into God’s will we also will see and recognise those glimpses of Heaven.'
Bearing in mind the word holiday, comes from 'holy day', I hope you really enjoy (and profit from) your Bank Holiday weekend!