Prayer - is comedian Frank Skinner having a laugh?
Frank Skinner of Room 101 fame on BBC TV and countless other media appearances often seizes the opportunity to mention his Christian faith. His short hardback A Comedian's Prayer Book (Hodder and Stoughton, 2021) came away on holiday with me.
My antennae were tuned for any references to old age - none that I recall. But there was plenty about the life-long search for authentic prayer. Will this book make you laugh out loud? Yes, well, it did me. Frank Skinner is a twenty-first century Everyman. He says he's been a professional comedian 'for over thirty years and, during that time, the religious believers I've met among my fellow japesters would, if assembled, just about fill a Vauxhall Corsa.'
He's learnt how to survive as the odd one out. You won't find short pithy or witty prayers on any of the 106 pages, though. What you will find is one man's attempt to analyse just what kind of a dialogue with God he is experiencing and to what end?
Text messages between intimates
'So what are these prayers?' he muses. 'Not verbatim transcriptions of my own prayers. You can't give a word-for-word account of something that has no words. Prayer, for me at least, is a telepathic dip into a long, on-going conversation with thousands of tabs left open and no helpful 'new readers start here' summaries or simplifications for the neutral observer. If I tried to present these prayers in anything like their original form, it would be, for you, like reading a text message sent between two intimates, devoid of context, devoid of tone or motivation, devoid of any of the normal spelling, punctuation or vocabulary, and devoid of any clear response from the receiver, assuming, as I do, that there is one.'
Roughly half way through what sounds like a comic monologue on prayer, he tackles the question of whether the practice is something of an insurance policy against looming potential catastrophes. 'Am I kneeling here because I believe in you or because I may need you at some future date? If terrible tragedy befalls me I may only have you to talk to? Turning to a stranger at such a time wouldn't seem right to me. So, and I'm speculating, I'm setting you up now, I'm building the shelter while the sun still shines, so that when storms come, I will not suddenly have to learn belief from scratch.'
Skinner is, as you'd expect (though humour is, of course, notoriously subjective) highly amusing and equally honest. It's a spoken letter to God really (you can hear his tone of voice throughout, his Midlands accent and all) on which we his 'fellow travellers' as he calls us are permitted to eavesdrop. The subtext is a persistent invitation to consider our own prayer habits, our mixed motives and all our quirky idiosyncrasies along the way.