Tag: Prayer

Farmer’s son reaps a great harvest

Statue of the Curé d’Ars photographed in Falaise by Mr G.

A Faithful Priest

The  Curé d’Ars feast day 4th August

One of my most treasured possessions is a plain plaster statue of a French parish priest known universally as the Curé d’Ars —so named because for over 40 years he served the parish of Ars-en-Dombes in France. 
John-Marie Baptiste Vianney (whose feast day is today) was brought up in a peasant farming family near Lyons. He was born in 1786 and as a child of farmers he was given very little formal education.  Yet, by the time he was 20 he had heard God’s call to ordination and had begun to study for the priesthood. He found study very hard and on more than one occasion his superiors thought to end his time in the seminary. However, they noted his devotion to God and a quality of holiness which far outweighed academic ability. They saw a young man whose heart God had touched.

He was ordained and after a curacy he was appointed the Parish Priest of a backwater village—Ars. He went there in 1818 and remained until his death in 1859 on August 4th.  Very quickly he gained a reputation for being a preacher and people began to flock to hear him. At the same time he became known as a priest who could give wise and gentle counsel to souls in distress. Very soon people began to consult him and to bare their souls to him. The trickle of people became a stream and then a torrent. Countless numbers of people would come to see him.  Each day, after his own time of personal prayer and devotion, he would preach a sermon daily at 11am and then spend many hours  hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction. He was often moved to tears by the things people told him and he brought to them the comfort born out of someone who understood human weakness and the power of God’s love.

As time went on he was offered more important jobs in the Church and he also struggled with a call to the monastic life but he stayed put and in so doing put the little village of Ars on the map—not only in his own day but for all time.

Not surprisingly, after his death, he was declared a Saint and he became known as the Patron Saint of parish priests. As an example of the devotion and service priests are called to emulate, this is hardly surprising. The simple statue I have, unadorned by paint, reminds me that at the heart of all service in God’s Name there must be humility.
Here’s one of my favourite sayings of his:
Speaking of the difference between private and public prayer, he said:

“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there : if you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky. Public prayer is like that.”

The power of place

A group of us at my church recently shared in a Quiet Day led by our Archdeacon Vanessa.

Her addresses were about different aspects of Prayer – Prayer and silence; Prayer and Place; Prayer and Time; Prayer and the Senses.

Each one has its own way of inspiring and creating reflection. We were encouraged to engage with the gift of silence to ourselves, each other, and especially to God. We were also encouraged to receive the Gift of prayer to us from God and seek the Holy Spirit at work within us. In a beautiful phrase we were to sense ‘God speaking to God from within.’

Looking at Prayer and Place, Vanessa prompted us to think of the places where God has been easily found. She herself, spoke to us of Lastingham in the Cleveland Hills in North Yorkshire. Here the Saxon monk Cedd, pupil of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, set up a monastery. This same Cedd brought the Gospel to Essex, to Bradwell which was consecrated by his presence and his prayer.

I haven’t been to Lastingham for many years but Vanessa opened up the memory and the experience within me. Below is the poem that I felt encouraged to write.

With it is a poem by Piers who was at the Quiet Day. Inspired, this time by the Abbey of Bec Hellouin in Normandy. Bec in the past supplied us with three Archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc, Anselm and Theobald. Bec still has a special relationship with Canterbury Cathedral. Today, only the tower remains of the Norman Abbey but a community of monks live in buildings near the tower. A sister community of nuns live in a convent a short distance away and on Sundays and Feast Days, the monks and nuns worship together. The serene and beautiful worship in their chapel inspired the first of the poems.

Both locations express the essence of what Vanessa spoke of to us. Thin places where heaven touches earth and God feels very near.

l’Abbaye du Bec

In my mind’s eye, I return:
cream quietness…
light bathing ordered stone,
the scent of sung prayer hanging low.

Immanence re-discovered.

Piers Northam
10 July 2021



Lastingham

I come to this place,
deep in the hills,
where silence and conversation
meld into stillness.

God is here,
his sanctuary a stone rainbow
over the seeker after meaning.

What am I looking for in this place,
where the one who drew others to their knees,
poured out his soul?

I sense and seek the company
of the one who prayed here first,
in the shadows of sweeping arches,
pillars and faint light.

Seemingly impermeable rock  
– steeped in suffering and joy;
pain and perfection; faltering hope
and confident determination – 
enfolds me as I kneel with Cedd:

exhaling uncertainty…
…inhaling God’s blessing and his love.

Geoffrey Connor
10 July 2021

Photos:
The Apse Chapel Pennant Melangell Church Mr.G
Abbey Church Bec Hellouin Piers Northam
Crypt, Lastingham Church. Parish of Lastingham

Friendship with God

My friend Joyce Smith has sent me this tweet – a photo which tells its own story.

Joyce says : In the same way as words are often not needed when sitting with good friends, sitting in quiet with our Heavenly Father helps us to absorb his love and know his peace.

Silence & Prayer
inspired by Joyce’s photograph and caption

Some people find silence uncomfortable but in our praying to God, it’s more than an absence of exterior noise.
Real silence before God is actually quite an active thing.

Prayer has been likened by the late Mother Mary Clare SLG, as a ‘Love-Affair with God’ in which all the emotions are engaged from silent hand-holding to tempestuous tiffs. It’s about sitting with God in a state of loving friendship.

Another teacher of prayer, Father Benson, the founder of the Cowley Fathers (SSJE) said:

“The soul in its littleness looks upon God in his greatness; and God in his greatness looks upon the soul in its littleness and loves it.”

This understanding of prayer is reinforced by a quite famous story connected with Jean Vianney, (known to us as the Curé d’Ars). He noticed that an old man came regularly into church and just sat there for hours, staring ahead.
Eventually the priest asked him what he was doing all day, to which came the simple but profound reply,

“I looks at Him and He looks at me.”

These words remind us that in our personal praying we should be thinking about God. Prayer is not always  bombarding him with requests.

Mother Mary Clare, makes a valid point when she says:

Let us be clear that what we are seeking in prayer is God Himself; not thoughts about Him nor about ourselves in relation to Him.

This involves silence. A silence which, as with the old man, is about sitting with God. When we do, we may express our love for God just by spending time with Him. Almost certainly, we will also discover God’s deep love for us because whilst I looks at Him, God will be looking at me and at you, and, as Fr. Benson puts it, God looks upon our soul, and loves it.

[Mr. G]


Mother Mary Clare SLG:

Some of the teachings on prayer by the late Mother Mary Clare SLG can be found in ‘Encountering the Depths’ a short but rich book about the nature and practice of prayer.  Price £4 plus postage from the SLG Press. Go to the website. If you are not familiar with the SLG Press you will encounter a feast of books about prayer, spirituality and the Christian life.

Website: https://www.slgpress.co.uk/shop/

God’s love lies open before us


Joyce Smith has sent us a new photo reflection.
 
Our resident pair of mute swans have been leading their 8 newly hatched cygnets on a daily journey of discovery in Waltham Abbey. These two are enjoying the ride and are feeling protected by their mother’s wings.
With my love and prayers.
God bless, Joyce

It has been the custom of Christians to pray together in various ways but with one intent – to nurture the World and bring people, including each other, and nature to a closeness with God.  Joyce has given us an illustration of this in the photograph of the tiny mute swans gathering under the safety and protection of their mother’s wing.

There is something rather gently protective in this scene. We can sense a warmth and security and a restfulness. The caption under the photo could easily have been ‘Safe in our Mother’s arms’.

Joyce has chosen a sentence which is part of the first part of Morning Prayer or Matins as it is sometimes known.

How does this connect up with the protection and safety of the little swans ?

The problem sometimes with ‘Liturgy’ (the format and composition of worship ) is that it can be said unthinkingly. Or perhaps as part of a repetitive rhythm which encloses the Word of God it seeks to proclaim. Whereas, the Word of God should free and enclose us. That itself can be seen as placing ourselves under the protecting and nurturing of God. Maybe we aren’t too different as those baby swans after all. As we pray and recite the words of the services provided for our nourishment, we snuggle up to our protective and loving God.

There is always a sense that Morning Prayer is a beginning. We begin the day in prayer – whatever form we use.
And we have therefore come through the night safely.
So as a preparation to say : The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind, begins a daily re-turning of our lives to God.
If we add to it, the second part of the sentence, that becomes abundantly clear: 
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you; now and for ever. Amen.

Whatever the day will bring; however we feel about ourselves; whatever fears we face; however lacking in confidence we are; and how lonely or sad or bored we feel, combined of course with whatever joy, hopefulness and friendship we shall share, we can remind ourselves  very soon after wakening – God holds us; God protects us; God cares for us with a love beyond words. We are beginning our day in God’s presence. We know that we are secure in his protective, motherly love.

Our response to this is surely Thank You.

As the 12th century Dominican friar and mystic said:
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank You’ (God) – It will be enough.

I’m quite sure that those cute baby mute swans will agree!

Thank you, Joyce ( and thank you, God.)

[Mr G]