This is the first line of this morning’s gospel reading and will be the focus of my sermon. Jesus emphasizes the need to pray, always, and not to lose heart.
I believe this is good advice as, when I look back over my life’s journey, I can see that prayer has guided and shaped my life, even when I did not know it.
That other Christians prayer practices have guided and directed me towards a meaningful relationship with God.
My first recollection of prayer is when I’m 5 years old. I’m kneeling at my bedside - head bowed, hands clasped together (with our cocker spaniel, Sandy, stretched out, alongside me) and my Mother hovering on the edge on my bed.
…I’m ready to recite the first two verses of the evening prayer that all the Clark girls were taught:
"Jesus tender shepherd hear me;
Bless this little child tonight.
Through the darkness be down near me;
Watch my sleep till morning light.
All this day thy hand has led me;
And I thank thee for thy care.
Thou has clothed me, warmed and fed me;
Listen to my evening prayer.
As far back as I can remember - before I got tucked into bed and kissed good night, this was our evening ritual.
Mom had come across this Scottish prayer, written by Mary Duncan in 1839, in my eldest sister’s Baptism book. It was important to my Mother that we came to know and love Jesus.
Although this is a child’s prayer, it contains nuggets of wisdom for anyone of any age, who seek a relationship with God, through prayer. These nuggets include: acknowledgement, surrender, trust, acceptance and love.
..and so My life moved on. In my early years, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to nursery school or kindergarten. Next came elementary school in various provinces across Canada. No matter whether I was enrolled in a Protestant or catholic school system; on the prairies, back east, or on the west coast; our day began with the reciting of the Lord's Prayer.
It reinforced that God was with me, always, a trusted friend who would be with me through thick and thin. On Sundays, when Dad dropped Mom and his three girls off at church, the prayer that resonated with me from Sunday school was the 23rd Psalm. For me it depicted Jesus as this loveable, kind shepherd with his staff and wooly sheep; a picturesque green pasture in the distance; resting in comfort and safety, for as long as you liked.
Then, in my early teens, I spent a short vacation with my Nana (my Maternal grand-Mother) in Chilliwack. She was widowed at age 55, and forced to live on a shoestring budget for several decades. She descended from a long line of Anglicans, who could be traced back to the early 1600's.
I noticed that my Nana started and finished each day, the same way: ... on her knees, hands clasped in reverence, facing a simple wooden cross & rosary that hung above her bed. She quietly recited prayers for the ill, the destitute, the departed, and the aged. She gave thanks for her blessings and sought forgiveness for her failings. Her humble prayers were always followed by scripture readings. She fascinated me. How could anyone be so inspired?
This is my Nana's Bible which was later passed down to me. It still is, as it was then: well read, falling apart – but much loved for its reverence, despite its humble wrappings. For me that also sums up what our relationship with God should truly be about.
Before I knew it, I was in grade 8 and attending Catechism classes at St. Catherine’s, North Vancouver. On my confirmation day, my Mother presented me with a gold cross and a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It was the purest white - with shiny silver gilded pages. I treated it more like a trophy, than a book of wisdom, and tucked it away for safe keeping. Sadly, Nana’s teachings had not sunk in. It would take several decades before the book would be held, loved and given the respect that its teachings deserved.
Through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s although I attended church, I would experience times of doubt in my relationship with God and couldn’t find any satisfaction, through prayer.
I would attend Bible Study classes (which I didn’t always understand) and prayer groups (where I didn’t quite fit in). Always seeking a quick fix but never finding it. Regardless, I felt compelled to keep knocking (unknowingly, superficially) at God’s door in an effort to enter in. It would take several decades of exploration, before I had the courage to surrender into the power of prayer, and find the peace awaiting me, therein.
When I look back on my ‘prayer journey’, I realize that the answers I had been seeking had been there all along. Perhaps my head knew, but my heart hadn’t been willing to make the connection. As Carolyn Iker would later teach me, in her Sounds of Silence group – from head to heart can be the longest, but most important journey, you’ll ever embark upon.
Prayer is essential to Christians. It’s the pathway to our relationship to God.
Prayer is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. It’s most effective in an environment that is rich with authenticity, vulnerability, but safety to grow.
It holds the key to shape and transform our life by opening us up to God. It teaches us to silence our own hearts and minds so that we may listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit; and, know its presence in the depths of our being.
In the words of Mother Theresa: It is in the Silence of our Hearts that God speaks.
There are many tools in the Christian prayer box, to help us achieve this.
You only need one – so take your pick – whichever speaks to you.
Perhaps it is the working of the beads of an Anglican Rosary: to calm a busy mind, let go of negative thoughts or anxiety.
The Chanting of the Psalms; or, repetition of a mantra, until it imprints itself into your subconscious.
Perhaps working with a contemplative prayer group to assist you in pealing off the layers, and get down to the core of your authentic self.
…or Lectio Devina (Divine Reading) – to help you meditate on what Scripture is saying to you, at this moment in time.
These are just a few examples.
It doesn’t matter which form of prayer you choose, just surrender into the silence; Spirit will guide you and help you find the way.
*”For there is a treasure house that is within us where you will see the things that are in heaven. The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul. So, dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.
Once you are at peace with your own soul, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.” *St. Isaac of Nineveh AMEN
By Juanita Clark