Category Archives: Prayer

Lent Supper – Praying the Jesus Prayer

Jesus Prayer

Lent Suppers 2017

Our second Lent Supper on the theme of Prayer was held last Thursday. This time we concentrated on the ancient Jesus Prayer used in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We touched on many fascinating topics, including the Desert Fathers and Mothers, praying through icons, and worship practices in Ethiopia. We finished the evening with a session of the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful way of centring oneself, particularly when you need to find calm and focus at times of anxiety or disturbance. It can be used to pray for oneself and also for others. You can say the prayer at any time, whatever you are doing. If you would like more information, try here or here, or read The Jesus Prayer by Simon Barrington-Ward. If you would like to borrow the book, please contact Ilona or Mark. There are also some prayer ropes left over! If you would like one, please let Ilona know.

This week [23 March] we look at the use of music in prayer and next week [30 March] Ignatian Spirituality. Please join us if you can. If you haven’t already signed up, please let Mark know [01608 676572 or online here.]   

Dwelling in the Word

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Lent Suppers 2017

We had our first Lent Supper last Thursday on the theme of Prayer. The main activity of the evening was the reading of Luke 18: 9-14: the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. We used a method of study called Lectio Divina – an old monastic tradition of reading and rereading of a passage, looking for words or phrases that particularly call out for attention and spending time reflecting on why they feel significant. It allows us to find different layers of meaning even in familiar passages. We did this as a group exercise, but it also works when reading the Bible on your own. If you’re interested in exploring further, information can be found here

We finished the evening with Compline, a night service which is a peaceful and prayerful way of bringing our day to a close. If you would like to know more about this kind of service and other daily prayers, try here.

Over the next few weeks, we will be continuing our exploration of different ways of praying through the ancient Orthodox Jesus Prayer, music and the Ignatian practise of Daily Examen.  Please join us 7 – 9 pm on Thursday evenings.  To book, please click here.

Socrates or Buddha?

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Sharing our worship, our space and our contemplation

We may or may not go to church and we may lead examined or unexamined lives, but we all have our own beliefs and priorities, doubts and loves, and probably also our own scepticism and agnosticism. When in church we may put such rational processes to one side and attend to the liturgy and the beauty of the building or the music. Church is largely about sharing that space and participating together – however we conceive it – in worship. Continue reading Socrates or Buddha?

Longest Night Service

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Are you looking forward to Christmas?

From the middle of November, shops, media and advertising collude to convince us that Christmas is magical, full of joy and fulfilment. Cares are banished and laughing children reinforce the message that sadness and anxiety have no place in the festivities.

But for many reasons Christmas can be a difficult time of year.  Perhaps a family bereavement, a broken relationship, loss of a job, or ill-health – there may be any number of reasons why people find it hard to join in with the festivities all around them. Many people find Christmas difficult as they are reminded of what they have lost or have never had, and we can feel very alone in the midst of all the celebrating and spending.

If you are not looking forward to Christmas, we would like to invite you to a special ‘Longest Night’ service on Wednesday 21st December at 7.00 pm in Enstone Church.

You will find space and time for quietness and reflection in the busyness of the Christmas season, and through music, readings and prayers that will focus on the true message of Christmas – God’s gift of hope and reconciliation to a hurting world, in the form of a vulnerable baby, born to shine a light into our darkness.

It’s our privilege to offer a space where the reality of life with its grief and pain does not have to be left at the church door but can sit alongside the hope and light which is the real heart of Christmas.

The service will last for about 40 minutes.  All are welcome – no church experience necessary.

Journey through Advent: Forgiveness

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The discussion at the first of this year’s Advent Suppers focused on the challenge of forgiveness. We regularly pray that we may be forgiven as we forgive others and sometimes it is easy to forgive – but there are times when it is hard, even impossible. So how does the Bible help us understand how we might approach forgiveness? To help our discussion, we read some news stories including two about Eva Kor, a concentration camp survivor who was able to forgive the unforgivable when others would not or could not. We watched Rob Bell’s video ‘Luggage’ in which he argues that forgiveness is as much to do with setting ourselves free as it is lifting the burden of others. A lively discussion followed that ranged over a variety of personal experiences and produced some memorable mental images including filing cabinets, dead balloons and horse jumps!

Unfortunately time didn’t allow us to explore some of the wider questions, such as how forgiveness relates to desire for revenge, whether it means condoning bad behaviour and how it might differ from reconciliation. We plan to organise a discussion group next year to give us an opportunity to discuss some of these questions, maybe in the form of a book club. The Brothers Karamazov, anyone?

If you would like to look at the materials we used you can download them here.  You can also find a link to the Bell video we watched.

If you haven’t signed up but would like to join us for the second and third Advent Suppers, please let Mark know by signing up here

 

Meditation at the heart of life

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Meeting for worship: Quakers in shared silence at Friends House, Euston © Church Times

The Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton (you might just remember him as Nick with the long hair, one of the retreatants on the 2005 TV series The Monastery) is a priest in Newcastle upon Tyne and the author of a very readable book about ‘Meditation and modern life’ called The Wilderness Within. Reacting to an article on Anglican-Quaker relations, he recently wrote of a predecessor of his who 100 years ago introduced the practice of silent prayer and went on, as Canon of Winchester Cathedral, to write an account of his encounters with Quakerism, published as The Fellowship of Silence in 1917. In it he relates how he once met someone in church who did not otherwise attend services, but came to the silent-prayer meetings and had brought no less than 30 of his colleagues in a nearby office with him!

Continue reading Meditation at the heart of life

Do Something Kind Today

Taken from the Diocese of Oxford website

From tiny hamlets to our biggest cities, people across the Thames Valley may be feeling unsafe. Those who for weeks, months, years, decades, or a lifetime have made their home here, now feel unwelcome. Those of us who belong to minorities – particularly ethnic and religious minorities – feel a sense of heightened visibility and enhanced vulnerability. The recent escalation of verbal and physical violence in the wake of the EU Referendum is clearly implicated, and must be challenged.

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We come together as people of all faiths and of no particular faith, to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with one another, and with a clear message: in diversity is life; in diversity is growth; in diversity is transformation and creativity. We celebrate the multiple communities of faith and ethnicity that vitalise and enrich our civic, commercial and political life, our arts and our culture. We rejoice in our European identity, our wider international links and our global citizenship. We recognise too that much diversity, especially in our rural areas, is hidden, and will remain so whilst insecurity is allowed to have the upper hand. This is the case even though individuals from minority communities may feel a sense of heightened visibility and risk in rural contexts.

With the power that we have, and the resources at our disposal – we commit to meet hatred with love, confusion with hope, anger with peace and fear with joy.

The ‘love your neighbour’ campaign is owned by us all and seeks to draw people together and to believe the very best for our region.

So go… know your neighbour… love your neighbour.

Concerned? What are you doing? Contact Jo Duckles to share your story.

A Prayer for #loveyourneighbour

God of diversity,

We are fragile, insecure. We doubt our loveliness and our worth. Conflicted within ourselves, we compete, imposing our will on others, trying to outdo and to put down. We fight, creating outsiders and insiders – us and them.

Lord, we confess our part in creating conflict; our collusion with abuse; our failure to challenge the principalities and powers.

But we know that you meet us in unexpected places. That you invite us to find you in the people we write off; In places we fear and reject; in experiences we shy away from.

When we avert our eyes in discomfort, you fix our gaze. When we flee in terror, you invite us to return – to fear not. When we grow cold and inert, you touch us and bring the warmth and energy back.

Ignite in us a love for our neighbours and a passion for justice. Give us hearts that listen, souls that attend to you, minds that reflect, constantly, on your ways and your will. Help us to know you, forever, anew.

Amen

 

Prayer is good for you

 

‘It is said that in times of great uncertainty people pray more, so we can assume the lines are jammed right now.  And with a recent report, from the thinktank Theos, suggesting that praying together is good for us whether we believe prayer ‘works’ or not, maybe we should all be looking for somewhere to pray and someone to pray with.’

You may have heard Rhidian Brook beginning his ‘Thought for the Day’ with these words (29 vi 16).  When I consulted the report I’m assuming he refers to (Religion and Wellbeing), I found only that it spoke of studies showing ‘a limited positive effect of private religious practice (which is mixed with the effect of public practice)’ on mental health. However, it won’t be the first or the last time that the psychological benefits of prayer or religion are evidenced and the reactions from theists, atheists and sceptics will no doubt be varied, extensive and even colourful.  Nowadays you’ll get fewer funny looks and pitying glances if you talk of meditating rather than of prayer and there must be as many ways to meditate as there are to pray.

A conversation of the spirit

Nothing new here: the desert fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries certainly seem to merge prayer and meditation in their writings, having themselves reached a stage where ‘the intellect is concentrated, words are suspended’(Olivier Clement on early Christian mysticism). Evagrius of Pontus (who was responsible, indirectly, for the Seven Deadly Sins – so he should know) said that ‘in our prayer time’, we should ‘banish all tricks and devices and behave like a child just weaned from its mother’.  Prayer, he also said, ‘is a conversation of the spirit with God … without any intermediary’.  And John Chrysostom told his listeners that ‘prayers that come from the bottom of the heart, having their roots there, … are not knocked off course by the assault of any thought.’  The psalmist (s) had a few quotable quotes on the same theme.

The current interest in mindfulness harnesses just one way of stilling the mind and communing with our deeper selves, and – who knows? – with God. Professor Mark Williams told us in answer to a question at Wychwood Circle in March that it is suggested that Jesus was pretty ‘mindful’ and showed its positive effects on character and attitudes most strongly.  The best book I’ve come across on ‘Meditation and modern life’ (its subtitle) is The Wilderness Within by Nicholas Buxton (Canterbury Press 2014).  It doesn’t devote more than a few sentences to how to meditate. The right technique, the author says, is whatever works for us:

‘Meditation is less about technique than attitude: an attitude of openness and humility.  After all, the point of our practice is not simply to become good at meditation, but to wake up.’

He is equally dismissive of shopping lists. Prayer is not ‘something we do for the sake of the results and benefits that will accrue to us’ but should be ‘an end in itself’.

As elemental as breathing

One way of bridging the gap between pray-ers and others is to create a space where believers can pray, others can meditate (or practise mindfulness), others again can just pause for thought, reflect quietly, enjoy sharing a period of silence.  We try and provide such a space on the third Wednesday of every month at Ascott Church, but for some the need for others, let alone ‘another church’ with its ‘tense, musty, unignorable silence’ ( Larkin) or other sacred building, may not be so important.  It may just be a question of making time for our inner life – and not just on holiday or in retirement.  As Rhidian Brook also said:

‘In its widest sense prayer is a universal activity, as elemental as breathing.’

We don’t need church and we don’t need priests, though both might help.  We don’t need a bible or a prayer book or a missal. We just need to acknowledge, and maybe reflect, the persons we were made to be, for whom silence out there and silence ‘in here’ are vital elements of being human and essential to what the Archbishop of Canterbury likes to call ‘human flourishing’.

David Soward