Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, writes this week’s “Credo” column in the Times. As usual, it is very much worth reading. I’ll provide a couple excerpts below:
But is prayer only a matter of last resort, a cry of desperation or dereliction? It is surely more than this. Maurice Nédoncelle, in a book of almost half a century ago, pointed to prayer as embedded in our human reactions with each other. In our praying to God we are grounded in our prayer to each other.
All languages are marked by the vocative in which we express in one way or another our requests to another person, requests which are petition not command. This human kind of praying always demands attention to another, and a longing for an answering and sympathetic response. There is no prayer without attentiveness, and the deepest prayer is the language of love, for love both seeks and knows that the other person will respond.
Prayer is about coming before God as we are and as God is. Therefore at the heart of prayer is adoration. Almost all the words for worship in the Bible are about bowing down or prostration. “Come in, let us bow and bend low, and kneel before the Lord who made us.” Because prayer requires the abandonment of the pride in which we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, its condition is humility. We respond to God with the vocative as we respond to each other — “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!”
If we come before God as He is, in his goodness, grace and compassion, then our adoration passes into penitence, our need of forgiveness and mercy, our longing for the pouring of His healing light upon our souls.
It was a Broadmoor patient, who had done terrible things, who told his psychotherapist that prayer was “washing your face from the inside” — or perhaps God washing our face from the inside. But how do we pray, how do we “turn to prayer” both in the sense of attending to God, and of turning the whole business of our life, our work and our relationships into that which is prayerful — “praying without ceasing”? The reality is that there are only two choices — “You start from where you are, or you start from where you are not.”
Starting from where we are means coming before God “just as I am”, without the usual “wardrobe of excuses”, and with all the rollercoaster of emotions. But were everything to be shaped by our subjective needs then they would be the measure and not God. Starting from where we are not means taking the words of the psalms and the Scriptures, the given daily patterns of morning and evening prayer, and so being led to praise when we do not feel like it, and being opened up to the mystery of the Divine Love which comes down to the very lowest part of our need.