Tag Archives: prayer

God Hunting – Simplicity (4)

The final week of this chapter (and the final week of the whole book) was about relationships and authenticity. There was a part about how we like to be liked, how we sometimes use friendships to ‘get on’ (networking for our own ends) and how we might avoid friendships so we do not get hurt.  Jo draws up a list to simplify our relationships .  She talks about the positive and negative ones, are we spreading ourselves too thinly, do we need spend more time on a particular relationship and are there some we should distance ourselves from?

Jo speaks of how she felt she let people down, said insensitive things and put on a persona with people she did not feel comfortable with.  I recognise some of these things.  Jo says that we should learn from Jesus and how we relate to each other is important to God.

I grew up in a small household, we didn’t mix a great deal, my parents were not into great social occasions.  I found it hard to make friends as a child and when I did it was always one special friend.  At 14 that friend moved with her family and I struggled after that.  I have never been someone who has masses of friends and a huge social circle, maybe it’s due to my background (but I’m beginning to think that isn’t the case, though I blamed it for years) or my personality (more likely!).  I am comfortable in small group situations.  Large groups make me anxious.  In the last ten years I have overcome some of my fears and can handle larger groups at times (especially if I know them) but real friendships have never grown beyond two or three.  I hope that I am a good friend but like us all I know I fall short sometimes and when stressed I put up the barriers and stomp around having a go at people (my family, I guess because I am closer to them so they get it!).  However, I hate atmospheres and I cannot carry on arguments for long and I will always apologise when I have said something or been in a mood/unreasonable.

How to handle difficult people is always a struggle.  Someone I work with in the charity shop said that I get on with everyone and that I am the only one who will work with all the volunteers (some do actually refuse to work with some people).  I guess I am easy going and I like to see the good in everyone but there are people I come across who I find it difficult to talk to to – people I just don’t click with and are hard work.  Maybe I hide it better but I think perhaps I don’t have the hang ups some do about silly things that I feel are not relevant, but I think that I try to put my feelings aside and make an effort even if I do find it uncomfortable because I’m only with that person a short time.

My parents used to say that when I was in a bad mood it was written all over my face and I know that’s true.  Whether others notice it I don ‘t know but I am aware of it and try to put on a happy face.  At times like that (when I am really down or am struggling with a situation out of my control) I would rather be on my own.  I cut people off, put up those barriers and escape at the earliest opportunity.

What people think of us does make a difference even though it shouldn’t.  I am struggling with a situation at present with someone who is not a Christian and has views far different from mine.  We have been friends (penpals) for three or four years perhaps and I always knew his views where a lot different in some areas but we also had other things in common (mainly a love of football).  Recently though these differences have started to get to me.  While not a Christian he uses Christianity when it suits him to slag off other religions and cultures living here.  I have often ignored his comments but recently I felt I had to stand up for my beliefs and I said I would not apologise for my faith.   I have worried about my response, perhaps I said too much (though he never holds back) but now I’ve been prompted to pray for him.  That is all I can do.  Sometimes that is all any of us can do.  I doubt our friendship will ever be the same and some might say ‘ditch him’ but for now we are hanging on in there.  He hasn’t replied to my letter but he hasn’t ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook either!  If he hadn’t already got to know him he probably wouldn’t be in my circle,  but I have and I am not ready to give up just yet.

God Hunting – Solitude (2)

This last week I have tried to use my quiet time wisely, though often I fail miserably.  Last week I visited my brother in Sussex for the day so I had a nice train journey there and back to just sit and relax.  I can’t say that I consciously thought about God during this peaceful journey but I did contemplate his world. Coming home the fields were full of tiny newborn lambs and there were pheasants and rabbits.  The trees also drew my attention, how they grow in such wonderful roundness (I don’t think all trees do and I’m hopeless at variety but these trees did have a certain completeness to them).

Everything was green and spring is late this year but the railway banks were covered in some pretty yellow flowers.  Some fields were still awash in water.  I always marvel at the views from the train as I travel deeper into Sussex.  I feel myself physically relax.

I have been reading Quiet Spaces from the Bible Reading Fellowship.  I’ve just taken our a year’s subscription (book issued three times a year) because I find the themes, articles and prayers useful and thought provoking.  I was reading about praying alone and how to make time and a place, perhaps taking a walk, popping into a church or using a comfy chair at home.  This is what I do.  I sit on the settee before everyone is up, but sometimes I do get interrupted.

The little book which is sub-titled a creative response to God’s love helps me to see things differently.  Sometimes it prompts me to write or try something new.  It is very different from a normal Bible Study reading notes and it speaks to me.

To end I’m posting a video clip about Holy Island which I was able to visit a few years ago (this is not my video!).  St Cuthbert lived here but even so far away from civilisation people still came to visit.  He then moved to the Farne Islands close by. Still he could not escape visitors!  Finally, he moved out onto another island further into the ocean to  live a solitary life.  This video also has excellent music by Enigma – what more could you want!

 

God Hunting – Solitude (1) Quiet Day

Solitude – you either crave it or fear it!  This is the subject of the penultimate chapter of Jo Swinney’s book God Hunting.  I have been looking forward to this so I guess you can tell that I’m a believer in solitude.

Jo was not looking forward to this one but at the end even she felt there was something in it.  She mentions personality and that everyone is different on their spiritual journey.  She talks about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which I know a fair bit about.  I’ve blogged about it here before and have attended two courses.  Jo is an ENFJ (extrovert, intuitive, feeling, judging) – I’m INTJ (introvert, intuitive, thinking, judging).  What difference does this make?  Well, Jo is the first to admit that she can’t keep quiet for very long – likes to chat rather than be silent.  I’m the other way round!  This bodes better for me in this activity!  However, she feels and I think – that is to my detriment because I analyse everything, it takes me longer to switch off.

Anyway, the first thing I did when I saw this chapter coming up was plan (ah…another of my excellent attributes which comes under ‘judging’).  As I’m going on holiday soon I decided I’d have to fit in a visit to somewhere before that where I can switch off for a day (no time for a longer retreat yet).  I looked in my diary and found I did indeed have a free day coming up.  Immediately (before I had time to waver….I do that) I filled in the booking form and sent a cheque off to The House of Prayer which is located reasonably close by.  I have known about this place for several years and have wanted to visit and now at last I would.

I went on Thursday last week.  Things didn’t start well – I had my son’s girlfriend staying, I overslept and had an hour to get ready and leave.  Left my good map at home and had to ring hubby from the station because his missed off a bit of the route!  The road seemed to be double backing on itself and I was worried I was going the wrong way so I asked a lady walking her child and dog and she was most helpful.  I was going the right way after all.  I finally arrived and had to ring three times before someone heard me but I was there.  Once inside the lady gave me a quick guided tour of the upstairs – prayer room, toilets, kitchen and she showed me into a bedroom which was to mine for the whole day!  I was astounded.  It had a nice desk and chair and an easy chair by the window which overlooked the garden (misty and wet but you can’t have it all!).  That was it.  Alone for the day.  I made a cup of tea and sat down in the chair by the window and suddenly the relief of it all brought tears to my eyes.  I wasn’t expecting that!

I’d taken with me that day a Bible, notepaper and pen, a prayer diary I regularly use and the book On Holiday with God by Sue Pickering which I had used before on a quiet day in London and Prayer Rhythms for Busy People (Pocket Companion) by Ray Simpson (from the Community of Hilda and Aiden).  I began with morning prayer from that book and smiled when I came to the reading from Isaiah 56: 1-8 which speaks of God’s house as a house of prayer – the name of the place I was in that day! There was a booklet in the room entitled Growing Into Silence which is produced by the Jesuit Society and it spoke about The Big Silence which had been on TV a few years ago (ordinary men and women tried out living in silence for 8 days!  Very interesting programme, great viewing.  You can still catch it on YouTube split into about 10 parts.  Anyway I read through the book at intervals and made a list of websites and books mentioned to look up later.

Throughout the day I spent in prayer, visiting the prayer room, meditating and resting.  I chose my themed for the retreat from the book On Holiday with God.  The resources in this book are really good and always make me think.  The book contains prayers and I used these and those from Ray Simpson’s book throughout the day.

At lunch time I sat in the dining room next to the kitchen on my own and ate my packed lunch.  The building itself is beautiful.  Rather full of corridors as all old buildings but some beautiful windows on the stair case, very light and airy.  Do look at the ‘gallery’ on their website and you will see what I mean.

There were some books in the bedroom and I cannot pass books by without taking a look.  One was by Henri Nouwen entitled With Open Hands which was all about praying and another by Thomas Merton entitled The Waters of Silence which talked about the early days of monasticism.  When reading part of Henri Nouwen’s book he was talking about the busyness of life and how we are never silent.  This was written in the 1970’s and now we have added mobile phones and ipods to the equation.  These days we probably get up with music or TV, plug ourselves into ipods to travel to work.  At work there are colleagues to chat to, emails to reply to, phones to answer etc.  Lunch time it’s the canteen, pub or café and the same on the return home when we fall onto the settee to watch TV or use the computer.  Where do you find that silence?  It isn’t easy but it can be done.  If you want it badly enough you can find it.  I have found ways of getting it, though sometimes even those plans are interrupted and don’t work out.  Yesterday I was lucky.  I had a silent trip back to the station (without getting lost!) and when I got home no one was in.  Bliss!  How often does that happen to me – not much, I can tell you.  I was so hungry that I cooked a quick meal for myself and almost managed to eat it without being disturbed.  I didn’t use the internet or my computer at all and I managed to round off the day by night prayers in bed with Ray Simpson!

The day was peaceful and relaxed and I cherished it.  For me it’s the mind I have difficulty switching off.  I can go without chat, music, etc. but my mind is constantly trying to anyalise (even what I’m feeling!) but I did get there in the end even for several minutes at a time.  Actually, I did much better than usual.  Also I knew more or less what to expect and I had planned in advance so that I had books and paper to turn to.  I thought I might write but I didn’t.  I didn’t actually want to.  In the afternoon the sun finally came out and the bedroom was flooded with warmth and I stretched out in my chair and enjoyed the feeling of sun on me.

 

God Hunting – Bible (1) Lectio Divina

I have just completed a week of meditating on the Bible using the Lectio Divina method, the slow reading of a passage until a word stands out, something to work with and pray about.

The text I used was from John’s Gospel Chapter 6:35-40.  Not a lot to work with you may think.  But split into sections it is quite amazing.  Each day I read the whole of this (part of Jesus teaching on the Bread of Life) and then used one verse to concentrate on.  I had enough verses for 6 days and on the 7th day I re-read the whole part through again to see if there was anything I had missed.

I actually found this form of looking at the Bible very helpful and surprising.  Reading over one verse a day means you really look at it and see things you might otherwise miss when you read normally.  It made me think about my relationship with Jesus and his and his Father’s to me.  This led into prayer about belief, trust and doubt.  I even made notes at the end of the week in my journal which include lines like – God has given me to Jesus – Jesus is the shepherd, I am the sheep – Jesus will keep all those (sheep) that God has given him and will not lose them – God’s will, not Jesus’ – God’s will, not mine.  There is more.  One particular verse that kept coming back to me was about those who have seen him (Jesus) and still not believe.

I used some visualisation techniques to picture myself with the crowd of people sitting listening to him him speak and to hear the sounds of what was going on around me.  I find these techniques useful to set the scene and bring me closer to Jesus.

I would use this meditating method again as I find if helpful and it brings me closer to an understanding of a Bible passage, or at least to re-think what I have read, ask questions and is a great aid to prayer.  It really did work for me.

God Hunting – week 4 Prayer

Oh dear!  Not done too well with the last week which was about unceasing prayer  – being in the presence of God as Brother Lawrence wrote about.  The other thing Jo Swinney was going to do was write in a Journal.  I think I’ve decided that a routine is better for me because although I did think about God more it was not enough and I didn’t do any journalling.  I’ve done it in the past and sometimes I’ve found it very useful but I (and this will sound like an excuse)  just don’t have the time right now.  I am up to my eyes in writing for various things in my life and I feel as if I am juggling too many jobs.  So this last week felt like a week off! Having said that I am continuing to use a Bible study book called Explore which I am finding a great help and I haven’t missed a day even when I’ve not had time in the morning I have taken it to bed with me.  I am also still using the Rita Snowden prayers before I go to sleep.

The course I am taking, Religious Order Then and Now, is also having an affect on me as I see how each Order lives.  Going to the places where they live has much more of an impact than just reading about them.  There is something going on inside me even if I am not sure what it is!

So what have I learnt from a month of trying different prayer methods?  The big one is that routine is the answer.  Without it I waver and let things drop.  All I have to do now is find the right routine method for me.

I have now moved on to the next part of the book which is about Fasting.  The author has dismissed food (she was pregnant when she wrote the book so a food fast was out of the question).  Cutting out certain foods I think is a bit of waste of time – I don’t drink coffee or alcohol and giving up chocolate wouldn’t be a big thing for me as I can go weeks without it normally.  One year for Lent I became a Vegan (I am already a vegetarian) which was tough when out.  Only choice for food is jacket potato and beans (luckily I like that!).  It was turning vegan for Lent that made me give up milk for good.  I found I hated the taste of it afterwards.  I do still have the occasional yogart, and a little cheese.  I often take my own milk with me but sometimes I forget and will take a little ordinary milk but I prefer not to.  So being vegan, while harder, is something I have done before but might be worth doing again.  The other things Jo will fast from are hot drinks, sugar, media and reading fiction.  It is the last one I am doing now, for this week.  I have a huge non fiction book I am reading which fits in with one of my courses,  However, I am missing a good story!  I get moody.  I’d have liked to try giving up books altogether but I need to read this.  I’m not sure what I will do for my other three fasts.  What I’d like to try is no computer for one and no TV for another.  Both will be almost impossible.  The TV is on a lot in our house.  I have a hubby at home during the day and he likes to watch TV.  It would mean spending all the time in the bedroom which is not practical!  Computer, well I never take it with me on holiday or use any other computer to access my emails when I’m away.  I like to be free!  But at home right now I am busy typing stuff up, assignments, reports and I have to email orders.  The only thing I could do is restrict myself to only those things I have to do and stop using Facebook and the internet for a week.  It’s the only way I can see it working.

I guess I’m much more the type who would prefer to do something extra in Lent. I need to think about this fasting idea a bit more as I am not sure what else I can give up.  Watch this space!

Week 3 of God Hunting – Prayer

Week Three has finished.  My thoughts:

Reading morning and evening prayer did become a bit mechanical.  I did manage to do it every day and there is certainly something about a routine that seems to suit me but the format is not right for me.  I hated having to flick back and forth to find the right Psalms and Bible readings.  Sundays seemed different and I couldn’t find the right prayers so left those out.  But it’s not all bad.  Sometimes there was a glimmer of ‘something’ and it has made me think about finding a routine that suits me.  I may consider the Celtic equivalent.  I’ve noted down the name of a book which might be more to my liking.  Having got into some sort of routine I returned last night to a prayer book I have used from time to time which is by Rita Snowden – More Prayers for Women.  In it there is a prayer for morning and one for evening for each day of the month, plus a Bible reading.  At the back there are more specialised prayers for different occasions/needs.

Going through this book is a way for me to find what works for me in bringing me closer to God.  There are many new things to try.  I now have one week left on the subject of prayer and I will write about that soon.

 

God Hunting – week 3/4

Week Two of God Hunting has been a complete struggle due to  late nights, bad sleep so getting up late and having no time left with peace and quiet.  All round, not a good week and best forgotten about!  Sometimes it’s like that.  I just move on and hope things improve.

Week Three has now started and this week Jo Swinney has taken up the challenge of The Divine Office – morning and evening prayer.  Now all I have is an old Alternative Service Book which was either my mum’s or dad’s (my brother has one too) from 1980 which does have morning and evening prayer.  I guess this is the right thing.  I looked it up but it is so confusing as I have to find the right Psalm for the morning (and evening) and the right readings from the Bible each time.  Last night was a fiasco as I flitted back and forth.  It was all rushed and I didn’t feel it meant anything.  However, this morning was better as by now I had bookmarks in various places so I could go to the relevant places easier. I also had time to read it slowly and I did feel that something had clicked.  Jo says that she found the ‘corporate’ wording difficult and that I can  sympathise with that.  Sometimes I change the ‘we’ to ‘I’ in prayers so they are more personal.

I can see that having set times and set prayers/readings can be helpful and bring a focus to the day.  If I manage to keep it up for the week I shall be very pleased. I have in the past used a Celtic method based on morning and evening prayer, so this isn’t totally new to me.  I could probably do with some stability (I need it!) so this will be good for me.

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I am attending a course at adult education entitled Religious Orders Then and Now.  I am enjoying it so much as we get to visit various religious orders ‘on location’ around London.  Our first visit was to Eailing Abbey yesterday.  I am blogging about that on my other blog which I write ‘for the other side’, namely Blogger (where I first began my blogging days).  Posts will be mixed up with a lot of other stuff as this is a general blog and covers all sorts of things in my life but if you would like to read it you can find it at http://www.heather-stuffandnonsense.blogspot.com

 

God Hunting – looking back on the first week of prayer

Looking back on my first week using the God Hunting book I am pleased that my prayer time has settled down a little.  On the third day I was able to calm my thoughts right down and stop my mind going off in all directions, at least for a decent amount of time.  I needed a little help to get there so I consulted the book to see how Jo was managing and she mentioned a book she had been reading called Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon in which she talks about using a phrase from Scripture to still the mind.  Jo used ‘You, God, are my God’ , Verse 1 of Psalm 63.  That seemed a good one to me so I used it too and it really did help.

My prayers were mainly for family and friends but I incorporated some other prayers from books and from a prayer diary I use.  I also decided to read a portion of the Gospel of John every day using The Message translation as this is the translation I know the least and might bring out something I haven’t been aware of before.

Moving on to Week Two Jo is now using intercessionary prayers and ordinary prayer (making the fabric of my life into prayer).

Have I felt close to God?  Umm, not really but I think I’ve been ‘away’ a long time.  I am just pleased that I am more relaxed during my quiet time and sit in his presence, whether or not I feel him. It’s a start!  However, this morning there was a disruption to my quiet time.  I was really tired and slept in longer than usual which meant everyone was up too quickly for me.  I managed some prayers and Bible reading but not the ‘beholding God – focusing’ part.  Once gone that time just doesn’t come again round here!  I thought I might use my bus journey to focus but whatever I thought about (can’t even remember!) it wasn’t God.

The Examen at the end of the day I do find useful, it helps me to settle at night. On the occasions I miss doing it, I do it the following morning.  It is still useful to look over things of my life that way.

God Hunting – following in the footsteps of Jo Swinney

It’s a new year, the time to start new things  or to develop old ones, so this January I am going God Hunting!  This is the title of Jo Swinney’s little 128 page diary of spiritual discovery to get to know God.  From the beginning I feel at home with her.  She talks about busyness and how we can fit in things we really want to do but someone never find the time to be with God.  There is always an excuse.  How true!!

The aim of this book is to look at one spiritual discipline a month – prayer, fasting, Bible, worship, solitude and simplicity and then write about it honestly.  Jo invites the reader to walk along side her, to read and follow afterwards (hoping to avoid the pitfalls she encountered), adopt the plan and tailor-make for yourself, do it alone or with another/others or simply read it and give it away and not change a thing, which she says would be a shame.  I agree.

So, I am trying to walk along side Jo as she sets off on her spiritual journey and enters the thorny subject of prayer.  Jo admits to praying ‘on the go’ – a lady much like myself!  However, Jo does pray at other times – with friends, with her little girl etc.  I have to admit that my prayer life has taken a complete nose dive in the last year, boosted up a little in Advent but failing again.

Week One and Jo is concentrating on praying simply, beholding the Lord (entering the presence of God by faith and keeping focused) and at the end of the day asking two questions  ‘For what moment today am I most grateful’ and ‘for what moment today am I least grateful.’

Late yesterday afternoon I gave prayer a go, along with ‘beholding the Lord’.  I found if difficult.  I lit a two candles and sat trying to relax.  For a split second I did feel something, then it was gone and my mind wandered all over the place.  I put on a CD of Celtic music as music does relax me.  Immediately I felt calmer and the sounds took me back to a retreat I attended eighteen months ago but I still couldn’t focus.  I blamed the time of day (I usually have my quiet time first thing in the morning) and hoped for better.  I did manage a quick prayer but I couldn’t stop my wind wandering.  It’s like when you try to sleep and your mind is flooded with all sorts of things – things that have happened during the day, things to do the next day, worries and silly stuff that has no right being there!  In the end I became frustrated, told myself ‘at least I have tried and practice makes perfect!’ and gave up.

I had hoped for better this morning but no.  I am finding even the basics a struggle right now.  I haven’t read Jo’s description of her first week yet, whether she experienced anything similar.  I will report back on this at the end of my first week and compare notes!

(Examen – the two questions at the end of the day – were more successful and quite useful!)

Advent Books

There are many books around to help one reflect on the Advent season and this year I have treated myself to two little ones.  The first is Sacred Space which comes from The Irish Jesuits who use a distinct prayer method. Each day is split into six simple steps with reflections through readings, prayer starters and a weekly theme.  There is also a short Advent Retreat section at the back which can be done each week at a time when there is a chance for a deeper reflection.  I find this a very helpful little book as it has breathed some life into my prayer time (which has been very lax lately). The pointers have lead me into new ways of thinking about situations in life.

The second book is entitled Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming (An Advent Calendar with a difference) written by Stephen Cotterell.  His style of writing is very down to earth.  It’s short and snappy as well as amusing at times.  There’s a short passage for the day followed by ‘Stop’ – a bullet pointed thoughts and action programme.   At the end there is a one line quote from a well known person.  Stephen describes Advent as a defragmenting similar to what one does with a computer to speed things up by putting like files with like – a way to untangle all that Christmas stress!  It is certainly a new way of looking at things and making life a lot more simple at this time of year if you dare to choose.

Here is one of my favourite singers with a wonderful rendition of a great Advent carol – very haunting.