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Daily Prayer - 2013-03-12

Presence

My soul longs for your presence, Lord.
When I turn my thoughts to You,
I find peace and contentment.

Freedom

Lord, may I never take the gift of freedom for granted.
You gave me the great blessing of freedom of spirit.
Fill my spirit with Your peace and Your joy.

Consciousness

I exist in a web of relationships - links to nature, people, God.
I trace out these links, giving thanks for the life that flows through them.
Some links are twisted or broken: I may feel regret, anger, disappointment.
I pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness.

The Word of God

John 5:1-3, 5-16

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, "It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat." But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take it up and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.

Some thoughts on today's scripture

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  • The anonymous man lying by the pool called Bethzatha had waited thirty eight years for healing…He might be described as "living with desire" all that time. Our own prayers are not always answered immediately either. We too have to "live with desire". Remember T. S. Eliot's line: "But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting".
  • The opponents of Jesus then criticise the man who had been cured for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. They use him to get at Jesus whom they, in John's words, now begin to persecute. We tend to think of goodness and kindness as attractive; yet here a compassionate act by Jesus evokes hostility. Why is this? In your experience have you ever seen a person's goodness evoking an evil response?

Conversation

Jesus you speak to me through the words of the gospels.
May I respond to your call today.
Teach me to recognise your hand at work in my daily living.

Conclusion

I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.

Listening to the Word

Read over the passage, slowly, several times and see if any word or phrase stands out for you, and stay with that phrase for as long as you like before turning your attention to any other.

The process is a bit like sucking a boiled sweet (for US readers, hard candy). Do not try to analyse the phrase, just as you would not normally break up a boiled sweet and subject it to chemical analysis before tasting it.

Often a phrase will catch the attention of our subconscious mind's needs long before our conscious mind is aware of the reason for the attraction. That is why it is good to remain with the phrase for as long as possible without trying to analyse it.

I may find all sorts of distractions running through my mind, but some thoughts, far from being distractions, can become the substance of my prayer. It is as though the phrase of Scripture is a searchlight which plays upon my stream of consciousness, thoughts, memories, reflections, daydreams, hopes, ambitions, fears, and I pray out of the mixture of God's word and my inner thoughts and feelings.

Scripture as a Searchlight

The opening verse of the Bible, Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God's spirit hovered over the water, is describing a present state of affairs, not a past event, and when I pray from the Scriptures I am letting the spirit of God hover over the chaos and darkness of my being.

When I allow the word of God to hover over my preoccupations, then anything can happen, for he is the God of surprises. It is important that I do not hide my inner chaos from the word of God or from myself. We are often so trained that we think it wrong to allow any negative feelings entry into our prayer, especially negative feelings about God. We have to learn to grow out of this training, expressing our feelings and thoughts freely before God and trusting that he is big enough to take our tantrums. There is no point in pretending before God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

There is no thought, feeling or desire within you which cannot become the substance of your prayer in the light of God's word, when you know that God loves the chaos that is you and that his Spirit working in you can do infinitely more than you can think or imagine.

Dealing with Distractions

Trying to pray like this, it may well happen that the mind begins to fill with questions and apparent distractions. How do I know that I am not deceiving myself? How do I know these words are true, that God really does communicate himself through them? Do I really have faith in God? These are valid questions, but for now let them wait. When a child is frightened in the night, mother goes and lifts the child and says, 'It's all right,' and the child gradually quietens. But if she has a prodigy on her hands who replies, 'But mother, what epistemological and metaphysical assumptions are you making in that statement and what empirical evidence can you adduce in support of your contention?' then mother really has a problem in her arms. In prayer we are like that impossible child if we refuse to listen to God until he has measured up to whatever criteria we may care to lay down. We communicate with him first with our hearts. The heart is not mindless: it has reasons, deeper than we can see at first with our conscious minds.

Having left the questions aside for now, what do I do with all the other distractions which flood my mind? I may begin to wonder if I left the gas on, or remember an Email I forgot to send. If it is urgent, like the gas, the safest thing is to go and check. With matters that can wait, perhaps jot them down for later. Anything else which comes to mind, far from being a distraction, can become the substance of my prayer.

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