Buried Treasure

Buried Treasure

17 November 2016

Christians can generally agree that prayer is important.  So, a great
deal has been said, and is still being said about it.  Usually
however, from our point-of-view.  But what about God?  What does He
think, especially as He has revealed Himself as the One who "always
lives to intercede" for us.(1)

Religious self-importance is a form of chauvinism which has also led
to the assumption that today we are somehow or other more "advanced"
or "developed" than our spiritual ancestors.  Sadly this often means
that we give ourselves permission to devalue treasured beliefs and
responses from the past that don't necessarily stack up with the
credos of our polished modernity.

And so we would probably dismiss as ludicrous the idea of devoted
Believers physically shutting themselves out of this world, in order
to be more involved and helpful in it through a life of prayer?  And
yet back in the 14th C such a response to Christ's call to "Follow
me"(2) was considered quite normal and commonplace.  Anchorites were
both men and women who obediently shut themselves up in little
dwellings attached to parish churches.  The formal prayers which
inaugurated their voluntary incarceration identified strongly with a
Christian's "death and burial" with Jesus in baptism, in the hope of
future resurrection.(3)

Such a one was a woman called Julian of Norwich.(4)  So great was her
humility and mortification, we do not know her name, just that her
anchorhold was attached to St. Julian's Church in Norwich, England.
Before her "entombment", during a time of critical illness, Julian
received a series of sixteen visions or revelations.  She recorded
them, much later commented upon them and they now hold a unique and
honoured place in English literature and mystical theology as
"Revelations of Divine Love".  I especially treasure that portion of
her writings which addresses prayer(5) from the Lord's point-of-view.
For any who have been touched by His call to "live to pray" Julian's
"shewings" are simple, pure and extremely valuable.

1)    "I am ground of thy beseeching."

In Julian's day "ground" would have been understood to mean "that on
which anything may rise or originate".  This is a liberating statement
from Heaven.  It means that even my most inchoate, flimsy, stuttering
prayer was initiated and ignited by its Object.  How true it is that
"we do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our
inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us".(6)  The
older I get the more discouraged I am by "podium prayer" which is so
typical of many churches of "reputation"; overly-confident, verbose,
more like a sermon than cries of thanks or need.  It's not really the
form which is problematic so much as what its style suggests.  That
is, that we are the originators of prayer.  There's probably not much
hope for the health or longevity of anything we build (even if it is
in His name!) believing that we are its "ground".

No matter what we might raise up, if its "Chief cornerstone" isn't
"Christ Jesus himself"(7) then it's not God's, and that applies
especially and of necessity to our most embryonic and experimental
prayers.  But the glorious flip side is that before we can even begin
to stumble and gasp our way towards Love, the Object of our desire is
acting upon us so we can be heard in ways beyond our noblest
conceptions of what prayer could be.

2)    "Our Lord is (the) Ground on whom our prayer springeth."

Julian repeats herself here, but with a subtle shift, designed to root
out any remaining religious pride.  In this phrase she uses the word
"ground" in a more organic sense ... the earth we walk on and the soil
we cultivate.  Now our lady's meaning sprouts teeth to gnaw at any
spiritual conceit lurking in us.  Our prayers are like seeds which
forever remain so ... subterranean feelings, unformed notions.  Little
prisons containing massive potential.  All of these riches remain
under lock and key until dependent humility causes them to "fall to
the ground".  If they don't they remain "only a single seed".(8)

3)    "Our Lord Himself, He is the first receiver of our prayer ...
and He sendeth it up above and setteth it in the Treasure, where it
shall never perish."

It is not in any way novel to hear that there is only "one mediator
(middle man) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus".(9)  What is
radical and profound is this idea that all of our prayers are gathered
in, stored up, safeguarded until their "completion".  But of course,
provided they have sprung up from the divine humus of our Lord
Himself.  This might well help us with the proverbial hot potato of
"unanswered" prayer?  Following on in this section of her revelations,
Julian writes that our prayer "is there afore God with all His Holy
continually received, ever speeding (the help of) our needs".  Perhaps
we ought to begin at the beginning?  Perhaps our "answer" is this
certain knowledge that we are really and truly heard and our cries are
never ever forgotten, deleted or dumped in the "too hard" basket?

4)    "He stirreth us to pray for that which it pleaseth him to do ...
the soul by no manner of prayer maketh God pliant to it."

There might well be Bible texts and historical testimonies which
support the view that our prayers can move or stay God's hand?  What I
am quite certain of is that such events are neither the starting point
nor the main corpus of our converse with God.  The prayer which by all
accounts ignited the 1904-05 Welsh Revival was neither some bellowed
demand nor imperious command by men to God.  A young Evan Roberts was
physically driven to his knees by the Holy Spirit and with tears that
"flowed in streams" like "blood gushing" he cried out again and again,
"Bend me!  Bend me!  Bend us!"(10)

Here beloved Julian reminds us that God is God, and we are His very
small children.  So our engagement is not about our influence over
Him, but He upon us.  The Christian who tries to bend God to his will,
will be broken.  The Believer who submits to the inextinguishable
furnace of Love will be warped straight, contorted to the dimensions
of Perfection.

5)    "Prayer oneth the soul to God ... the soul by prayer accordeth to God."

The heart and goal of the contemplative vocation is union with God in
this life; the actual uniting of our wills with God's.

I will not here expose the full scope of my ignorance by attempting to
explain what the great mystics have already brilliantly expounded via
their scholarship, revelation and firsthand experience.  It is God
Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ who unites His will with the
will of the one He has called to "live to pray".  Those who have
offered to the flames out of themselves all that will burn, make
possible the journey of prayer, by prayer, back to the Source of all
prayer.  Such a person is an incredibly potent spiritual presence on
earth and an unexpected and powerful activist for the Kingdom of God.
They have attained and live in the realization that "I am in my
Father, and you are in me, and I am in you".(11)  It is said of them
that "by acting only in and through God" they put themselves "at the
centre of all hearts".  They influence all because in them "Christ
continues to live upon earth ... such souls deliver the world".(12)

Yes, the contemplative certainly does continue to ask, seek, and knock
for himself, for others, for the whole world ... especially those who
cannot, do not, will not pray.  But also by dint of their God-given
one-ness and accord with the Lamb of God, they are made a gift from
Heaven, a revelation and prophecy, and a door thrown wide open into

1)   Hebrews 7.25
2)   Matthew 8.22
3)   Romans 6.4
4)   1342-1416 was a time of phenomenal social, political and
religious turmoil, if not chaos.  And yet God still led Julian into
obscurity and apparent inaction.  His testimony to the huge importance
and value He attaches to "living to pray"!
5)   Chapters 41-43
6)   Romans 8.26
7)   Ephesians 2.19-21
8)   John 12.24
9)   1 Timothy 2.5
10)  "The Welsh revival of 1904" Eifion Evans (Evangelical Press of
Wales, Bridgend 1969)
11)  John 14.20
12)  "The White Paradise" P Van der Meer de Walcheren (David Mckay Co., NY 1952)
13)  Matthew 7.7-8)