Prayer House Letter

Prayer House Letter

16 December 2016

My dear friend.

The news that you are preparing to cross the threshold (so to speak)
and plant a prayer house fills me with great joy, as does your
youthfulness, idealism and passion.  Please remember that you are
beginning something that is at one and the same time brand-spanking
new and yet incredibly ancient and well-worn.  Some dear folk relate
to the contemplative vocation strictly as being one or the other.
Sadly this inevitably leads to wasting a great deal of time
reinventing the wheel, or trying to maintain something that's past its
"used by" date?

The prayer house you are planning to plant will, if you are faithful
to the Holy Spirit's personal leadership, be unlike any ever seen yet
here on earth.  It will be inimitable too, so regard queues of fans
with the utmost suspicion.  If perchance one is not a flocker then
welcome them, give them a first-hand taste of your daily life, and
then send them home.  If the Lord is with them and they have truly
been called to "live to pray" then even if they stumble off in
ever-diminishing circles, they will be okay.  Wherever they finally
come to rest will be their house of prayer, because having passed
through the blast furnace of Love they will actually be houses of
prayer themselves.

Looking back over the past 2000 years and the Church in all of its
geographic and denominational fullness and diversity, you can see that
there are particular pillars or foundation stones which I do believe
are absolutely indispensable and totally vital for any house of prayer
if it is going to survive and thrive:

1)   Its occupants have to have the well-formed sense that their
primary vocation and occupation is to "live to pray".  Every Christian
is called to pray and ought to have a prayer life.  This is the case
whether their "stream" be the local church, missions, or
contemplative.  But the contemplative doesn't pray to prepare to serve
the Lord.  Prayer is their service, their ministry, their life.

2)    A house of prayer is a "space of grace".  It's a place.  Perhaps
one room in a house occupied by you and your comrades.  But that space
is sacred, in the sense that it isn't used for any purpose other than
prayer.  This is very important.  It gives Jesus the opportunity to be
present, undisturbed  night-and-day and to build His Presence and
overwhelm all other atmospheres.  The founder of Western monasticism,
Benedict of Nursia(1), understood and accomplished this to a
surprising extent.  A severely unwell and disturbed woman sought
sanctuary in a cave where he prayed.  At the end of her first night
there she awoke completely well and healthy.

3)    Being a "space of grace", a prayer house has to accept to a
greater or lesser extent the discipline and "little death" of
hidden-ness.  Shades of "when you pray, go into your room, close the
door and pray..."(2)  Prayer as spectacle becomes diminished and
distorted by self-consciousness and grandstanding.  Better by far to
labour in obscurity, away from the flockers, at least until your core
group is formed, united and fervent.

4)    Contemplatives intuit without necessarily any external
instruction, that all of their praying and all of their prayers are
for everyone, everywhere ... most especially our "enemies"!  And some
are led to understand that they not only pray on behalf of others, but
also pray vicariously or in their place.  These insights introduce an
intensity into their intercession which can keep at bay the icy grip
and dulling blanket of spiritual lassitude and inevitable opposition.

5)    A house of prayer will have a schedule of times for prayer
during the day and at night.  The set times are like evenly spaced
posts in the ground; the intervening hours of "free" prayer are like
wire.  Posts alone are just planted sticks; the wires a tangle.  But
the posts and wire make up something tangible and useful...i.e. a
fence!  Formal and extempore prayer are not mutually exclusive, but
complementary.  Never make the mistake of belittling or despising

6)    The backbone of these "Hours" of prayer are the Psalms...spoken,
sung or chanted.(3)  These are the ancient and ever-new prayers gifted
by God to His beloved People, in the first instance for their Temple
worship.  They are Heaven-sent, heavenly, every jot and tittle the
inspired word of the Lord.  These Psalms can be interspersed with more
Bible readings and prayers of intercession already sent up above by
God's heroes of yester-year.

7)    Some kind of manual labour must make up part of a
contemplative's life, every day.  That might be something as simple as
doing the housework or digging the vegetable garden.  It's a vital
part of "living to pray"; supporting ourselves, serving one another,
maintaining a healthy balance of spiritual, intellectual and physical

These seven pillars are not made to be some kind of strait-jacket, but
rather valuable, reliable navigation beacons.  Don't permit yourself
to be intimidated by the spiritual cognoscente huffing and puffing
about "legalism" and "religiosity".  Taking the seasoned, proven
spiritual direction of our older sisters and brothers who have already
completed obedient lives of prayer, is humble wisdom.  To ignore their
kind voices is just dumb spiritual pride.

Far from succumbing to dead tradition and formalism, these seven
pillars catapult us into amazing freedom.  One hundred Believers who
are called to "live to pray" can build one hundred different prayer
houses upon these foundation stones.  Each little monastery will be
instantly recognisable and yet remain amazingly and creatively
diverse.  Eschew the phony freedom of franchised or spur-of-the-moment
faith.  Fiercely and hotly embrace the authentic liberty of blazing
new and untrodden pathways of prayerfulness, safely navigating and
finding your and His way by carefully watching these seven tiny,
brilliant and ancient stars.

1)    Benedict of Nursia, 480-547, Italy.
2)    Matthew 6.6
3)    Some might ask, "How shall we sing or chant the Psalms...and
why?"  First of all, if you speak the Psalms you'll find that you get
faster and faster, until you lose concentration and your words become
a jumble.  So far as singing or chanting goes...well, that's up to
you.  Use your God-given freedom.  Make up your own tune?  Sing your
own songs?  Go on utube and listen to other contemplative communities
singing their "Hours"?  Let what they have done for many, many years
inspire you and propel you on to discover your way.  You will find
that the Grail version of the Psalms works better for prayer than
other translations of the Scriptures.  It's reputable and was created
especially for houses of prayer.