Prophetic Insights


21 April 2017

The old man lived in a council flat, not the monastery he loved more
than he could ever say.  He traded his white monk's cowl for an
"opportunity shop" hoodie.  His life went by largely uncelebrated and
then he was buried without superlatives.  Somehow or other his
well-thumbed prayer book (the Psalms and an eclectic 'library' of
prayers) came into my hands.  It always felt like a craftsman's prized
chisel; a scholar's priceless lexicon.

Most surprising and interesting were the old man's pencil-ed
additions.  His own thoughts?  Or did they belong to another
"traveller from the holy desert"?(1)  He always acknowledged the
authors of the prayers he painstakingly copied out.  Perhaps modesty
obliged him to leave his own thoughts lying about to
a good home?

"On my knees," he had written, "I seem to see an unrelenting
procession of souls intent upon Heaven's gates.  The massive doors
appear to be forced and held open by 'a Lamb standing upright,
yet slain (as I thought) in sacrifice'.(2)  I too am caught up in this
flood tide wherein 'mercy rejoices against, triumphs over, can laugh
at judgement'.(3)  This very great multitude wear the faces of
complete strangers I have already met.  Are these ones whose tongues
(silenced by ignorance, indifference, hostility) have been salved,
graced, loosened because of the prayers of all who live to pray?  Do
supplications sighed and wept in obscurity and blind faith actually
avail and prevail for all who cannot, do not, will not pray?  I
believe they do!

"That is why I am compelled to persevere with this way of life which
some may dismiss and mock.  And when the abyss of dumb futility yawns
and the noonday devils howl, I seem to see in the darkness a million tiny
coals burning red hot.  Around them (glimpsed as if from the corner of
my eye) dance the holy ones, showering us with incense unknown in this
world.  'The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the
saints went up before God from the angel's hand'(4) and Christ with
crowned head bowed and
eyes closed, smiles gently."

1)   'Figures of an Apocalypse' Thomas Merton (New Directions, 1947 USA)
2)   Rev 5.6 (Knox)
3)   Jas 2.13
4)   Rev 8.4

Into a Pit

13 January 2017

"If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (Mt 15.14)

I dreamt recently that everywhere I looked all of the people's eyes
were milky and white, and they were all blind.  It was an unbearable
sight and awash with a sense of menace.

"They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will
believe the lie."(1)

A delusion is "a false belief, strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence".

This dream has re-kindled a profound anxiety I have had for us (the
Western Church) for a good number of years now.  It is that
significant numbers of God's beloved People are deluded, and so,
blinded.  This particular delusion is rooted in the "strongly held,
false belief" that Christians are going to take over the government of
their countries, and then at some later date hand over their "thrones"
to Jesus Christ when He returns.  This is a delusion because it flies
in the face of the objective evidence of the Bible.

"And his name is the Word of God...out of his mouth comes a sharp
sword with which to strike down the nations  He will rule them with an
iron sceptre."(2).

The Kingdom of God will finally be physically established upon and
over the whole earth, when God's King stands here.  To miss this is to
fail to understand both God and man.  It does not understand that only
the King Himself possesses the Kingdom in its visible totality, with
all of its power and all of its glory.  It fails to understand that
all Christians remain a "work in progress" (imperfect and thus
inadequate and incompetent to hold ultimate power) until the Day of
Resurrection, which is the Day of His return.

The consequences of being deluded along these lines are not only
doctrinal and theological...although that's serious enough in itself.
Failing to believe the truth in this regard is currently completely
ruining people, churches and nations.

Significant portions of Western Christendom are being seduced "into
bed" with thinly-disguised antichrist movements, organisations and
leaders.  Having been blinded by their own false, unbiblical belief
that the church is going to govern their nation, Believers are on an
incredibly slippery slope to continue contradicting clear teaching
contained in the Bible.

1)   The slavish adoration of a "saviour" leader who promises to
"save" their country, is not only's frightening.
Out the window in the name of "faith" and under the influence of
various "heavenly" oracles goes the early Church's absolute,
unambiguous, undilutable belief that "salvation is found in no one
else" other than "Jesus Christ of Nazareth".  "There is no other name
under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."(3)

2)    Because adulation is a form of worship, the followers of a
"saviour" leader begin to see him or her as having godlike attributes
and powers, thus overturning "the first and greatest commandment".
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind."(4)

3)    From there it is only a very short trip to attributing to such
"saviour" leaders' enemies the character and activity of the evil one.
With scarcely a flicker of thought or concern they debunk the Gospel
in favour of the Law.  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your
neighbours and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you."(5)

Sadly this process of dilution and then outright denial of the truth,
and the consequent disintegration of rationality does not end here.

4)    The "saviour" leader's followers become so convinced of the
complete evil of his enemies that they turn "a blind eye" and then
even justify his personal sinfulness and wrongdoing.  Suddenly in this
"brave new world" very bad means are an okay way of achieving the
"good" end.  This is the tipping point in a nation's history.  Eyes
are averted, ears blocked, consciences suppressed, mouths gagged.
Creation waits in vain for the voice of a little child, "Look at the
king.  Look at the king.  He's got no clothes on.  He's naked!"  The
trouble is, this cry always comes too late, and usually out of the
midst of the swirling smoke of ruined cities.

After crossing the tipping-point in a nation's history and political
process, the powers of darkness and of antichrist break cover, having
secured the reins of government.  Real agendas are brazenly broadcast.
Xenophobia mutates into concentration camps; trade wars into military
invasions; bullying into dictatorship!

Always, always, always when the Church "marries" or "cohabits" with
caesar it winds up at best embarrassed; at worst humiliated and
clothed with shame which endures for generations.  The power brokers
of Jerusalem and Rome feared Jesus Christ because He eschewed force in
favour of influence.  The badges of authority and trinkets of office
meant absolutely and totally nothing to Him.  He chose "heaven open"
above His all too mortal body, with "the angels of God ascending and
descending" upon Himself.  He does have His throne and His
Kingdom...but they are not "of this world" nor are they here yet.(6)

The people I saw in the dream were all blind and their eyes were
"milky-white".  When writing his first letter to the church in Corinth
the Apostle Paul said he had to speak to them as "mere infants...I
gave you are still worldly".(7)

Our infantilism make us dupes of men and methods which are not in fact
Heavenly, and are in some instances devilish.  We want it all, we want
it our own way, and we want it now.  We are refusing to wait patiently
for the King and the time when He chooses to return.  We childishly
demand a kingdom now.  We build "thrones" for Christ, and then we sit
on them ourselves.  We are in constant danger of worshipping those we
"crown" and ourselves.  And all the while antichrist struts and stalks
the corridors of this world's power.

A Christian scholar who especially helped the Church in Europe out of
the shame and ruin of its WW2 alliances with totalitarianism, was the
Frenchman Jacques Maritain. Truth and history led him to conclude that
a Christian could only be faithful in this life to God's King and
Kingdom by accepting the vocation to be "a beggar for heaven, an
agitator of consciences"!  Will any of us ever have the maturity and
humility to pass through this low and narrow door into spiritual
adulthood.  It is the most demanding position and condition, where we
do in fact become nothing in the eyes of this world and its grandees
(both secular and sacred), but "great in the sight of the Lord".(8)

Being children of the Spirit of God we are like the wind(9)...easily
overlooked or brushed aside, and judged irrelevant.  And yet at the
same time perfectly able to determine climates, atmospheres and
lifestyles across the earth's vastest continents.  It really ought not
to be such a difficult choice...governor or conscience, master or
servant, meat or we wait, pray and suffer until the return
of the King.

"All hail, King Jesus!"

1)    2 Th 2.10-11
2)    Rev 19.13-15
3)    Acts 4.12
4)    Mt 22.37-38
5)    Mt 5.43-44
6)    Jn 1.51, 18.36
7)    1 Co 3.1-3
8)    Lk 1.15
9)    Jn 3.8

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.

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)

Gentle Revolution

28 June 2016

One of the 20th century's most influential scholars and social
activists fulfilled his days abandoned to God, living to pray.
Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) occupied professorial chairs at some of
the world's most prestigious universities, served France as a
diplomat, and all the while (in complete union with his beautiful wife
Raissa) sought "to follow the contemplative voice in the world".

Jacques was, in the truest sense of the word, a prophet insofar as he
spoke of and then lived a contemplative life which was indicative of a
way and mode that was for "another" (our?) time.  He always maintained
the profoundest affection, respect and connection to the Church's
"ancient", traditional houses of prayer and monasteries.

But both he and Raissa were strongly drawn to associate themselves
with the earliest followers of the somewhat eccentric, fiercely devout
ex-soldier and hermit, Charles de Foucauld.  Charles (and later the
Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus) conceived of a contemplative
life which was to "imitate the poor and humble life of Jesus in
Galilee".  It was a way of being, as opposed to doing; "sharing in the
existence of the most underprivileged, wearing no religious habit,
engaging in no proselytism, and spending time in adoration".

Jacques was very committed to a vision of the Church (and
contemplative communities too!) no longer being a "fortified castle"
but rather  an "army of stars thrown across the sky".  Thus he foresaw
prayer houses increasingly need to be found "in those points of the
world where men have a terrible need to be animated by hearts devoted
to contemplation".

It is important to grasp:

1)   The contemplative life (living to pray) is not just for a
spiritual "elite"...e.g. those living vowed lives within
well-established and reputable houses of prayer.  Nor is it a vocation
for "left-overs"; devout folk who fail to "make it" in local church or
missions ministries.

2)   The contemplative life is at one and the same time about being
apostolic (respecting and taking instruction from our monastic
ancestors!), and also being prepared and fluid enough to be radically
adapted to new times and new generations.

Jacques speaks authentically and compellingly for both of these
propositions, upon which we need to be squarely founded.  How else to
avoid slavishly imitating the past, running after the latest fad, or
just becoming inert through uncertainty and vacillation.

How hard is it really, to set aside a corner in a little-used room,
adorn one of its walls with the confronting Icon of our salvation, and
covenant with oneself to pray the Psalms there on behalf of the whole
world, at set times of the day and the night?

"The task which the new age we are entering expects of Christians,"
writes Jacques, "is so difficult that we cannot possibly accomplish it
unless there are multiplied, in the very heart of and throughout the
world, constellations of spiritual energy composed of humble stars
invisibly shining, each a contemplative soul given over to the life of

Through such ordinary, hidden and apparently unproductive souls,
Raissa writes, "the living water of love and its divine taste reach
those whose vocation comprises more activity".  If the contemplative
stream ceased to flow entirely, she concludes, "hearts would soon be
dried up"!

Such people, according to Raissa, are not only reservoirs of God's
grace and love, but are "the unfailing memory of the Eternal amongst
us".  They are "a memory without which darkness would obscure the
earth.  A memory in which we possess the archives of sanctity".

"Raissa's Journal" Ed. Jacques Maritain, Magi Books 1974.
"The Peasant of the Garonne" Jacques Maritain, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1968.
"Beggars for Heaven" Jean-Luc Barre, Notre Dame Press 2005.

Not Fooling About

3 May 2016

I am not sitting in this prayer house because I'm a "washed up"
preacher who can't find anything else to do.  Nor am I here for
spiritually "romantic" or esoteric reasons.

I am here because I'm here, and have to be.

"I desire to do your will, O my God." (Ps 40.8)

But I am also "shut up" in this room to participate (in a minuscule
way) in a reformation of the Church which must occur and should
eclipse the 16th C Protestant Reformation.

This most necessary and overdue re-construction and revival of us all
was "discovered" and implemented by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany in
the 1930s.  Facing the catastrophic collapse of the (Catholic and
Protestant) Church in the face of rampant antichristian Nazism,
theologian Dietrich was charged with the formation of pastors for the
"resisting" (underground) church.  He offended many within the
scholarly caste by emphasising in a major way both prayer and life in
common.  (See "The Tribulation Church",

For the Body of Christ to be "safely" and completely attached to our
Head and Saviour, Christ Jesus, the reality of our composition must be
acknowledged, owned and organically lived out...moment-by-moment.  We
do consist of three co-equal and complementary "streams" - local
church, missions and contemplative.

All Christians pray.  However local church and missions Believers'
prayers have a great deal to do with preparing to "go to work".  The
contemplative may well pray to prepare to serve God, but their work is
prayer.  They "live to pray" and "pray to live"...and not just for
themselves, but for the whole world too.

I do not doubt that the Church in Europe in the 1500s was in need of a
dramatic "wake-up" call.  And clearly (and sadly) too much of its
decadence was to be found in some monasteries and convents which had
become fiefdoms for greedy and lazy "lords and ladies".  Tragically,
impatient reformers carelessly tossed "the baby" out with the dirty
"bath water".  Rather than purifying the polluted contemplative stream
(as did Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross in Spain), they attacked
it with such ferocity that it was forced underground.

At all costs its most beautiful, pellucid and mysterious waters have
to be searched out, drawn back up to the surface and into the
mainstream of 21st C Christianity.

Many young and devoted Christians today are languishing in a
bewildered (guilty?) torpor because they are unable to recognise their
God-given context for an obedient life.  Censored history has either
hidden it from their view, or local church and missions boosters are
trying to shout it down...perhaps overly fearful of losing their own

The restoration of the contemplative stream to the whole Church
world-wide will produce a quantum leap forward so far as our overall
health, vitality and fruitfulness is concerned.  We don't really need
more prayer meetings, so such as we need houses of prayer occupied by
men and women (young and old, married and single) who have been
brought by God's grace to understand, believe and live out that their
work is to pray and their prayer is real work.

I live for and long for that day.  That is why I sit here (for the
most part alone), stumbling and growling my way through the Psalms
three times a day.  (See "The Abbot's Shoes - Seeking a Contemplative
Life" at  It is my own minute
contribution to a massive revolution which is really a participation
in Heaven's 24/7 prayerfulness spilling over our desperate and needy

"Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe...Multitudes, multitudes in
the valley of decision.  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley
of decision."  (Joel 3.14)

POSTSCRIPT   I will risk the complaint that I'm just another grumpy
old man by making the following observations.  I see (sadly) very
little interest in considering (let alone applying) the thesis of "The
Tribulation Church".  I think that there may be two main reasons for

1)   The observable status quo, to many, appears set in concrete;
change is relegated to the "too hard" or "inconvenient" baskets.  It
always interests me that some Christian leaders who are overly keen to
be known as visionary, progressive and "cutting edge" can be defensive
and conservative...because they lack imagination.  But when the whole
world around us changes completely overnight, it's too late.  (Look
for example today at the considerable and sudden changes to the
landscapes of Syria-Iraq, Europe and the USA?)

2)   Contemporary local church, missions, and even contemplative
organisations can be surprisingly territorial, proprietorial and even
occasionally "violent" when it comes to recognising, receiving and
embracing change and its agents.  We may no longer burn each other at
the stake.  But we do quite casually scorch "rivals" with criticism
and innuendo.  And for the sophisticated religious critic nothing
works half so well (so they seem to think!) as the rack and thumbscrew
of the dismissive snort or contemptuous sneer.

I do not doubt that many German Christians thought Dietrich Bonhoeffer
had gone too far or mad in opposing Hitler; not to mention his
"retreat" to an obscure village to sing the Psalms at set times of the
day, and to live cheek-by-jowl in community with his students?  But
you may be sure that would have been a whole lot more "comfortable"
than chanting the liturgy in churches adorned with red and black
swastika banners, led by pastors giving the Nazi salute?

They didn't see it coming?  Not so!  They just refused to believe
their prophets and couldn't be convinced sufficiently or bothered to
get out of their warm beds before an antichrist tsunami engulfed them,
lock, stock and barrel.

"They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not
hear, for they are a rebellious people." (Eze 12.2)

Reality and Shadow

15 January 2016

"They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow, pattern and
reproduction, a mere earthly model of what exists in heaven, the real
tabernacle." (Heb 8.5)

"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven
from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold the
tabernacle and the tent of God is with men.' " (Rev 21.2-3)

How very different life on earth might be if this planet was really
considered by its inhabitants to be an extension and spill-over of
Heaven?  And what might a life of prayer look like here, if Heaven was
no longer seen as an annexe or appendage of the earth and its world?

To hear many Christians speak, it's as if this world's Church is the
locus and "engine-room" of all prayer, that somehow or other
administers and motivates Heaven?  But no matter how grand or imposing
might be this world's thrones (both secular and religious), and no
matter how high some may climb to occupy (or lounge upon) them, there
is still only one Throne.  One day it will be here on earth.  But at
the moment it is in Heaven, and Heaven alone!

"But do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or
by the earth, for it is his footstool." (Mt 5.34-35)

I think that if we're ever really going to be able to grasp the nature
of and actually live (as a vocation) a life of prayer, then most of us
will have to perform a complete volte-face (180 degree turn) so far as
Heaven and earth are concerned.

Prayer does not originate here to "move" Heaven.  Prayers on the earth
are the spill-over and the over-flow of prayer that literally wells
up, spring-like, 24/7 in Heaven.  "God," writes the sagacious
Congregational theologian, P.T. Forsyth ('The Soul of Prayer', 1916),
"stirs and inspires all prayer which finds and moves Him.  Any final
glory of human success or destiny rises from man being God's continual
creation, and destined by Him for Him.  So we pray because we were
made for prayer, and God draws us out by breathing Himself in."

The 16th C Spanish apostle of prayer and reformer of the contemplative
life, Juan Alvarez (John of the Cross), lived his life completely
within this Biblical worldview and paradigm.  During the "crisis"
hours immediately before his death, he assured his Carmelite comrades
that he was "waiting to say Matins (the first of the seven scheduled
times of daily prayer) in Heaven"!

"I know that God, our Lord, is about to do me the mercy and favour of
allowing me to recite Matins in Heaven."

As the monastery bell began to ring for Matins, John said, "I by the
mercy of God am going to recite them in Heaven ... At midnight I shall
stand before God to recite Matins."

As the bell finished its tolling summons, he was gone.  His journey,
faster than the speed of light, took him from the outskirts of the
Church to its Heart; from the fringes and hinterland of prayer to its
engine and axle.

Ironically, prayer will only ever be taken seriously and embraced as a
vocation, calling and "life", when we situate our involvement on its
periphery.  We are the generated and not the Generator; the over-flow
and not the Source.  All of our most faith-filled, fervent and fulsome
prayings here on earth, are but an imitation and shadow of what's
already happening in Heaven.

The 19th C contemplative prodigy, Therese Martin (of Lisieux) moved
effortlessly within this reality.  She entered a house of prayer as a
15 year old "child", and died a mere nine years later.  During her
"brief career" she made it absolutely clear that "the thought of
heaven was the sum of all my happiness".  Therese considered that her
earthly monastery was "the ante-room (which leads to a more important
chamber) of heaven itself".  And so (in her writings) she hinted that
her "work" and "usefulness" in this world would find their true scope
and fullest measure in Heaven.  In other words, she expected that when
she relocated from this world to the next, she would graduate from
being a contemplative apprentice and become a master craftswoman of

I claim no special or extensive knowledge of this matter save that it
has dealt me a glancing and convincing blow.  As a bumbling and
"green" 22 year old novice monk, I was one day ambushed by the
certainty that I no longer cared if I lived or died in my monastery.
The "veil" had been torn from top to bottom, and in that place I had
become most unexpectedly and experientially a resident of both Heaven
and earth.  In some way or other I managed to intuit that my death had
been overtaken by His and had been "swallowed up in victory". (1 Co

But this was so much more than a doctrinal or theological matter.  It
was my experience of the world "in order"; earth a branch upon the
tree of Heaven and a mere teardrop in the corner of Christ's eye.  The
people and places where this "order" prevails are most likely to be
contemplatives and their dwelling places.  For their prayings (above
that of all other Believers) must be rooted and grounded in Jesus'
utterly foundational cry, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in
heaven". (Mt 6.10)  The contemplative's habitation will be known
(according to Celtic Christian tradition) as a "thin place" ... where
"the distance between heaven and earth collapses".  But those whose
authentic calling is to "live to pray" do not search out such locales
to make them their homes.  Rather, wherever they might settle to "ply
their trade", their belief that they are kneeling on the outermost
edges of all reality will wear and fray the veil between time and
eternity to virtual transparency.  At certain moments and in
particular places then, Heaven will absorb parts of the earth.  In
this spill-over we will rub shoulders with angels and elders "dressed
in white", and live coals from the altar  will blister the skin upon
our faces.  Such do not know if they are "alive" or "dead"?

Here indeed is the most superb of all divine ironies and paradoxes.
Those contemplatives who accurately adjudge themselves to be the
furthest away from the white-hot core of Prayer, inhabitants of the
loneliest outposts of intercession, are in fact alive, breath by
breath, by His Breath.  Their pulse is His, their "inexpressible
yearnings" and their "inarticulate groanings" are Him, and are "in
harmony with God's will"! (Ro 8.26-27)

"It is the man who loses his life for my sake that will secure it." (Mt 10.39)

To many bona fide Christians the contemplative vocation is going to
seem a bewildering, even frustrating, collision of conflicting ideas
and activities.  And so it is ... an unending and disquieting
contradiction and denial of all and any expression of the Faith which
makes its crux and heart anything other than our Lord Jesus Christ "in
the centre of the throne" in Heaven. (Rev 5.6)

"The Science of the Cross", Edith Stein, ICS Publications, Washington DC 2002.
"The Story of a Soul", Therese of Lisieux, Fontana Books, UK 1958.

His Body's Fullness

18 December 2015

Jesus' "hidden" life of prayer is at least as important as his public
ministry to vast crowds.  By esteeming it little by comparison, the
Church today turns a blind eye to a massive part of its existence and
responsibility.  And it ignores the true destiny of a great multitude
of its own members.

"Great multitudes came together to listen to him...And he would steal
away from them into the desert and pray there." (Lk 5.15-16)

"He went out on the mountain-side, and passed the whole night offering
pray to God." (Lk 6.12)

It is my settled conviction that the Church consists of three
"streams"  -  local church, missions and contemplative.  These three
flowed with equal vitality and complete harmony in our Saviour, during
the days of His earthly ministry.  The graces of local church life
were expressed perfectly in His close-quarters teaching in synagogues,
and the intimate warmth of visits to family homes.  Likewise, the
gifts required for missions were clearly manifested before the eyes of
huge crowds.

"Great multitudes followed him, and he healed all their diseases...And
there was a great multitude following him; they had seen the miracles
he performed over the sick." (Mt 12.15, Jn 6.2)

For the sake of His Body's fullness we must unshackle Jesus' prayer
life from our puny and limiting notion that it was only ever about
preparation.  That is to say, He retreated to pray alone to rest and
get ready for His next bout of intense activity.  So long as we are
hedged in by this point-of-view, prayer will only ever be something we
do before getting on to the really "important stuff", and thus finally
only of secondary importance.

All Believers pray...or ought to?  But for some Christians, living to
pray is the "important stuff", the main event, their vocation and
life.  And the Word of God Himself is their warrant and license.  For
them it is not incidental that the Alpha and Omega got up "a great
while before day" to pray in "a solitary place". (Mk 1.35)  For the
Church's contemplative stream it is their "meat and drink" that the
Author and Perfecter of all faith used to send the crowds away so that
He could go "by himself on to the hill-side, to pray there". (Mt

Our ongoing inability or failure to recognise this fullness in the
Head of our Body the Church, robs us all of our own completeness and
repletion.  For example, our Lord unnervingly warns Peter (of the
apostolic stream) that satan "has asked to sift you as wheat".  But
then (I think astonishingly!) He says, "But I have prayed for you,
Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers." (Lk 22.31-32)

This kind of prayer is not an aspect or attribute of the Man.  It is
His heart and Soul.  It is not just something He does.  It is who He
is.  In this "place" of prayer (which in fact He lives and breathes)
Jesus inhabits a dimension and realm of the Holy Spirit where the
"normal" laws of time and space are eclipsed.  Our Older Brother (Heb
2.11) has already engaged (to the point of resolution) Peter's future
devastating shaking through the devil's sieve, his "survival" of that
terrible trial, and his restoration to his foundational ministry.  And
all of this as if it were a present event.  So, when He prophesies to
this particular Apostle, the Son of Man's prediction is swaddled in a
confident and absolute "Amen"..."This is most certainly how it's going
to be!"

We the Church could save ourselves a whole lot of spiritual huffing
and puffing, and theological excuse-making if we occupied this
territory with Jesus Christ and made it our "home".  To enter and
engage the future, and to render it a past already dealt with, is

"Now faith is the title deed, solid ground, the realization of things
hoped for." (Heb 11.1)

Biblical faith is not "mind over matter", or the gung-ho approach of
"muscular" Christians.  It is the peculiar grace and responsibility of
the contemplative to "see", participate in, and resolve unto salvation
yet only imaginable events.  Through their perpetual intercession for
all of the world such moments in history can become the "past" in the

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb 13.8)

I take this promise of Scripture to speak not only of the Lord's
immutability (unchanging-ness and consistency).  It also declares His
ability to exist effortlessly and constantly within and outside of
time, the laws of nature and physics, and all of our current belief
systems and theological frameworks.

"A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was
with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among
them." (Jn 20.26)

As Protestants we have all too quickly (usually as the result of
prejudice) cut off our noses to spite our (spiritual) faces, when it
comes to matters supernatural.  We somewhat smugly dismiss as
superstition or occult, stories of the bodies of dead "saints" not
rotting.  Not to mention yet others whose bodies become airborne
(levitation) during prayer, or reproduce the wounds of Christ
crucified.  Even Francis of Assisi (by most deemed a very "safe",
interdenominational "saint") was witnessed to have had "his right
side, as if it had been pierced by a lance...overlaid with a scar
(that) often shed forth blood".  Believers in the past have also been
"famous" for burning with "the fire of love".  One dear mystic's heart
became such a "furnace of love" that whenever she drank water she
produced "a sizzling sound like that of water falling on a sheet of
red-hot iron".

Of course we are free to choose to sneer or freak-out.  But perhaps
such phenomena are important (not so much in and of themselves) but as
signposts urging us on beyond the comfort zone of our own (always
incomplete or even stunted) understanding of objective Holy Writ, and
subjective spiritual experience?

The extraordinary teaching and deeds our Lord Jesus performed during
the day, stood upon the shoulders of his "hidden" and usually
nocturnal life of prayer.  The three streams that flowed in blended
perfection in Him, now similarly run their courses in His Body.  But
being as we are, individually omni-impotent, we will each participate
and serve in one or the other.  The Christian who claims they are in
"all" has been rendered delusional either by illness, or an unhealthy
surfeit of ecclesiastical power.  The mentally sound Believer will
joyfully and peacefully understand and accept that they are called to
live and serve either in a local church, on a mission field, or in a
prayer house.

But humility is the key to really fully entering into this reality of
His Kingdom.  There is an ugly and noxious undertow within us, the
Church; the pull and the drive to be significant and important by
hogging all of the limelight, and insisting on being ministerial great
panjandrums.  For the sake of our salvation, God Almighty Himself
voluntarily and determinedly reduced Himself to the utterly abject
proportions of an outlaw, dying a criminal's death at the hands of
professional executioners.  Who on earth then, do we actually think we
are, swanning around in the current Western "me"-culture of church and
ministry?  Swanky salesmen, overturning the Gospel of salvation for
one of self-improvement and fulfillment?

The godly, authentic pastor or missionary (no matter how broad their
influence or electrifying their deeds) will be humble enough to
recognise their situation.  That although they may appear to be
"walking on water" they are in fact standing on the shoulders of their
contemplative brethren.  And in order for those who "live to pray" to
fulfill their destiny and duty, they in their turn have to be meek
enough to accept "death by drowning" the waters of physical
obscurity and spiritual poverty.

In proud independence and isolation, we will become repellent
caricatures of what we vainly imagine to be successful Christians.
But together in our distinctive streams (like so many reassembled
shards of broken glass) we may yet refract the blazing glory of the
One who "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing". (Php 2.6)

("The Eagle and the Dove", V. Sackville-West, 1943, England)

Not Second Best

20 November 2015


Clare Favarone of Assisi (1194-1253) confronts us with this truth;
that to "retreat and hide" behind the high walls of an enclosed prayer
house is a positive act.  Far from being a cop-out, it is a creative
response to a time of "refreshing" (Ac 3.19) and spiritual crisis.

Often history veils Clare in a romantic haze; swanning about the
countryside with her best pal Francis of Assisi, gathering cute
bunches of wildflowers and chatting to wild animals.  Or scholars
paint and judge her life of prayer as some kind of unfortunate default
setting, forced upon her due to "an accident of history" that
determined that women were not allowed to live apostolic lives?

The second generation of Franciscans have made it almost impossible
for us to sort out our own thinking about such things.  They were
prepared to burn books (and even men) to make quite sure that their
official version of "Francis and Clare" triumphed.  We should weep
over this, but not be too surprised.  Throughout the final 14 years of
Francis' life, pretty well every alteration or development of his
movement was undertaken by new leaders without him knowing or even
"against his will".

Clare outlived Francis by 27 years.  But she had to fight a rearguard
action against Franciscan "reformers" who seemed oblivious or
unconcerned that their choices and decisions were blurring and even
blotting out Francis' original vision and ideals.

I (respectfully) cannot accept that Clare's hidden life of prayer was
second-best, because neither she nor any of the original Franciscans
ever permitted themselves to be intimidated or stymied by prevailing
religious and social custom and culture.  Even before Clare
controversially "ran away" to join Francis and his fledgling band of
"lesser brothers", she had demonstrated intense determination to live
a life of fervent devotion.  She shocked and perturbed everyone
(family, Church, town) by flat-out refusing to parade herself with the
other marriageable teenagers at the medieval equivalent of a
debutantes' ball.  When Clare did finally join Francis out in "the
wilderness" and had her long hair chopped off as a sign of her
consecration to Jesus Christ, she was "attacking" two pillars of her

1)   That women were first and foremost financially valuable
possessions, belonging to their families.

2)   That marriage was "the foundation of civic order".

So, my question is: "Why stop the revolution there?"  Of course my
answer is that "the revolution" did not halt there.  It blazed on with
the "lesser brothers" giving themselves primarily to apostolic
activism and revival, and the "lesser sisters" or Poor Ladies devoted
to apostolic lives of contemplative prayer.

Together Francis and Clare (and their followers) became Jesus Christ
to their generation.  Like Him, Francis gave himself over to "great
multitudes" who "came together to hear, and to be healed".  And like
Jesus, Clare withdrew herself "into the wilderness, and prayed". (Lk

The traditional and commonplace dichotomy and tension between activism
and contemplation is not only dumb, it is anti-Christian.  It divides
and cripples and disfigures the Church which is His Body.  That is why
it is of paramount importance to see Francis and Clare as the two
imperative halves of the One whole.  And Clare's half is not in any
way, shape or form second class or inferior.  In other words, she
immolated herself in a prayer house, not because she couldn't be out
travelling and preaching to crowds.  She lived to pray and prayed to
live because that was the reason for her existence, her vocation, her

When Francis was close to going to Heaven, he said, "Now I have done
what is mine to do."  Clare (in her dearest friend's footsteps) was
doing exactly what Jesus Christ had taught her, was hers to do.

I give the "last word" in this ongoing debate to one of Francis' more
unusual "lesser brothers"...Brother Wolf.  For reasons best known to
him, this actual wolf had become the scourge of a particular little
town.  Francis converted and recruited him, and this hairy disciple
went from being an unholy terror to a holy blessing.  Sadly, after
Francis' death Brother Wolf was driven out and away by those who
considered themselves his successors.  Whence the wolf?

Well, he went straight "home" to Clare, and spent the rest of his life
amongst the Poor Ladies.  Brother Wolf slipped easily from apostolic
activism to apostolic contemplation.  How so?  Because he "saw" that
the same unction that had clothed Francis also adorned beautiful
Clare.  Christian activism and contemplation were not for him polar
opposites crying out for mutual exclusion.  He intuited (better than
most of the so-called superior species!) that there must always be two
sides, and only ever One coin.

The life of prayer is not for the disqualified, the disadvantaged, the
stay-at-homes.  It is for those who are so called, and their calling
is just as Heaven-sent, authentic and valid as any vocation to local
church ministry or missions.

"God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of
anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace." (2 Ti

"If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?
You must follow me." (Jn 21.22)

"Light in the Dark Ages", Jon M. Sweeney, Paraclete Press, Massachusetts, 2007
"Writings of Clare of Assisi",

Prayer for All

13 February 2015

"But I prayer." (Ps 109.4)


"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men...For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Ti 2.1-4)


The true contemplative (called to live a life of prayer), will at some early point in their "career" be shaken to the core and cut to the quick by the sure and certain knowledge that they have been "designed" and appointed to pray "for all men".


The grace to pray thus is gifted by the Lord.


"I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications." (Zec 12.10)


According to the Orthodox contemplative, Silouan of Athos (1866-1938), the man who is "obedient and temperate in all things, receives the gift of prayer from the Lord Himself, and prayer continues without difficulty in his heart.


"When the soul stills her passions and grows humble, the Lord gives her His grace, and then she prays for her enemies as for herself, and sheds scalding tears for the whole world."


The brilliant, Carmelite martyr, Edith Stein (1891-1942), was likewise apprehended by and lived this glorious "mystery".  She wrote, "The flood of divine love will be poured into your heart until it overflows and becomes fruitful to all the ends of the earth...You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the Cross.  Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart.  Its precious Blood is poured everywhere soothing, healing, saving."


A more homely exposition of this mystical theology has been left for us by the diminutive, spiritual prodigy, Therese of Lisieux (1873-97).


In her own life of prayer, Therese came to understand that when she "hastened" to God, "all those whom I love come running at my heels".


In prayer, this "little daughter" of Teresa of Avila, plunged herself into the love of Jesus Christ, and "I carry with me all the possessions I have; the souls You have seen fit to link with mine."


More recently, the French "street" contemplative, Raissa Maritain (1883-1960), spoke of "a certain very simple prayer by which we take into our heart those for whom we wish to pray, and then offer this heart to God."


At the very dawn of his own vocation to the monastic life, Thomas Merton (1915-68, USA) explained that he "had wondered what was holding the country together, what was keeping the universe from cracking in pieces and falling apart?"


As a completely "green" novice in the contemplative life, he nevertheless intuited it was that house of prayer he was entering.


"Because of their prayers, the world is spared from minute to minute doom...It is the axle around which the whole country blindly turns."


The theology of this universal and totally ecumenical phenomenon has been most succinctly explained by the prophetical scholar, Karl Barth (1886-1968, Switzerland).  He has pointed out that Christians are in communion with all men, since Christ "prays for all mankind".


"When Christians pray," he said, "they are, so to speak, substitutes for all those who do not pray...They are in communion with them, in the same way as Jesus Christ has made himself one with sinful man and lost humanity."


It was Barth who "coined" the phrase that we "pray through Jesus' mouth"; inasmuch as "he enables us to draw near and be heard".  I would want to press this saying further by asserting that all those who cannot, do not, will not pray, in fact do "cry out" via the lips of contemplatives, even as we ourselves are heard, through our High Priest's holy mouth.


This is a truth, stunning in its own validity and its consequences.  Little wonder the contemplative life so often flummoxes its "supporters", is denied by large tracts of worldly Christendom, and is feared and abhorred by the devil.


At the very least, all of the praying and every prayer of that one who lives to pray, is for all people, in every place, for all time.


By God's grace alone, we are actual, experiential members of "the High Priest of our profession (who) ever lives to make intercession". (Heb 3.1, 7.25)


This is a total nightmare for the enemy, who constantly labours and campaigns to extinguish every flame of prayer wherever it is kindled.  The most unimpressive and "unproductive" contemplative can slam down onto their knees in utter obscurity, "non-existence" and poverty of spirit, stuttering and mumbling, "Lord do not leave me.  Help me!"  But that petition, because of the nature and vocation of the pray-er, will career and bounce and ricochet all around the world, igniting fires of valid and meaningful prayer wherever it touches down.


As remarkable and powerful as this surely is, there is yet a further dimension to contemplative prayer...when the pray-er becomes prayer.  How else to interpret David's heart-cry in Psalm 109 and verse 4:


"But I prayer."


Different versions of the Bible seek to "rationalise" the text:  "But I give myself unto prayer"; "But I am in prayer"; "But I am a man of prayer"?  Nevertheless, the verse is as plain, as it is clear, as it is blunt.


"But I prayer."


Is it really possible for the pray-er to become prayer?  Not only is it possible, but it is a necessity indicated and made possible by the Incarnation.


"And the Word was made flesh." (Jn 1.14, 1 Jn 1.1 and 4.2)


The "embodiment" of the eternal, pre-existent Son was an absolutely crucial step in the salvation of the human race.  The "embodying" of our prayers is now a "given" because of His Incarnation, and it is vital for the fulfillment of His plan of salvation.


In practice and "operation" what does this look like?  Well, ironically it just "looks like" an ordinary, mundane, everyday life.  The authentic, God-called contemplative will pray routinely and recognisably; at the very least they will pray the Psalms at set times of the day and night.  This is the sine qua non (indispensable condition) of the life of prayer; it has been so for millennia, all across the Church, and all around the world.


But it is as much during the hours in between their "scheduled" praying, that the pray-er becomes prayer.  How?  Because their whole life - every aspect, occupation and recreation - is ordained to be prayer.  That is why the apostle of prayer, Benedict of Nursia (6th C) was able to say (as if it was blindingly obvious!), "To pray is to work; to work is to pray."


So, I want to say yet again, it is little wonder the contemplative life (living to pray and praying to live) is loathed and brutally opposed by the adversary.  It is God's strategy to incarnate His grace to pray in us.  Then our most commonplace, ordinary and workaday "doings" are rendered praise and petition, which have the potential to turn away bedlam and wrath from nations, and alter the course of history creatively and for good.


Our current, Western obsession with religious and spiritual significance, impressiveness and productivity has almost completely blinded us to this awesome and dynamic reality.  The barefoot contemplative, silently splitting wet firewood on a frosty morning, is heard at Heaven's Throne.  And their "dumb" cries and mute intercessions are as least as distinct and compelling as those of any man of "the hour", who declaims his erudite and mellifluous intercessions from a floodlit stage.


To say a prayer is good.  To pray is even better.  But, to become a prayer...well now, that's when Heaven comes down upon earth.





"St. Silouan the Athonite" Elder Sophrony, SVS Press 1999.

"The Hidden Life" Edith Stein, ICS Publications -

"The Story of a Soul" Therese of Lisieux, Collins 1958.

"Raissa's Journal" Magi Books 1974.

"The Intimate Merton" A Lion Book 1999.

"Prayer and Preaching" Karl Barth, SCM Press 1964.

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