Jeremy Cain, Community Participation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, wonders what prayer’s all about.
Prayer is central to what CAFOD does- we believe that through it we are connected to our sisters and brothers overseas. But how, exactly, does this work?
I’ve come across a pretty good description recently in a book called “With Open Hands” by the Dutch priest Henri J.M. Nouwen. What he says is this:
“To pray is to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God…’
When you pray, you discover not only yourself and God, but also your neighbour. For in prayer, you profess not only that people are people and God is God, but also that your neighbour is your sister or brother living alongside you. For the same conversion that brings you to the painful acknowledgment of your wounded human nature also brings you to the joyful recognition that you are not alone, but that being human means being together.
At precisely this point compassion is born…Compassion is daring to acknowledge our mutual destiny so that we might move forward, all together, into the land which God is showing us.”
I like this, and think it’s true, but it doesn’t give you much in the way of hands-on practical advice. In an interview in 2009, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams shared his understanding of how we should pray for each other:
“A great Church of England writer of the twentieth century writing to a friend said, ‘I’m going to spend ten minutes just thinking about you and Jesus’, and I think that’s a brilliant definition of intercessory prayer. You don’t send in your list of requests or bombard God with your demands. You just hold the image and sense of a person or situation in the presence of God as if you want to let the one seep into the other. The bringing together of those two realities in your mind and heart is very much how I find intercession works…the reality is just to let God into the situation to hold it there. That’s the bottom line.”
You’ll have noticed that both of these approaches are quite internal and contemplative; it seems that when we pray like this we are most open to God and to our neighbour. But it can help to have something to draw us into that prayer, to give ourselves a focus or a signpost. That’s where CAFOD’s prayer resources can come in handy. We have a whole range of prayers and reflections on global justice and poverty, written by our supporters as well as by our theology team. I’d encourage you to take a look.