Silence is Golden

Forum on Silence from St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow on Vimeo.

Somehow I managed to forget to publish this video on the blog but it is worth taking a look. It came from a forum conversation that I had with the Vice Provost, Cedric Blakey the other week.

The point of this was to have a public chat about the way Cedric prays. One of the odd things about church is that individuals very rarely talk about their own personal spirituality and I was grateful to Cedric for being so open to having this discussion.

We talk about this and also about:

  • whether God dictates answers to us
  • how breathing is integral to prayer
  • how to teach someone to pray
  • if you fall asleep whilst doing breathing exercises is that a sign of it working?
  • do single people need to spend time in silence?
  • how silence is golden.

The video is a fairly short forum conversation – just 20 minutes.

Do you believe that God intervenes in the world?

I was asked a really good question on Twitter last night. It was this:

@thurible As the most knowledgeable and wise Christian I follow, can I ask you a question? Do you believe god intervenes in the world?

I gave a quick answer, but it might be worth my saying a bit more about it on here without the constraints of twitter’s 140 character limit.

Stepping with a blush over the comments about my own knowledgeability and wisdom, here’s the answer that I gave.

there does not seem to be much evidence of direct intervention…However, God does seem to affect the world through the activities of God’s people.

This led to the following question, which is also a good one:

@thurible so do you ever pray for healing or anything like that?

It seems to me to be obvious that God does not intervene in the way that atheists always want to mock Christians for believing in. After all, if God was in the business of rearranging the molecules in someone’s body to miraculously free them from cancer, for example, then surely God would go the whole hog and eliminate cancer itself in a puff of divine altruism?

Do I believe that God changes the world because I pray? – I don’t think that I do in the sense that I don’t think that God is helpless to act unless I add my prayers to the pile. That just doesn’t make much sense to me.

Yet, the answer to the question – “do I pray for healing?” is unequivical. Yes, of course I do.

So what is going on?

It seems to me that the business of prayer is part of being human. It seems to be part of the human experience to tell someone one cares about that one will be thinking about them at a particular moment or because of a particular sense of love or care. When I do that in a religious context, I’m holding that person in my mind in the presence of God. It matters to me to be able to do so and it clearly matters to other people (and they say it makes a difference to them) to know that I’ve done so.

Do I pray for magic? Do I cast a spell?

No, I don’t think so. I think I am simply holding that person, with the greatest of care, with the greatest of love that I can find within myself, in the light of Christ – the holiest, most thoughtful, most gentle mental place I know.

Now, Christians differ about these questions. Some people clearly do believe that God answers prayers in a more mechanical way than I believe. Some people want to leave themselves open to that possibility even if they don’t experience that every day.

It is a pity that we didn’t learn from being able to hold these fundamental differences about prayer amongst us that we could hold fundamental differences about sexuality amongst us. However, the days for doing that are probably over. The sexuality argument is now a battle royale in society and a winner takes all argument. Those opposed to LGBT rights seem to me to be daily losing the right to be thought to hold that view with any sense of compassion and public integrity. Once upon a time I would have said that we needed to learn to live together with our differences. Now though, I think it is probably the case that even that notion – that it is OK for me to support people in their negativity is as unacceptable in society as arguing that it is OK for people to be racist in private. It isn’t and I think we all know that.

However, I digress a litte. Back to prayer.

Do I believe in prayer. Yes I do.

Do I think that prayer is about me getting God to do things – well no I don’t.

Do I think I am changed by prayer – yes I do. Prayer may be about getting me to do things but more often it is about getting me to sit still.

Do I think the world is changed by God’s praying people – yes, again I do.