It has been a long day. I was off early to Lochgilphead as I was a trainer on a course for social workers who are about to participate in our emergency out of hours duty rotas across Argyll. Part of todays task was to look at some child protection issues- including the inevitable photographs of injuries that been inflicted on kids- little boys with cigarette burns on their feet and tiny girls with finger bruises wrapped around their faces. I am always broken a little bit when I see these photographs.
So I should be- but this relates also to my own childhood memories, fractured as they are.
However, in the midst of all this, I had a transcendent moment. Don’t get me wrong- no angels sang, there was no whiff of incense or pure white lights. What I was captured by was the sudden depth of the Kingdom of God- woven through everything, and this thing called the shalom of God. What might it mean to hope for a future in which the lion will lie down with the lamb, and in which all things are made new?
A world in which parents do not damage children, and damaged children do not do damage in turn? A world where love sets the agenda in more things than not?
Come the evening I was sat in a pub with some friends. We have been meeting to discuss a book by Brian McLaren called A New Kind of Christianity. Tonight however we did discuss the book, but I suggested we try to find a way, in the busyness of the public bar, to pray.
I started with something that we had used on an island recently, in the middle of a wilderness with eagles riding the late spring storms over our heads. I thought that if God was there, then he was here too.
- I asked people to find a place of quietness inside themselves- to find a neutral spot on wall or table to look at, and to focus on their breathing
- Next I asked them to listen to the sounds all around them in the pub. The hubbub of conversation, the chink of glasses, the scrape of knives of plates, phones ringing jokes raising burst of laughter. I asked them to notice as many different sounds as possible and acknowledge each one
- Then I asked them to listen again to deeper sounds- the sounds behind the sounds. As we do this, a remarkable thing happens. The hubbub kind of fades and blurs together- it ebbs and flows like the sea, and behind it all are other noises- the hum of all creation. Some people still noticed things like the ringing of a bell on the till, or the footsteps of a lovely friendly waitress
- I then asked people to imagine that the sound behind the sounds was the music of God. God in and through it all, rejoicing in the beauty of us all. Rejoicing in the drinks, the food and the lives being shared. It was not hard to do so.
Next I passed round a pen and paper, and asked people imagine what God might want for all these people in the bar. What might he hope for them. I asked people to write something down, and to fold the paper over so the next person could not see it, then pass it on.
This is what people wrote, in no particular order;
I see your heart and know your sadness and want to bring you my peace.
Peace, hope, love and understanding
And there, with a pint in my hand, it was holy.
I’m back on that island again….. lovely-thanks.
The brokenness of the world breaks my heart, but I feel God’s heart breaks to when he sees the cruelty we inflict on each other.
Fantastic stuff on prayer, God is in all places at all times, all we need to do is tune in – whether on Hebridean Island, a busy pub or a rural country church.
I led a prayer group last night and the most profound part was the five minutes silence we started with…
Well said Andrew- a Catholic friend of mine used to say something like this- “You Protestants never shut up- always telling God his business! When do you ever listen?”