“Prayers are tools…for being”

“Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.” These are words of the legendary biblical interpreter, teacher, and pastor Eugene Peterson. Frustrated with the unimaginative way he found his congregants treating their Bibles, he translated it himself, and that translation has sold millions of copies around the world. Eugene Peterson’s down-to-earth faith hinges on a love of metaphor and a commitment to the Bible’s poetry as what keeps it alive to the world.
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This is Krista Tippett’s introduction to her “On Being” conversation with Eugene Peterson. The audio and transcript of the conversation can be found here.

I like Peterson’s insistence on bringing out the poetry of the Bible to let it work imaginatively in our minds and bodies.

I also like the idea of ‘prayers as tools’. In my context, everyone is using tools in their practice of science, engineering, medicine, and art and design. So I also like the idea that ‘prayers are tools’ – focused, applied, and with a process.

Yet because prayers lead us through silence, imagination, and the unconscious towards God they will only ever be ‘tools for being and becoming’.

Note on Practice: Lectio Divina

I guess this imaginative process prayer that lets scripture engaging our mind and body is why many students and staff in our Christian Meditation group respond so positively to Lectio Divina.

Lectio is a method of slow reading meditation. The method starts with reading the passage slowly three or four times while asking the question ‘What am I most drawn to in this passage today – what word or phrase attracts me most?’

We then ‘sit with the phrase’ turning it over and over and noticing what arises as we do this. After a while, we move to silent conversational prayer. Finally we drop all pondering and reflecting and simply sit quietly. Contemplation.


Knowing the ways of silence

A conversation at the European Chaplains’ Conference sent me back to reading RS Thomas the Welsh poet and Anglican priest. Here is one of his poems that caught my eye during this month of seeking silence in daily life.

(The blog program wont let me use tabs and spacings to give the original line layout – which has some unusual gaps – hints at silence maybe?)

The Presence by RS Thomas

I pray and incur
silence.Some take that silence
for refusal.
I feel the power
that,invisible,catches me
by the sleeve,nudging
towards the long shelf
that has the book on it I will take down
and read and find the antidote
to an ailment.

I know its ways with me ;
how it enters my life,
is present rather
before I perceive it, sunlight quivering
on a bare wall.
Is it consciousness trying
to get through ?
Am I under
regard ?
It takes me seconds
to focus, by which time
it has shifted its gaze,
looking a little to one
side, as though I were not here.

It has the universe
to be abroad in.
There is nothing I can do
but fill myself with my own
silence, hoping it will approach
like a wild creature to drink
there, or perhaps like Narcissus
to linger a moment over its transparent face.


for those who donate their bodies to medical education

DSC_0872We have just been as an ecumenical and multi-faith team to  the service to give thanks for the people who have given their bodies for medical education, research and training.This year over 450 people who have died donated their bodies to Schools of Medicine and Anatomy in London and the South East.

Southwark Cathedral was packed out with family and friends of those who have died – many having to stand around the pillars and at the back.

I was there with my colleagues. Rikke was representing the Lutheran Church as well as Imperial. We were joined for the first time by our Buddhist colleague Karuna. We all sat together with the other Chaplains for the simple but very moving service. The key event is the singing of a beautiful funeral liturgy composed by John Taverner. During this medical students slowly carry a large basket of flowers through the congregation and lay it at the foot of the altar. The students also walk  passed tables full of photographs of those who have died.

The bodies are used to teach anatomy to medical and dental students. When this is over, after one or two years, Chaplains conduct funeral services.

Donation in this way is a very generous act, without which it would not be possible to educate and train doctors. It also makes great demands on family and friends who have to wait for such a long time before being able to lay to rest the remains of people they have loved.


Love could not bear that – after Boston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many, many others I’ve been reflecting on the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the events that followed.

Last Summer I spent a week in the Boston area visiting Chaplains.  So I could recall the places around Copley Square where the marathon ended.

During my visit I met with Cameron Partridge, Episcopalian Chaplain at Boston University. Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from BU was one of the people killed in the Marathon Bombing.

I also spent a sunny day at MIT with  Kari-Jo Verhulst the Lutheran Chaplain. Sean Collier from the MIT police was shot and killed by  alleged bombers.

One of the issues in any response to violence and terror  is how to regard those who commit violence and atrocity. The acts were horrific and need to be named accurately. However, we have also seen the unwelcome and unacceptable demonising of Muslims and other minority groups.

Thinking about this backlash phenomenon I came across this short blog piece called ‘Love could not bear that’. It draws on an old Christian story that warns against projecting our own inner conflicts and violence onto others. It is from a source of orthodox Christian stories that were new to me.

It has another  contemporary message for Christians who feel they always need  some group to be ‘against’. But I will let you read that for yourselves.

Thanks to Rev Michael K. Marsh, a priest of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Texas for his blog ‘Interrupting the Silence’.