Come and See


At the Bishop of Leicester’s ‘School of Prayer’ event at St Botolph’s, Shepshed this evening we were encouraged to experience 5 different ways of praying.

One way that particularly helped me this evening was praying with scripture.

One of the biblical passages we were given to pray with was John 1:38-39

Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”

They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”

He said to them, “Come and see.”

Meditating on this led me to write the following poem:

You ask me a question

‘What are you looking for?’

I don’t have an answer

Something, someone, help?

I can’t truly say.

Your response to me

Is not an exploration of

My question

But an invitation to experience

Your answer

Come and see.



Remembering that you have forgotten.


There is a fantastic film called Memento. In it the central character is seeking to avenge his murdered girlfriend – so far, so formulaic. The twist in this film is that the man suffers from short-term memory loss, so every time he wakes up he has forgotten everything that happened the day before.

His strategy for coping with this handicap is the use of a notebook, Polaroid photographs and tattoos. When he awakes he looks at the marks on his body which re-tell his story, he looks through his Polaroids and his notes and he works out where he is in his quest and then seeks to move forward.

The plot gets even more complex as things go on, but suffice to say, it is one of those films you need to watch again and again, it is such a brilliantly clever film.

As I thought about this film, and it does make you think, it struck me that there are many resonances between this film and the life of Christian discipleship.

Like the character in the film we are on a quest – not for vengeance but for the re-establishment of the rule of the rightful King over His Creation; we are fifth columnists fighting against an evil usurper, working for his overthrow and the coming of the King.

Unfortunately, like the character in the film, we all too apt to forget about our quest.

I wrote in one of my recent running blogs about how a two word greeting, ‘How do’, triggered a whole flood of memories about my beloved and long-departed grandad. Such unlooked for ‘memory triggers’ are a grace, and quite rare.

If we are not to forget the quest that is the meaning of our lives, we need – like the character in Memento – a strategy to help us remember.

It strikes me that the first stage in remembering is the realization that there is something that you’ve forgotten.

The classic ruse of tying a piece of string around your finger will probably work for helping you remember simple things, like to buy a loaf of bread on the way home from work. However, more complex memories such as the meaning of the universe, your place in it and your task and engagement in the work of deposing the usurper and re-establishing the rightful King on his throne, require a more complex system.

It is for this reason that gathering together is a vital part of Christian discipleship. At these times we help each other remember the meaning of our lives by telling each other the story so far, re-stating the goal of our quest, recounting past battles won and lost, the deeds done.

At our times of gathering the King Himself walks amongst us, dispensing words here and there of encouragement, exhortation, rebuke, challenge, and appreciation. In a real and physical way we meet Him and are strengthened by His presence.

Our King has also left us a manuscript in which He sets out his goals and His means, His battle plan. Our duty as faithful warriors, who want to be as prepared as they can to fight well, is to read and study this text- it is our Bushido text (The Way of the Warrior).

Our King has also given us a system of instantaneous and unlimited communication, through which we have unfiltered and unrestricted access to Him. We can turn to Him at any and every moment, during our communication with Him we attune our thoughts and priorities to His, we attune ourselves to Him.

It is through these three activities of gathering, study and communication that our King is able to enthuse us with His Spirit and to embolden us for the fight.

No successful conclusion to our life of quest will be possible without the disciplined use of these three helps.

The Importance of Silly Prayers

In Joceline’s account of the Life of Saint Kentigern (a.k.a. Mungo) there is a story of the visit paid to the court of Kentigern’s king, Rederech, by a Jester from the court of an Irish king.

This jester appears to have been sent, ostensibly as a favour, but in reality to gather information surreptitiously about Rederech and his kingdom.

The visit goes well. The jester is highly skilled in song and music and his tales and jokes greatly amuse the court during the Christmas holidays.

As the jester prepares his departure after a few weeks, Rederech wishes to express his thanks and appreciation and offers to give him a parting gift.

The jester takes advantage of the situation to play a subtle political game.

When Rederech offers him gold, he replies, “But we already have that in Ireland”.

Silver gets the same response.

As does the offer of fine jewels.

Finally Rederech falls into the trap and asks the jester to suggest his own gift.

To which the jester replies that if Rederech really wants to honour him and to express his appreciation, then he would like a bowl of fresh mulberries.

To which the assembled courtiers burst out laughing, this being a fine joke, as mulberries are a summer fruit and it was the middle of winter.

But the jester insists, no he is serious, he would like to be given a bowl of fresh mulberries.

As the court is dumbfounded and the king at a loss, the jester then walks out.

The king is in a delicate situation, if he is unable to grant the gift then he will lose of face. You can imagine the jokes the jester will tell, “I only asked him for a bowl of mulberries and yet this powerful king was unable to grant my request!”

The king’s honour is at stake and politically this is serious situation.

The king goes to visit Saint Kentigern and explains to him the problem.

Kentigern is uncomfortable about praying for such a trivial thing, yet he senses that somehow it is important to do so.

“The man of God, although he thought that his prayer would not be fitly offered for such trifles as these, knew that the king had a great devotion to God and Holy Church, yet though his eyes beheld his substance which was imperfect, in this case the holy bishop made up his mind to condescend to his petition, hoping that thereby in the future he might advance in virtue.”

Kentigern therefore prays for mulberries and God gives him directions to a place where the king can find a bush that still has fruit on it that is fresh enough to eat.

The outcome of this miracle is, however, very significant.

The king proffers the bowl of mulberries to the jester, giving glory to God who has enabled him to meet the jester’s request.

The jester is shocked, stunned and in awe of this ‘impossible’ fruit and commits himself to Rederech as long as the king wants him to stay.

However, this is not the end of the story. For after serving as court jester for ‘many days’ the jester,

“…renounced the trade of actor, and entering the ways of a better life, gave himself up to the service of God”.

Which all goes to shows us that sometimes it is important to pray ‘silly’ prayers.

In scripture we see prayers prayed for such silly things as that a metal axe head to float on water, that jars of oil and flour would not run out, that sticks might turn into snakes, that handkerchiefs might be able to heal.

All rather bizarre and silly stuff, and yet somehow God uses these requests to bring about some seriously important results.

Rederech’s ‘silly’ prayer led to his own faith and commitment to God being strengthened, to his honour being defended, to the salvation of a court jester and finally to his taking holy orders.

Don’t be afraid, therefore, of praying ‘silly’ prayers.

Who’s Fighting ?


I remember at school that playground fights were great events.

Two boys would fall out, start pushing and shoving each other and immediately a crowd would gather around them, egging them on.  As teachers were always very quick to intervene, a fight had only a very limited lifespan, a minute or two, max.

Within a few seconds there would be a mass of bodies shouting and cheering and two, often rather bemused protagonists, in the middle of the mêlée, wrestling.

If you were slow off the mark, by the time you arrived at the fight, nothing could be seen for the mass of spectators, so the cry would go up for those on the outer edges, “Who’s fighting?”

It struck me in my morning bible reading today that this is an important question for Christians too.

In the story recounted in Exodus 17, the people of Israel have been attacked by the Amalekites. They go out to fight them – fighting for their national survival. As Joshua leads the Israelite army as they fight, Moses and his assistants go up on to an overlooking hill and Moses holds up his hands.

“So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.” (Exodus 17:10-13 NIVUK)

The act of holding up your hands is an external sign of prayer. An indication of a conviction that God is the one on whom the Israelites are relying upon to win this battle.

As Moses’ arms tire, and his hands fall, the Amalekites start to gain the upper hand. As Moses hands are raised, the Israelites prevail.

Both God’s activity and that of Joshua and his army were important. But only God’s was crucial.

God could no doubt have defeated the Amalekites without Joshua; but Joshua was incapable of defeating them without God.

In our lives and our churches how well do we express this truth?

How much of our activity is accompanied by ‘the raising of our hands’? The public expression of our conviction that without God we can achieve nothing?

It is helpful to keep asking ourselves the question, ‘who’s fighting?’ So that we can focus our eyes on the One who leads, guides, strengthens and Who gives the victory.

Christmas – the day the universe changed


We celebrate at Christmas the moment the universe changed!

We celebrate the unveiling of the “momentous possibility”.

Man – spiritually dead, physically dying and eternally doomed – finds himself offered, against logic, against hope, and against expectation, the opportunity for salvation, for restoration and for glorification!

As St. Augustine said,

“Sons of men, how long will you be slow of heart?

Will you not now, after life has come down to you, rise up and live!” (Confessions Book 4 Chapter XII)

Preach it, ‘Gus baby!

At Christmas God broke in to our universe.

Yet He did so in a totally unexpected way.

In a way of unthinkable weakness and fragility. Yet His presence with us, changed everything.

In Christ our hope was born. Once God is present in a situation – there is always hope.

Christmas is certainly a time to celebrate !

But we need to make sure we are celebrating the right thing.

And the right thing to celebrate is this awesome reality of our universe being turned upside down, because now God is with us – Immanuel. And His presence makes anything possible!

What’s more He has now given us a means through which we can invite His presence into specific situations – prayer.

Which is why praying is the most significant act a human being can perform.

What a privilege God grants us, that of inviting the transforming presence of God into situations and into the lives of those around us.

Let us not miss the target in our celebrations this Christmas. Let us not get caught up in the “nonsense” that often obscures the incredible, awesome and wonderful reality – our universe has been transformed. It is now a place of hope !

Real Prayer = Real Me + Real God

The prayer preceding all prayers is

“May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.”

(C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, chp 15)

For prayer to be genuine it needs to be the real me who prays.

This is harder to achieve than might be initially imagined.

As Brennan Manning’s writings show so well, it is often an imposter that intervenes in our spiritual life.

A false self that we construct – to impress others, to impress ourselves, to impress God.

This false self is almost always caused by a failure to believe that God really does love us as we are.

So we construct a false self that we imagine God could love. A self that has no doubts, no dark corners, no fears. A confident, happy, holy self.

A lie.

For real prayer to happen, in fact for any real spiritual life to occur, we need to lay down the lie and learn to be real.

We need writers like Brennan – God rest his soul – to help us understand that we are loved beyond measure.

That nothing we can do can make God move us more. That nothing we can do can make God love us less.

This conviction enables us to come as we really are before God. Exposing our brokenness because we are convinced of our belovedness.

This is the first part of prayer.

The second part is to come in prayer before the real God.

Most of the time we pray to the wrong God.

Our vision and understanding of God is dim and twisted. We create a caricature.

In past ages our tendency was to depict God as a despotic tyrant who loved nothing more than condemning people to hell; who only saved reluctantly those who followed the rules perfectly.

Now the image is inverted. God is seen as a kind of benevolent, indulgent and rather dim-witted old uncle who refuses to notice our faults, who never scolds, who never corrects.

Lewis reminds us again that,

“He (God) must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form He must in mercy shatter.”

And that,

‘The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, “But I never knew before. I never dreamed …”’

We rise understanding how far short of the glorious reality our vision of God is.

No doubt it was in such a moment that Saint Thomas Aquinas said of his theology, “It reminds me of straw”.

On the feast of St. Nicholas [December 6th, 1273] Thomas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologiae unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, “The end of my labours has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.” When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”

(Butler’s Lives of the Saints New Concise Edition, ed. Michael Walsh, 1985, p28)

When the reality of God and the reality of ourselves meet – that is prayer.

Answered Prayer – A sign of God’s blessing or of our frailty?


This morning I was struck by a quote from C.S. Lewis. Happens a lot.

He recounted the testimony of a mature Christian, who said,

“I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous.

But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it.
As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer.

The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic”

This experience gave Lewis pause for thought.

Does God somehow treat badly those very individuals who commit themselves wholeheartedly to Him?

Lewis was forced to remember that the One who loved God best – Jesus – was also the One who experienced the greatest sense of abandonment.

He too, knew His prayers for deliverance in extremis refused.

As He faced death and cried in agony of fear to be saved, He was refused.

Even on the cross He felt Himself abandoned.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

The best of men, in the greatest of need, knew the least comfort.

Lewis acknowledged that,

“There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore.”

All of which should at least awaken us to the possibility that having our prayers answered might not be a sign of our greatness in God, but rather of our littleness.

“If we were stronger we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle”

(Quotes from C.S. Lewis “The Efficacy of Prayer”)