An Anthology on Prayer Part One
by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
What is Prayer?
Does prayer work?
Over the next weeks you will hear from, poets, theologians, authors, musicians, pastors and leaders from Social Justice platforms.
These posts will be done in the form of an anthology, which is a collection of writings or poems. In this post, ‘An Anthology on Prayer Part One’ we will be hearing from: Dr John Drane, Nicole Conner and Cameron Semmens.
The last two decades for me have been years of un-learning. I was raised in a pentecostal fundamentalist cult. When I left the cult in 2000 I attended the pentecostal Mega Church. During that time I studied Theology at Tabor College. One of the hardest and healthiest things I have done.
I say this because we all look at life through the prisms and perspectives. The way we have been raised usually has a big influence upon us. My perspective was, in the past, very myopic, narrow and mostly driven by fear. There were many rules and certainties around my faith. I have now come out into a larger space and am certainly more reflective and open about God and His relationship with us in this world. I am less dogmatic and less certain. In fact the more I know the more I realise I don’t know.
In this season of sifting, one of the topics I have been re-visiting is Prayer.
I am letting God out of His box now. I want to hear from a range of people who view life and faith from different angles.
Along with this season of unlearning has been a growing suspicion of leaders. I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe that generally as a society we have all felt let down by pastors, politicians, sporting heroes and civic leaders.
Who do we go to for answers when there is such a feeling of disconnection? Who can we trust?
There are still several people on the planet that I hold in high regard and whom I trust to speak their hearts with integrity. So I decided to enlist their help on this topic. I contacted a dozen or so of my trusted friends, colleagues and mentors and asked them for their perspective on prayer. They come from all walks of life.
Rev. Dr John Drane is a gift to me and I am very grateful for his input on this topic. John is a theologian who is probably best known for his two best-selling books on the Bible, Introducing the Old Testament and Introducing the New Testament. Among many other things John is founder of the religious studies program at the University of Stirling, Scotland. He is also appointed to teach Practical Theology in the Divinity School at the University of Aberdeen. Currently a self-employed consultant working with churches of many different denominations throughout the United Kingdom as well as internationally.
An adjunct professor in New Testament and Practical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, a visiting scholar at Spurgeon’s College in London and a visiting Fellow of St John’s College, Durham. John is also an ordained minister and well-known throughout the UK and western world for his academic contributions.
If you wish to follow John you can do so on his YouTube channel John Drane
These are the two questions that I asked them all to consider:
1: What is Prayer?
2: Does Prayer Work?
What is Prayer?
Prayer is an attitude or environment when we live in conscious awareness that we are surrounded by the presence of the divine in every moment of life. Martin Luther didn’t say that prayer is work, but that work is prayer – and so is (or can be) everything else.
Sometimes that awareness of God comes unexpectedly out of the blue, at other times it’s about making space for it intentionally. Prayer can be a sense of awe and wonder in the face of something or somebody beyond ourselves, at other times it can be words and actions. Conversations, listening as well as speaking.
First and foremost though it’s an openness to ourselves, to others, and to God. Jesus pretty much summed it up with talking about loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, which is a pretty holistic vision.
Does it ‘work’?
Depends what you mean by ‘work’.
Researchers have concluded that living in an attitude of prayerfulness can improve your health and help you live longer, and there’s evidence from the Harvard prayer project that suggests being prayed for by others can improve your chances of recovery from serious illness.
There’s a lot we don’t understand, and though prayer never seems to get us the parking spaces that others claim, we would say that yes, prayer does work – in all its many forms.
A bit from Nicole: Perhaps what you need to know about me is that I am a story-teller. I love stories. I always have. I have devoted my life to stories – as a writer and public speaker I believe stories can change the world. Nicole brings three decades of experience in speaking and training about topics such us spirituality, liminality, social justice, volunteerism and theological perspectives.
Check out her blog: Reflections of a Mugwump
Nicole is one of my trusted and closest friends.
What is Prayer?
My prayer journey has changed over the years – it has changed in accordance with my understanding of who God is. I can apply this to Richard Rohr’s thoughts about first and second half of life – in some way we frantically build structure and meaning in the first half – it is about ego, image and success.
As we enter the threshold or liminal space into what contains our second half we begin to deconstruct, hold paradox and mystery. God is mystery and God is love – my prayer life centres around this.
All that preamble to say that I no longer see prayer as earning some invisible brownie points with God – I believe in ritual but only because it ties into the rhythm of life. My prayer ritual is taking certain moments every day and breathing and recognising God who is all in all – it includes silence, contemplation, listening and spoken word. These rituals for me are enhanced in spaces of natural beauty – but that is not always possible depending on where I find myself throughout the day.
Does prayer work?
It’s a great question and one that triggers me back to my frantic first half where I made all sorts of promises to people about prayer using my privilege of dominant platform voice. The question is what do we mean by ‘does prayer work’? Work what?
And let’s consider our answer as a global citizen … with thousands and thousands of desperate human prayers asking for safety, food, liberation from horrific acts of violence.
I think prayer works when we begin to stop seeing prayer as a spiritualised form of our Christmas wish list that we were privileged to construct in our often dominant, wealthy, insular culture and context. Prayer works perhaps when we recognise our responsibility in what it means to see the ‘kingdom come’ … and this often means letting go, living sustainably, saying no, and making a rich contribution in the issues of justice.
Cameron Semmens is a 2 times broken-hearted, award-winning performance poet, poetry educator and book designer. He’s got 21 books to his name and 4 spoken word albums. His most recent book, ‘Get Poor Quick through Poetry – 101 super easy steps to obscurity, disappointment and straight-up cashlessness’, luckily has only sold 82 copies, so it’s keeping well within his hopes and expectations.
Some call Cameron ‘a connoisseur of fine words’; others call him ‘dad’ (specifically his two little kids); and still others call him on the phone to chat about his writing workshops, or performing, or commissioning a poem, or just being arty.
He lives amidst the foggy ferny forests of The Dandenong Ranges, and can often be found in cafés head-down, fingers-a-blur dreaming up words to move, inform and discombobulate.
He’s been drawing a lot lately… with Indian ink and a falcon feather quill. This seems to be developing into a new artistic expression, but it’s still a bit too early to call. Listen to his podcast ‘Shards – The 1 Poem Podcast of Cameron Semmens’ and check out www.webcameron.com
Cameron never fails to bring joy and hope to my life. He is a rare human and his view on the world is one that I cherish.
Answer 1: Like a Wave Veiled With Spray Rushing to Her Groom
is the only true
to the bloody edge of your body,
where skin becomes see-through
and only membranes of thought hold you in
– there –
you have a chance of seeing
– there –
you may see
how a hand may be perfectly placed
to the very edge of this moment;
the closest you can get to the future
before you become
(or one hundred thousand years from now)
– here –
pressing hard against potential
with hammering hope
and storm-front love;
– here –
you might just see things
beyond any known horizon;
and you might just
and impossibly connected.
is the only true
Answer 2 : How to Build a Permanent Sandcastle
Prayer doesn’t work;
it isn’t off makin’ a buck;
it is always at play;
toying with our oh-so-serious priorities;
it is a sly-eyed larrikin
in the poised and pretty shop-front display
of this-season’s fashionable importances.
Listen to the bloodied lips of a heartbreak.
Listen the shag-pile rug
frayed and flattened with our living.
Don’t stop listening to all the world around you –
it is all at play;
it is all in prayer.
Like the chubby hand of a toddler
patting firm the crumbling walls of a sandcastle
with waves surging at its oyster shell gates –
is every beautiful, bumbling attempt
to ‘build up’
in the face of certain oblivion.
Play for me.
Oh God, please,
play for me!
To be honest, reading and re-reading these thoughts makes me very teary. “Wham right between the eyes”, I am hit with the reality of answered prayer. These amazing friends of mine who I love and who am privelaged to do life with are answered prayer to me.
I designed this series because I was struggling with prayer, what it was and was it real. I now feel held, blessed and a little humbled. Thank you dear hearts.
Stand outs for me:
Prayer can be a sense of awe and wonder in the face of something or somebody beyond ourselves – John.
As I just explained, I have recieved answered prayer in the faces of my friends. Totally unexpected. Thank you.
Let’s consider our answer as a global citizen … with thousands and thousands of desperate human prayers asking for safety, food, liberation from horrific acts of violence. – Nicole
I constantly struggle with this. I am praying that my son suceeds in a job interview whilst somewhere in the world a child is sold into sex slavery. Prayer is not a Christmas wish list. Prayer changes US. Profound
Prayer doesn’t work; it isn’t off makin’ a buck; it is always at play.
Seriously I have read this and laughed at least 12 times. Ahh Cam you always make me laugh with the truth. A rare gift. Prayer isnt off making a buck. Lol…….. It is always at play. Let’s not forget to play and to live in moments of mirth and wonder.
What resonated with you?
I hope you are blessed by this as much as I have been.
Stay tuned for Part Two next week.
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