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BAREFOOT PRAYERS: A meditation a day for Lent and Easter – Stephen Cherry

July 21, 2015

BPThis book was written for Lent, though I read it during ordinary time – but that’s OK because the author admits: Let me come clean. This collection of prayers, some of which are more poetic than others, was not written for Lent. It was not written for publication. It was not even written as a collection. And yet there is a common theme.

The introduction to this book reminds me of Ann and Barry Ulanov’s ‘Primary Speech’ – especially ‘when we drop something heavy on our foot and hear ourselves spitting out an exclamation we are not proud of. So it is with prayer from the heart, prayer in the Spirit. It has to be, for it is only in this way that we give voice to rough protestation, raw praise and unfettered lamentation. True prayer is necessarily unguarded and unrefined. It is rough and raw’ though it is nowhere mentioned in the footnotes.

Despite OFSTED’s attempt to do so: The word ‘spirituality’ is a highly attractive one: infinitely more attractive than ‘religion’ and more liberating than ‘prayer. To pin it down by definition is perhaps to miss the point of the word, to forget why the word itself is so compelling today. It is about the undefinable, the untameable, and the unorganiz­able. ……The paradox involved here is well expressed by Robert Llewellyn, who talks about the value, when dealing with distrac­tions in prayer, of two sentences: ‘Do not try to think’ and ‘Do not try not to think’.

On fulfilment: Christianity’s disagreement with Maslow is most intense at the very top of the pyramid. To frame life as the pursuit of ‘self-actualization’ is far too individualistic and, to be blunt, selfish to square with Christian values in general and the gospel of Jesus Christ in particular. At the top of the Christian pyramid is not self-actualization but self-giving. What exactly that is and why it is more than fulfilling is something that is hard to explain — something we only realize through spiritual intuition and faithful and generous living.

Insightful: What the Psalms achieve over and above the hymns and songs is to remain in touch with the wildness of the grace of God and the actual pain of the human soul. They do so in ways that are not tidied up to fit in with the disciplines of metre or rhyme or to sound nice when sung in worship.

A good poem, it is said, is felt, is experienced, before it is understood. In this way a poem is like a person. We can enter into a relationship with it, finding it unfathomable and inex­haustible and irreducible. A poem is not a code. It is the shape and sound as well as the meaning of the words of which it is made. Poetry is language understood sacramentally: it conveys not just meaning but grace, and therefore speaks of plenitude and peace.

Some resonant examples:

 Shrove Tuesday

Feast

I go to the store cupboard looking for eggs and memories.

They need to be broken and beaten,

blended with flour, left to stand.

I heat a pan, hot,

very hot.

The batter spreads thin

and quickly browns

at the edges.

Choosing the moment I

make my move:

toss it, flip it, turn it over,

deftly.

A few more seconds and it is done.

Sugared and soured, it is ready for the feast . . .

that initiates the fast.

the long, slow,

rambling fast, the

wilderness fast,

the map-less fast where no

recollection can find the way ahead.

All the more reason, then, to

travel light

to leave my bags

at the station,

to lose my property,

to empty the pantry of its

tinned regrets, its

bottled remorse, its

mildewed mass of mistakes.

No point curating this lot, or carting it about any more. Let me throw it all away, deftly.

 Ash Wednesday

Repentance
Walking into the ocean

the cold bites toes and ankles.

Sand is ripped from footprint

in the ebb and flow of surf

even at an inch’s depth.

Pushing on, each wave becomes a body blow, a

thud on the belly

a crash on the chest.

The eighth, the biggest, pushes me

back a pace or two.

Best to lunge over or

dive under, through

water, suspended sand and murky foam.

This is what it is to face

the One who was and is and is to come. This is what it is to face the Creator who comes in Spirit and storm.

Yet:

if this is what it is to face,

maybe I am facing wrongly.

In the surf there is no

question. The journey out allows the return;

what seemed like infinite

resistance, is now propelling power.

Iet me turn my back,

not in disrespect, but in true alignment; and speed me along the new forward, my old backward.

“On a journey we know we need,

sooner or later,

to find somewhere to sit…

Standing will suffice for a little while…

But when we travel a long way…

we need a seat…

Thank God for sitting places…”

what the author terms ‘barefoot prayer’—prayer in and after the silence, a place of humility where we meet our vulnerability before God.

Nature is beautiful, but does it care.  This is from Barefoot Prayers.

A Heart of Grace

The more insistent the birdsong,
the more powerful the scent of flowers,
the more majestic the tree
expansive in its own space
solid in its own root
luxuriant in its own branches, twigs and leaves,
the more active the insects,
the more webs the spider spins –
the more indifferent nature appears.

Rain falls on the just
and the unjust.
Sun shines on the good and the evil.
Broken leg or arm,
cracked rib
punctured lung
all mean nothing to the tree

from which I fell.
Heartless is the shattering glass,
the collapsing wall,
the quaking earth.
Care-free the blackbirds outside the open-window
where the one who cannot sleep for pain
lies lonely in distress.

So make in us a heart that cares;
that sees
feels,
holds,
bleeds,
breaks and
rages in concert with others.

Make in us a heart that
hurts and
heals, that
shares and
saves the suffering from
the loneliness of natural life.

Take from us the heart of stone,
the heart of flesh.
Give us the heart of
grace.

Hatred

Sometimes it happens.
I respond
as I should not.
I react.
I tense up.
I go hot or, maybe,
cold.

When I have seen carelessness or
cruelty or the
abuse of power or
arrogance in action
And I have seen people hurt.
People like me.
Even me.

To call it anger is true – but
it is more than anger.
Anger is like an espresso
bitter, short and with a kick that
enlivens.

This is something stronger. It is
Hatred.
Yes, capital ‘H’.
It is a bitter cup, to be sure.
But it is long and its effects are slow.

Hatred.
It has found a home in me.
Wormed its way through my better self
and into my soul to lay its poisonous
parasitical spawn.

I feel it growing.
I feel it gnawing.
I feel it rising within.
It controls my heartbeat.
It sours my countenance.
It grips my voice, making some things
impossible to say;
adding a sneer where a smile is needed.

Deliver me of this pernicious pregnancy
of my person.
Break its grip on my
vitality.
Smash its growing control of
my being.
Deal violently with this hatred of mine.
Turn it against itself.
Let it rant if it must.

Take its force O Thou,
crucified one.
Take its dark, dark passion.
Take its pain with each damned nail.
Impale it on your tree.
Let the ones I hate go free.
Teach us how to live in thee.

‘May this day be blessed.’
I do not know what that means
in advance.

I am asking for happiness,
but not for anything superficial.

‘May this day be blessed.’
I hope it will be indeed.
But how?

I am asking for a visit of grace,
but not for anything disruptive.

‘May this day be blessed.’
If it is, it will not be by my effort,
but by my acceptance.

I am asking for openness,
the capacity to receive.

‘May this day be blessed.’
As was yesterday,
though I am not sure how.

Let my eye see backwards
and notice the blessing that was.

‘May this day be blessed.’
I am confident that it will be.

My prayer is not for anything more,
simply to see and feel and know.

‘May this day be blessed.’
Not in the anticipation but
in the living.

‘May this day be blessed.’
Not by what I give or receive,
but in what I see and feel.

‘May this day be blessed.’
And may I be part of the blessing.

As the sun climbs above the hill, to show itself in blinding light and warming heat; so you appear in our heart after the long night of darkness.

In darkness I have slept, and in the cold shivered; I know my ignorance and fear, I am alone in the cosmos.

Before the dawn the birds were roused; calling to wake the earth, singing hope, insisting on the coming of day.

I heard them not; I rested long in my fear. I trembled to be alone.

The stars returned to their place, invisible beyond the heavens; driven back by the coming of the sun.

The beasts retired to their lairs; their fear was of the coming day, to be exposed by the coming of the light.

Within plants the sap began to flow; the first light of dawn touching the green to life.

With the full light of sun the green is bright; the air cleaned by the growing.

How happy are they who see the dawn; those for whom night is gone.

How happy are they who feel the warmth of the sun; those who know its strength will sing.

How happy are they who greet the day, with faith and health restored; they will do your will.

Dawning God, dispel all the thoughts and fears of night, and give us, with your creation, refreshment and renewal, that we might this day reflect your light into the lives of others.

Hospitality

 Never take from us that vaguely anxious

curiosity we feel when we

behold a new face,

hear a new name,

when we give attention to someone unknown.

Give us keen interest

in whatever stories and storms lie within the one who is new to us, and let that interest become respect, and the respect flower as

reverence.

Let us bow before whatever triumphs and wounds, hurts and guilts,

mistakes, misadventures and madnesses make this stranger unknown and yet knowable, unlikely yet likeable.

O Christ! Many found you to be strange,

and yet the most vulnerable found healing and

peace in your presence.

Make friends of us

that we might be ready friends to strangers

as strange as ourselves.

On pastoral listening:

When I am listening to others, let me

use my eyes, my heart.

Let me hear tone of voice, inflection,

hesitation.

Give me the calm that winkles the

stammering thought from the frightened tongue….

When reading, slow me down, on screen

or page, from book or report.

Let me imagine the writer, in haste or in deep thought;

rushing

it off or editing carefully and with sorrow.

Give me some sense of what lies

behind the passage I see.

Let my eyes read between the lines,

around the words, above

and below the paragraphs.

Maybe before preaching?

It’s my turn to speak today.

And I am certain of two things.

That I will feel underprepared.

That I will be inclined to say too much.

Moderate my anxieties.

Consolidate my thoughts.

Calm my mind and let

the words come along in an orderly but not entirely

predictable fashion.

Spare them my more banal, self-indulgent, flippant or half-baked thoughts.

Keep me from rant, cant and claptrap.

Let my words be authentic and true, heartfelt and clear.

Let them be like opening curtains, clearing mist, ripening fruit,

refreshing rain.

Let them be the cause of someone else’s flourishing.

On Praying the News

 I am struggling.

I am struggling to hold what I have heard and seen.

Daily I am assailed by news;

daily I struggle to absorb it, to drink the cup of other people’s suffering.

Teach me how to hear the news; show me how to respond.

For a while my heart grows hot, my mind moves on. I am left with feelings I cannot name.

I am not covered with anger or roused to rage; my tears are not shed. I fail in sympathy.

Yet there is a simmering shame, a vague guilt; not a sword, but a blunt saw hacking at my soul.

Let me lament the sorrow I see! Let me rage at routine injustice!
Let my inner eye run with tears: when I see the hungry, when I hear of violent death, when peace talks fail.

Let my inner eye run with tears: when I hear of natural disaster, when I see storm or flood, when the endangered become extinct.

Let my inner eye run with tears: when I see corruption, when I hear of deceit, when justice cannot be done.

But let my soul sing:

when I hear of courage and creativity; when I see adversity overcome; when the story is of sacrifice and service.

Let me attend to the depth of the news.

Let me resonate with the reality it both reveals and hides.

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