How to grow a prayer life

A sermon of Morning Prayer, 12 July 2020. The readings are for Year A Proper 10, and the service is online here.

In the beginning (and certainly you have heard this before), when the God created everything that is, when God called it into being and named it with a Word, God saw that it was good. When the earth was ready, God created humanity out of it to be cast in the very image and likeness, the shadow and sound, the mirror and the echo of the divine. God declared that this was very good.

You were created out of the earth and out of the Word to be a good and rich medium for the Word, that it might dwell within you, and grow within you, and form you toward the Word of God, in harmony with God’s creative will.

Jesus told a parable to his disciples. It is recorded almost everywhere; it must have been a popular story. It is unusual, because while we are told that Jesus taught in parables publicly and explained them to his disciples privately, conducting open lectures and small group seminars, you might say, it is rare for us to get a glimpse into those more intimate tutorials, when Jesus explains himself.

It is more than probable that we have only one student’s imperfect and incomplete understanding of the mystery of this parable. Parables are not usually so neat, so tightly defined; it is possible that some things have been lost in translation from the original conversation at the feet of the Teacher, Jesus.

But the theme of God’s abundance, of good soil producing more than could be imagined, when the conditions are right and the kingdom of heaven is at hand – that we have heard from Jesus before, and not only from him, but from the prophets who preceded him.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it,

writes Isaiah.

Did you know that this service of Morning Prayer, which we share together Sunday by Sunday when we are unable to gather for the Eucharist; that this and the Noonday Prayer, and Evening, and the end of day service of Compline are appointed for every day in our Book of Common Prayer?

When we recite this prophecy of Isaiah as a prayer during our Daily Offices (it often comes up on a Tuesday or a Friday), we add,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor my ways your ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We who are made in the shadow, in the silver mirror of God’s image, the echo of the Word; we are not God. But we are made of the earth that is the medium of God’s creative Word, and our vocation, our calling, God’s word to us is not to return empty, depleted, like the void before creation, but full of the life that has been lent to us by our Creator.

There are many obstacles, Jesus’ student tells us.

Our soil is corrupted by sin: by greed, racism, superiority, self-righteousness, self-importance. Our soil is poisoned by the effects of sin: by the many attacks on human dignity and sanctity that a person may endure that inhibit their ability to thrive.

Unless we are watered and shaded and cared for, our soil becomes depleted, starved, diseased, burned out. But when we tend to our growth medium, remembering God’s design for us, then in partnership with God’s Word we produce fruit that feeds the world.

There are many good opportunities to feed and nurture the good soil of our souls. We can do so much to improve our understanding of the human dignity of those around us, to strengthen the bonds of affection so as to mirror the image of the Holy Trinity, recognizing our interdependence and our responsibility to be our siblings’ keeper, recognizing our need for the help and love of one another.

We can undertake to study anti-racism, and respond honestly and repentantly to what we learn.

We can practice generosity, of spirit and of resources, remembering to render kindness before blame, to seek mercy as the mirror of God’s justice; to enact feeding miracles and to defy the rationing of life’s resources in order to reflect God’s abundance and grace.

We can do this by paying attention to the word that God has sown within us at our creation, the word of God that is so very good; by nurturing it and feeding it and watering it and giving it shade and sunlight, so that it doesn’t get burned out of us, and so that our spirits, enlivened by the breath of God, might not grow too weary for words; so that the knowledge of God’s presence within us and among us might grow to give us shade and rest.

Last time our Vestry met (which we will do again tomorrow), we discussed how our pandemic response has to move from one of emergency management and reactivity to one of planned sustainability. We have been transplanted into a new and enduring reality. We know now that this new situation will last longer than any of us imagined at the beginning. If we are not to be choked up by the troubles or cares of the world, we need to take care of the soil of our souls, and the loam of our lives, if we are to continue as good mediums for God’s Word.

God comes to us in prayer, like the rain or the morning dew, and will not leave until God’s purpose for us, God’s love for us, has succeeded.

I mentioned that the Office of Morning Prayer is appointed and provided for daily in our BCP. There are many ways to create a regular rhythm of prayer. I sometimes use a podcast from Forward Movement. You can use the Book of Common Prayer and a Bible to find the readings and psalms for each day. You can use the shortened services – a minute or two – Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, and add a Bible reading each day. If you’d like, I can put together a brief tutorial on how to find your way around the Daily Office, or drop off a BCP at your home. You might choose a brief prayer in the morning, and a fuller Evening Prayer when you have more leisure after work. There are any number of daily inspirational readings and prayers available. You can simply set an alarm to remind you, once or twice a day, to rest in God’s shadow.

However you take care of your prayer life, you have help; whether from the resources of our prayerbook and podcasts, or from conversations with friends and mentors from the church or from other aspects of your spiritual lives; always from the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. I am always available by appointment to meet safely or to talk by phone, to pray with you, as I hope you pray for me.

In all of this, as you work the soil of your soul, do not be afraid of the weeds or the heat or the evil one. For God meets us in our prayer, and it is God who says,

… my word … that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God is working in us, and through us, and with us; and God’s purpose for us is, as it ever has been, very good.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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2 Responses to How to grow a prayer life

  1. what beautiful writing!!

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