Silent prayer and sustaining community
‘For God alone my soul waits in silence’ (Psalm 62)
‘There is greater comfort in silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present... a seed of fire whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from becoming an abyss.’ (Thomas Merton, 1952)
‘What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.’ (Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue, 1981)
Diocese of Ely
Our Diocese is providing plenty of information in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including prayers and worship material, as well as links to mental health guidance:
Alongside this, the Diocese also has a range of material on ‘Growing in Faith’, including ‘Growing as a Disciple’, Way of Life, ‘Everyday Faith’ and ‘Growing in Prayer’, among others, to be recommended: https://www.elydiocese.org/growing-in-faith/
Ely Cathedral, alongside a number of parish churches, are providing resources online, including worship, prayer, reflections and other links: https://www.elycathedral.org/
Prayer Development Days 2023
A ministry training day for clergy & LLMs in the Diocese of Ely as people & leaders of prayer and mission.
Download the flyer here
Book on to a session here
Church of England
The Church of England is similarly providing information, guidance and support: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches
This complements the Common Worship Daily Prayer resources, and used by many people: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer
And whilst the form of prayer may need to be different this year, plans for Thy Kingdom Come are clearly still very relevant to this time of COVID-19. There is a dedicated page on their website, with ‘Creative ideas to help your church. https://www.thykingdomcome.global/
The Retreat Association
People may also find helpful resources via the Retreat Association website, with a dedicated section on ‘Online Retreats and Resources for Challenging Times’: http://www.retreats.org.uk/online-resources.php . Other local Retreat Houses are listed in another section of our website.
Some people also find it helpful to access worship from a range of religious communities, traditional or new monastic, including:
The resources of the Jesuit Community, including their ‘Pray as you Go’ website are mentioned in many places, and lots of people find this helpful in their daily meditation:
There are also resources from ‘Contemplative Outreach’ and their ‘Centering Prayer app’, as well as materials from the ‘World Community of Christian Meditation’:
Ways of Praying
At the heart of our invitation to deeper prayer is, for our Diocese, the practise of ‘Dwelling in the Word’, and we would encourage the prayerful reading of the Bible generally, as well as dedicated intercession, and the use of silent meditation in different forms. Below is material on different ways of praying, that some might find helpful, producing by our Weeks of Accompanied Prayer team:
Here are some suggestions for different ways of praying – some may be familiar but others may be new to you – but most importantly remember that there is no right or wrong way to pray. There are as many ways of praying as there are individuals. A wise comment reminds us “pray as we can, not as we can’t”. Only God can teach us to pray!
There are many on line resources to help with prayer:
“Be still and know that I am God” – Stilling Exercises
Many people all over the world have found that it is helpful to still their minds and bodies in preparation for prayer. Simple exercises can bring us to the stillness in which we can be attentive to God's presence.
Sit on your chair – keep your back straight but with your body relaxed, and feet flat on the ground – either choose to close your eyes or focus on a point ahead of you or eg a candle – gradually become aware of the different parts of the body starting with the head and working down – as you silently name the different parts pay attention to that area - maybe tense those particular muscles and then feel the change when you consciously relax them again - face….neck…shoulders…arms…if you feel uncomfortable or get an itch, just acknowledge the discomfort and without actually moving, return your attention to where you were ……move on to the core of your body …the chair on which you are sitting… legs… and then feet…until you feel connected to the ground…. You Lord are the ground of our being; you are with and in us and call us to be here
There are other ways of becoming ‘centred’, for example (i) through a focus on your breathing – just notice it but don’t try to change it. Feel the air entering your nostrils – how does it feel? Breathe in God’s love and life, and breathe out anything that separates you from that love.
Or (ii) Focus on the sounds you can hear – Are they near or far away, soft or loud? They are all part of God’s wonderful creation and the life all around us. Gently let them fade from your conscious mind. Be still and know that I am God.
These guidelines are from the Contemplative outreach website or app (see above), and there are variations in the method of Centering prayer or contemplative prayer, according to different traditions and practices; another being the Eastern Orthodox Jesus Prayer.
The common heart of these methods is taking a word or phrase, and repeating it slowly and lovingly – for at least 20 minutes each day - in God’s presence, in order to still oneself, surrender to God’s activity, and be slowly transformed by the presence of God within the heart. This is a tried and tested method which really works.
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
- When engaged with your thoughts – including body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections – return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
There is a long and rich tradition within the church of turning to Scripture as the basis for prayer - to be fed by the Word of God. Choose a relatively short passage from the Bible and read over the passage slowly and gently a number of times, and see if any word or phrase stands out for you.
Stay with and repeat that particular word or phrase, and savour it but without trying to analyze it; pray for God to speak through it. Various comparisons are made with this process like sucking a boiled sweet (Gerry Hughes) or like a cow chewing the cud to extract its full flavour – ‘ruminating’. Don’t try to work things out – simply let God speak to you!
The following passages lend themselves to this way of prayer eg. Psalms 8, 23, 139; Isaiah 43:1-7; 55:1-3: John 15:1-8: Ephesians 3:14-21
Imaginative Contemplation of the Gospels
St Ignatius of Loyola encouraged the use of the imagination at the service of faith by asking his followers to familiarize themselves with a story from the Gospels, and then to consider their own lives in the context of this gospel scene.
Select an appropriate passage (for example, Jesus calms the storm - Matthew 8:23-27; The Disciples on their way to Emmaus - Luke 24:13-25 ; The Healing at the Pool of Bethsaida - John 5:1-9) and try to imagine that you are there.
Take time in the imagination to see the place, the buildings and the surrounding countryside. What kind of day is it? Feel the breeze or the sun on you, listen to sounds, and use all your senses of touch, taste and smell. Ask who is present, what are they doing, what are they saying? Try to actively participate in the scene, become one of the characters –a central figure or one that is more marginal, or watch from the outside.
At the end of the story you may wish to talk in your own words to Jesus or one of the other characters OR conclude with a formal prayer like the Glory Be to the Father, or the Lord’s Prayer.
Afterwards take time to look back over the prayer to see how you felt - does it tell you anything about how you see God or others? Were you surprised by anything? Is there anything that you need to pray about in the future? Remember God is present and speaking through our imagination and feelings.
Review of the Day
There are five key steps in this reflective prayer which many people choose to use at the end of each day:
- Be still and become aware of God's presence.
- Look back over the day with gratitude; thank God for the gifts you have received today. What comes to mind? eg. a smile; a sunset; or a completed project
- Pay attention to your emotions. Talk to God about any strong feelings you have experienced.
- Choose one feature from the day and pray from it; eg. something for which you are thankful, a new insight, a difficulty, something you would do differently next time…
- Look forward to tomorrow; invite God to be with you throughout the day and help you to hear His message for you.