Monday, June 03, 2013

the place of repetition, of the word “just” in prayers

I’ve been enjoying Paul Bramadat’s, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). He enters, as an outsider, as a researcher, an evangelical group on a University Campus. He spends 18 months worshipping with them, talking with them, interviewing them. He even goes on a missions trips with them. It’s a rich introduction to researching lived experience, the actual practices of groups of people.

As a researcher, he notices the constant use of the word “just” in their prayers. Here is how he processes what he is observing.

It’s most common syntactical location is near the beginning of the approximately half of the prayers offered … For example, a customary beginning of … prayers is “Fathergod, we just come before you tonight to,” a variation of which might be “God, we just want to sing your praises tonight because we’ve just seen all the wonderful things you do in our lives.” This term seems to muffle the students’ demands somewhat, underlining their indirect and humble approach to God. Without “just,” their prayers would be comparatively bold. For example, they would be reduced to the overly direct alternatives: “We come here tonight to” and “God, we want to.” … By implying that the speaker is unable to finish a prayer because he or she is overwhelmed by the opportunity to communicate with God … emphasizes his or her respectful love for and approach to God.

That’s fascinating. The use of the word “just” reveals an inner humility toward God.

I think it’s a wonderful example of research. It is so easy as an outsider to look down upon the religious practices of another. But Bramadat tries to understand not from his perspective, but from the perspective of the group.

Posted by steve at 06:45 PM

Friday, March 08, 2013

Prayers of illumination

Preparing for Pocket lamp worship first, with Jonny Baker and CMS Pioneers, second with the mission shaped ministry Board, a few weeks ago got me thinking about Prayers of illumination. I think it was holding the pocket lamp open, thinking about light, and the phrase – prayers of illumination – sort of floated through my consciousness.

Liturgically, a prayer of illumination is the prayer prayed before Scripture is read and spoken. In churches that consider themselves non-liturgical, it has a predictable pattern asking for God’s help as Scripture is preached, a predictable place just before the sermon and a performative dimension, inviting a focus on what is about to be said.

In liturgical churches, when used (curiously more infrequently, in my experience, than in non-liturgical churches), it tends to be a set prayer, more likely to be varied, drawing from church tradition or various Scripture.

One example of a prayer of illumination, slightly varied from Scripture, is drawn from Psalm 19:14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.

What is interesting is the context, what comes in the 13 verses prior. You see, in the Psalm illumination comes from two places – nature and Scripture.

The first six verses (1-6) reference illumination in creation – heavens, skies, sun, heat – all of these are proclaimers of God’s handiwork. From them “pour forth speech.” (19:2). As for example, in this “baptism” experience, or in this recent book release – Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals by Bruce Stanley – which I am hoping to blog review chapter by chapter over the next few weeks.

The next five verses (7-11) reference illumination in Scripture, and the hope of wisdom, joy and light.

So, presumably when the prayer of illumination is prayed, it is invitation to consider both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. And it suggests that the sermon that might follow will tell stories of human experience, offer insights from nature and reflect on Scripture. Perhaps in at least equal measure? Now that’s the type of prayer, I’d love to say Amen too.

Because, according to the Psalm, both are arenas of illumination. Sure, not without discernment. I mean, you sure need discernment to read Leviticus, or Proverbs, or Revelation or any portion of Scripture. And yes, you need discernment to read nature. Which is probably why you pray the prayer. Because illumination is a gift, from God’s Spirit. And prayed in community, because faith is corporate and discernment is always about what seems “good to the Holy Spirit and us.” (Acts 15:28)

In community and in need of God.

So a variant on pocket lamp worship would be to spend an entire service exploring Prayers of illumination. Place a whole lot up around the walls. Give people a lamp. Get them to walk, to read. Invite them to place their lamp beside the one that most connects. Share this in groups. Invite discussion on where God reveals Godself, on how discernment happens, both in practice and in the history of the church. Invite them to chose the prayer most meaningful, and pray it individually, at home, as they gather around Scripture. In so doing, the use of Prayers of illumination corporately would be enriched and renewed for another season of the life of the church.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM

Monday, January 14, 2013

A prayer for writers (for me)

Having returned from holiday over this weekend, my main task for the next 12 weeks is to write. (I have some research to do, but that takes second place behind my hope of completing a book – on sustainability in emerging and fresh expressions.) I face the 12 weeks with mixed feelings. It’s been 7 years since my first book and that breeds a certain sense of anxiety. I feel quite unsure if I can capture what I want to say. Will I be clear enough? Sustained enough? Academically able enough?

Writing is such an individual experience. It feels so egotistical, this individual pursuit to be heard. Why might my words be worthy of being read? Why, in a world of so many books, should I pollute with yet more information?

There are a whole lot of academic pressures at work – to publish, to get the right press, to be recognised. Again, a complex set of emotions and motives to sift.

So this morning I found some phrases from Philippians 1:9 helpful.

“And this is my prayer:”
“love” – and so to write out of love for God, church, people and world
“knowledge” – and so to write respectful of the tradition, of those who’ve gone before and my contemporary colleagues in scholarship, all the while conscious of the intuitions and feelings that are learnings within myself
“depth of insight” – to write something that might, through God’s mercy, shine some light on the yet simply complex and complexly simple task of being a disciple in this contemporary world.

And so, to writing I will go …

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Friday, December 07, 2012

creating the church of tomorrow

Twice in the last few weeks, a prayer by Oscar Romero has come my way. Romero was a Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador, assassinated on 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

God of hope,
Help us to step back and take the long view.
Remind us that what we do in our lifetime
is only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is your work..
Nothing we do is complete, which is only a way of saying that your realm always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No one program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals includes everything.
Help us remember what we really are about:
we plant seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need future development.
We provide yeast that produces
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything.
Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.
It may seem incomplete, but it is really a beginning,
a step along the way.
Our efforts provide an opportunity
for your grace to enter and do the rest.
You are the master builder, and we work with you.
We may never see the end results that are known to you.
Even so, we are prophets of a future
that holds your promise.

Given the way the prayer has found me, it seemed appropriate that it become the devotional for our team retreat on Thursday. I provided two ways to respond. One was to pray by planting a seed of petition. The other was to pray by watering as thanks. Outside (because dirt and water don’t go with carpet), I had placed a seed tray and a pot of colour from home.

Inside, we said the prayer together, a different person taking a phrase each. We then sat with the prayer in silence for 5 minutes. I then invited folk to move outside. And to either plant a seed “we plant seeds that will one day grow” or to water the pot “We water seeds already planted.” We then concluded by again saying the prayer together, again a different person taking a phrase each.

The focus of the retreat day was strategic planning and it was just lovely to begin the day watering and planting, reminding each other that- “We cannot do everything. Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.” (To end the day, we shared communion and had a party. But that’s another post).

Posted by steve at 11:27 PM

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

book review: Liturgies from Lindisfarne

Liturgies from Lindisfarne. A book review (for Touchstone) by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In a strange twist of fate, I encountered the author (Ray Simpson) and the sacred place (of Lindisfarne), before I opened this book. In September 2011, during study leave in England, I found myself in the North of England and close to Lindisfarne. Intrigued by its history of Christian pilgrimage, I decided to visit.

Over a long weekend I appreciated the isolated scenery and the abundance of bird life. I visited the church ruins, soaking in the stories of Celtic mission through Cuthbert and enjoyed the chance for regular prayer with the Christian residents on the Island. It was a deeply renewing few days.

Over breakfast on my last day, I enjoyed tea and toast with Ray Simpson. Past retirement age, Founding Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, still a popular speaker on spirituality and mission, we shared of faith and formation.

Upon my return, “Liturgies from Lindisfarne,” awaited on my desk. This makes the book the actual record of the work of a praying community: the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a dispersed, ecumenical body who seek to apply lessons from the Celtic Church in Britain (280 to 634 AD) to the church of the 21st century.

It offers a wide range of prayers – for daily prayer through a week, for the journey through Christian festivals, for special celebrations and for the events of life.

The words are fresh and clear, evidently honed over time by their actual use in a praying community. The theology is creation-centred, paying close attention to the experience of being human, including the seasons and the rhythms of life. This shows respect for the patterns and experiences of Celtic spirituality which shaped the first missionaries to Lindisfarne.

A pleasing feature is how attention is paid to the different experiences of the seasons. Thus prayers for Easter are not linked with Northern Hemisphere experiences like spring or lengthening day light, which makes them less useful in a down-under context.

One drawback is that it is A4 and thus, as a book, large in size. While this allows the type to be easily legible and for the layout to be spacious, it can make it difficult to hold, perhaps more so for those older in life.

A bonus is that all the prayers and services are contained in an accompanying CD-ROM, making it easy to reproduce on orders of services.

Over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed offering the Daily prayers among my community. It makes a welcome resource for prayer, both individual and communal.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Monday, February 13, 2012

project progress: some first signs of life

A first sign of new life over the weekend at our house/project, with seeds germinating. They are a “cottage garden” mix, given to one of our kids in the “transition pack” we gave them as part of the move. Planted, last Sunday, protected by wire in case the 3 cats the previous owner has left behind try to take revenge, they are sprouting by our front deck.

They are a small sign of hope in what has been a week on the home front we would prefer to forget. The day we moved the builders decided to sand the gib, which meant all our stuff now sports a fine film of gib dust. The next day one of the subbies did a runner, with their replacement following suit a few days later. We are perched in the top part of the house, one of the kids sleeping on a sofa in the lounge, while we wait for the builders to finish. The other child has been sick, suffering asthma symptoms, trying to rest in a house filled with gib dust!

So finding even the tiniest sign of growth, the smallest sign of new life, is important.

I am using this post as a prayer, adding as a comment the initials of a person/place which today I want to experience life. You might like to pray with me, adding initials for a person or place in which you would like to see God breathe fresh life.

Posted by steve at 04:09 PM

Monday, January 16, 2012

a prayer for the year coming

Lindisfarne Scriptorium produce A Call to Pray as a discipleship resource. It includes 13 cards, each with an artistic image, each with a prayer. They are wallet-sized, so over the summer holiday, they’ve been great to sit with at the beginning of each day. Or to place in your pocket as you go for a reflective walk.

Sunday I headed up a hill for a 2 hour walk, with the following prayer. As I walked and pondered, some questions began to emerge, which helped me as I began to pray for the year ahead.

Please God
grant us the grace
to change our hearts,
to open our minds

To ponder: What are the images of God in which you find grace?

Grant us the grace
to bless our small corner,
to encourage each other

To ponder: What is your “small corner”/refuge/sanctuary? What will bless it?

Grant us the grace
to pray for the world,
to care to much.

To ponder: How can you care too much for the world?

Grant us the grace, please Lord.

Prayer from Lindisfarne Scriptorium. Reflective questions by Steve and Kayli Taylor.

Further links:
– Photo essay of Lindisfarne here.
– Lindisfarne spiritual legacy here.
– Further discipleship resources here.

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the future of grace: B is for blossom

I love flowering trees.

One of my most spiritual moments was coming across a tree in blossom, in a howling Canterbury nor’wester. I was battling some major change processes at Opawa.

And I lay on the ground under this tree, with the wind cascading all these blossom around me. As they swirled on my hands, my skin, my uplifted face, I realised how much bigger, slower, differently paced, was the rhythm of God.

So today, in the midst of some ongoing personal change, I paused and snapped this pic. Of an Adelaide tree in blossom. Which became a prayer,

God in this change, help me pause, walk slower, be differently paced, in your rhythms of grace.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading B is for blossom).

Posted by steve at 06:30 AM

Monday, August 08, 2011

Prayer for the dead of winter

in this winter I run,
and so much feels dead
in me, in others, in our world.

help me not forget
nor run on by
the unseen sap of your presence
the hard-worn history,
summer work and autumn blaze
hope in blossom

If you want to make this prayer your own, you could add your initials in the comment section. Similar prayers can be found here.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prayer for those with a common cold

I’m suffering from a common cold – sore ears, sore throat, snuffles, blah.  This prayer (hat tip Michelle Coram) is proving helpful.

God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessing in disguise.
Amen – Michael Leunig

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Friday, February 25, 2011

prayer to a mothering Jesus: updated

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian theologian of the eleventh century. I’m not sure that he ever lived through an earthquake, but he certainly lived in a world subject to the whims of nature. Here’s one of his prayers, A Song of Christ’s Goodness, that I find moving, both in light of the earthquake in Christchurch and in light of my own struggle to live as a child of God.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your children to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us,
in your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

Read it listening to Sinead O’Connor’s This is to Mother You. (From her Gospel Oak CD which was produced in June 1997). (This still leaves the theodicy question – what type of mothering was happening during the quake. But that’s a matter for another time!)

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Friday, October 22, 2010

How real is your church?

Church is “the history of particular persons realizing by the Spirit’s gift the new potential for human nature.” A challenging quote from Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin

It echoed this insight by Neil Ormerod:

“major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study ecclesiology as an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church

The temptation to construct church in ideal forms. To deal with metaphors and images and DNA’s rather the particular communities that are with us now. If we just rearranged our DNA, if we could just start again, if we could just return to the early church, if we could just have a few more musicians or young people.

Yet the true grace of transformation is that God could take particular humanity, the reality of what is, and through that catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Almost, like, yes, an emerging church 🙂

So as part of prayer, I began to place particular persons, specific names, actual communities in the phrase. Church folk I have argued with. Communities I have been disappointed with. People I wish would change.

It was hard. I kept wanting to trade up for idealisms. But the Incarnation of Christ walked among the real, the local, the particular.

God, through these particular persons, unfold your new potential.

Posted by steve at 09:05 AM

Sunday, September 05, 2010

being church in an earthquake zone

Given that only a few months ago, I was pastoring in Christchurch, my thoughts in the last 24 hours have revolved around wondered what I’d do if I was pastoring, being church in the midst of such destruction.

My current thoughts (and I’m at distance, so might be way of beam) revolve around creating some sort of communal drop-in point for at least the next 7 days. Open the foyer from 9 am-3 pm. Provide hot soup. Set up some breadmakers and get a lovely warm, home smell into the place. Since schools are being closed, set up an area for kids to play, with a range of games. My hunch is that people will want ways to be together, to share, laugh, cry. So tables with food allow that to happen naturally.

Some people might want a more focused listening ear, so I’d set up some “sharing couches” and have some designated “listeners” who would simply be there to listen. I’d tell them to keep an ear out for those who might need more focused help, 50+ after shocks and counting might led to trauma for some.

I’d set up a range of prayer stations, that would allow people to engage with God. Words are hard to find in the midst of shock, so I’d focus on simple, tactile ways to pray.

“Oh help” station – with candles and sand trays to lit in memory of things that are lost, broken, damaged, missing. Simply helping people name the grief and the shock.

“Whew, that was close” station – post-it notes or clothes line prayers (string and some pegs), in which people could give thanks for what they still have – life, food, neighbours, friends, a professional Civil Defence … and so on. Simply helping people pay attention to moments of grace.

“Seeking beauty” station – a sort of craft table, in which people could make something of beauty. For some this would be facile. For others, it’s a part of being human and it can be a way of helping people focus beyond themselves. I’d make it communal and expect that lots of healing chat would happen.

“Where is God” station – a thinking station. Often at times like this God’s name get’s used in some pretty naive ways. Quietly ignored for years while the good times roll, yet suddenly named in the midst of devastation. In all sorts of ways – judgement for sin or suddenly micro-manager of the world. At this station, I’d probably put up some prayers prayed by those who throughout history have experienced tragedy. Perhaps blow them up big ie A2 size, with pens, and expect people to engage in response. Some examples might be Psalms of lament of which there is a huge range. Without checking them all for suitability:

  • some Community Psalms of lament include 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129; while
  • some Individual Psalms of lament include 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142. Yes, heaps, because unexpected tragedy and pain is part of being human.
  • here is a sermon I preached, using one particular Psalm (69), after the Mangatepopo River tragedy plus some words and liturgical ideas we used at the time
  • a pile of other prayers in disaster are here (,

I’m not sure whether I’d have a station in relation to giving aid – whether practical or financial. My hunch is that at least for the first few days, the most important thing is simply space to pray and most of all, ways to naturally be together, eat together, laugh together.  But again, I’m miles away, so might be really out of touch.

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

little boat blown across the mighty Tasman sea

College worship today was framed around Jeremiah 18 and God the potter. We were offered a piece of play dough and invited to play as the service progressed. What was formed was laid on the communion table as an act of response, and then could be taken with us post-Benediction.

Here is my ponderings (thanks Sarah) …

… my little boat, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit. Echoes of Brendan the navigator, green the colour of this season in the church year that of growth in ordinary time. The backdrop a gift I gave myself a few years ago, that I have with me whenever I speak, as an evocation of grace and possibilities and God’s future.

Posted by steve at 05:04 PM