The news this week has featured a matter that has caused Christians some concerns - and that is the apparent banning of a cinema advertisement for prayer of all things - using The Lord's Prayer as its central idea!
I have some sympathy with this issue as there is a sense that the spiritual is fast becoming marginalised (at the expense of adverts showing Father Christmas, animated snow people and anthropomorphised animalia), and it feels at times that the human appetite for 'The Other' is out-moded or irrelevent.
However, there is a greater problem here. As Christians, we need only be afraid of this development in the cinematic world if we hold to the view that prayer beings and ends with our efforts. Put another way, if we take the stance that if we dont 'do' prayer, prayer isn't 'done'. In taking adopting this approach to prayer, we might very well be in danger of rendering a finite and human enterprise, reserved for the literate and those blessed with spiritual articulation.
Prayer starts with and ends with God. God inititiates prayer and invites us to participate. If, for whatever reason, we do not - that prayer doesn't become abandoned. To quote Stephen King, becoming 'kneebound' isn't the on-switch of prayer like so many gadgets and red-light sentient devices. God's invitation to us is thsat we simply particpate in what is going on already, across all time. I sometimes thinkk of this like radio transmission. I imagine that my preferred radio station is currently playing its music although I am not tuned in at the moment. If I do tune in, there isn't a little light flashing on a control panel that invites someone to throw on the next track or start the next tranche of witticisms!
As a priest and a s a parish Vicar, a recurring theme in conversations that I have is simply summarised as 'I don't know how to pray'. Apparently, there is supposed to be a proper pose, a proper place, proper words, proper sentiments, the eyes must be closed and all linguistic constructs must be from the middle ages.
As funny as that might sound, that is a common and frequently held view - a view that suggests that prayer is an aqcuired skill.
Prayer is. I was reminded of this daily when I was at Theological College, because the sentiment 'Orare est laborare' was pinned to the library doors. It means 'work is prayer'. And so is eating with gracious appreciation, loving people with a sincere heart, walking the dog and absorbing the beauty of the world around us. Prayer is also in the hollow fashioned in the hearts of the depressed, in the tears of the anxious, in the aching of the bereaved and in the babble of the smallest children taking in the gift of life. Prayer is in all of these things, and everything else besides. Our purpose, as Christians, is not to turn prayer on and off like a light switch - but to refine our own understanding through spiritual development and exposure to the signal that is God.