Prayer and change

Rhiannon wonders about the changing world created by Covid-19 and the place of prayer in her new routines. 

Prayer and change Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research
Photo by Florencia Potter on Unsplash

“Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold.” – Advices & Queries 10

This advice was read in an online meeting for worship I attended recently. Because of the coronavirus, I’m unable to go to meeting for worship in my usual way – walking down the road to sit in a room with others – and so I’m attending meeting for worship online, mainly via Zoom, instead.

“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” – John Chapman, Abbot of Downside Abbey 1929-1933

This advice from a Roman Catholic priest and spiritual director is often quoted, not least because it’s applicable to so many situations. At the moment, there are so many things I might do to nurture my spiritual life which are suddenly impossible – going to the meeting house for regular worship; taking the bus out into the hills to be alone with nature; even things I sometimes do at home are more difficult in a changing household. Instead, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to pray as I can.

What this actually looks like will be different for everyone. For me, online meeting for worship is important – I already worshipped where I worked, so worshipping at home in the space where I’m working from home isn’t as much of a new challenge as it will be for some. If the screen is an obstacle, the telephone or simply distant worship, agreeing a time with some friends and all sitting in prayer at the same time, may be options. Some people are able to set aside a different space and find that helps. For others, that isn’t practical – people join online worship from the stairs, the bedroom floor, whatever corner they can find in which to be still.

Prayer can also be combined with other things. Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Zen teacher, suggested that washing the dishes can be like bathing the baby Buddha – a reminder that the everyday is also part of the sacred world. I sometimes pray in the shower, another set-aside time when I am focusing on a physical task and can also use a mantra, simple song, or gratefulness practice just to appreciate that everything is. Other natural pauses, like waiting for the kettle to boil, might appear in your day, or you might need to make them. I find it harder to maintain this dual-awareness, of the richness of simple things, when in conversation with other people, but I’m sure that’s a failure of awareness rather than an absence of Spirit.

In a conversation with a friend the other day, we talked about the changes this crisis creates. When people have started working from home, we wondered, will they go back to the office all the time once they can, or will the change stick? If we have realised that we can use remote-meeting software, will we still feel the need to travel so much especially for business meetings where the social element is small? We don’t know, of course, and factors like cost and the length of the crisis will all affect it. I found it a useful question to ask about my prayer life, though. As my life changes, am I making adaptions which I would be happy to have stick? If I form habits now, are they ones I’ll want to keep?

The answer doesn’t have to be yes. There are absolutely things about this situation which I want to stop, as soon as possible. But if I can use this time as a reminder that I don’t have to be different, that I am loved by God as I am, and that it’s okay if I pray however I can, maybe I can take that lesson forward into whatever challenges the next few months and years will hold.

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