Prayer is a beautiful thing. When we pray we are participating in Jesus’ relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. We enter the Triune dance between Father, Son, and Spirit of God through Jesus who is our Great High Priest, sitting at the right hand of the Father and making a way for humanity to come back to a relationship with God. There is so much going on in a conversation with God that we don’t always have the capacity to acknowledge all at once, but in this short piece I want to remind us of two elements in this transcendent and yet very grounded practice at the heart of our faith. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious, groaning world, the slowness, silence, and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.
I am an anxious person. The first thought I have as I wake up is worry. I’m not alone in this. There is a well-known and often ignored trend of growing mental illness in New Zealand. With ever increasing demands, whether they are financial, work related, or self-imposed, are getting to the fabric of our hearts and damaging our souls. We have leaders who spread suspicion towards the most vulnerable in our world and anxiety about what refugees might do if they turn out to bring terror. Meanwhile thousands displaced by war, violence, and climate change are desperately anxious for a place to stay and food that is regular. Anxious war-lords hoard wealth and fight for power at the expense of their own people, and single parents working three-jobs worry about what will happen to their kids if they can’t keep living off adrenaline from one thing to the next. The world is oftentimes an anxious place.
When I wake up, I often am cold now days too. I am flatting in a kind of accidental community of friends in an old uninsulated villa in Central Auckland. But as with my anxiety, the cold is reflective too of the world we live in. It is reminder of the experience of the homeless on Queen Street who are passed by and given the cold shoulder by the public. It is reminder of the empty seats on the bus next to each of us just so that we don’t have to talk to someone we don’t know. It is a reminder of the concrete floors of garages that families inhabit, or the winter winds beginning to blow against vans of homeless families in South Auckland. It is reminiscent of the colder winters and conversely the hotter summers of climate change, and likewise the wests ignorance of the rising sea on Pacific Islands.
And I’m sure like most of you, when I wake up I am groaning; particularly on Mondays. But unlike my superficial groan of “not todaaaay”, the earth that we are slowly eating away at is crying out from deep within its belly. Our fast paced, over-consumptive and unsustainable life-styles are slowly but surely causing the rocks to cry out how glorious God is, and how fallen we have become.
The world is moving faster than ever before, it’s resources are being used quicker than it can sustain, and we are drawing borders between ourselves more than ever whether these are national borders, picket fences, gated communities, or smart phones. The earth is crying out for a spirituality that warms it, that slows it, that gives it solace and rest. We are in desperate need of rest for our souls. And even though the creator of the universe took time away to pray when he took on flesh, we are continuing to live like we don’t need to.
But the gift of the monastic traditions is a spirituality that speaks missionally right to the heart of the human condition: it offers community, connection with God by the Spirit through Jesus and his Body, and provides a stillness and slowness that our ever-accelerating world craves like the groaning of the earth.
Mother Teresa said that breathing is to the body what prayer is to the soul. Bill Mckibben, the author and climate activist, says that when he gets down, the only healing is action. These two are both right. We need both spirituality and mission. The ancient art of breathing. Monastic spirituality offers a vehicle for these two to come together. Two days before any march, Martin Luther King Jr would gather with others to pray. When the Waihopai Three were on trial for getting in the way of government sanctioned violence, they made a camp in a Wellington park, and prayed all night for their enemies and the victims of war. They were joined by street kids and security guards, who later returned without uniform to keep praying with the kids. When Easter comes around, people have gathered at Lockheed Martin for the stations of the cross at the centre of arms trade around the world. Nuns have prayerfully broken into a nuclear weapons facility and literally beat weapons of war into ploughshares with hammers. John the Baptist retreated and ended up being followed by his community to receive baptism. And Jesus died on the cross crying the words of a Psalm, and saved the world. Mission, spirituality. They go hand in hand. And the world is crying out from deep within itself for a spirituality that spills out of church walls to offer healing.
Before I leave each morning I sit with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures, and with a friend or by myself, I sit in silence and pray the Jesus Prayer. I follow the words of those gone before me, prayed around the world and throughout history. I am sent out by God into the world to participate in his Missio Dei. My anxieties are more and more stilled by the Word of God, and my heart is strangely warmed by His presence.
The world is over-stimulated and over-entertained. We don’t need more parties to help us forget all that we have on. We need more stillness in the presence of God like those silent times looking into the eyes of a loved one, to find happiness and rest once again.
My prayer is that we rediscover the ancient art of breathing. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious, groaning world, the slowness, silence, and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.