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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
Not praying, but sleeping
November 2001

It was one of those prayer meetings where the church looks like a cross between a field hospital and an airport departure lounge. Experience has taught me that quick wits and a steely nerve are of the essence on such occasions: if you don't want to end up vigorously interceded for, you must either slink away, or – in a more cheerful variant of the great Stevie Smith poem – assume the guise of one who is not sleeping, but praying.

This time, however, I did want prayer. After several years playing guitar next to some rather boisterous drummers, I had become acutely sensitive to loud sounds (yes, rock'n'roll, I gave you the best ears of my life). So, picking my way to the front past my prone pals, I explained my need to the leader and settled back to listen for that still, small voice of calm.

"LORD, WE SPEAK HEALING INTO THESE EARS," he bellowed, addressing them directly. Hands cupped to his mouth, he appeared to be under the impression that I was several miles away.

"... HEALING... EARS," he added helpfully, at even greater volume, in case I hadn't caught him. Exhibiting a manifestation of the Spirit witnessed neither before nor since, I leapt some 10 feet in the air, becoming for several weeks thereafter a thing of wonder and praise in devout circles.

Undeterred, I have persisted in praying with others (frankly, it's hard to avoid, being a vicar) for the simple reason that my faith depends upon it. Wayside pulpits up and down the land assure us that "prayer is like a telephone so you can talk to God," but it's really not.

Very often, prayer is an intensely solitary experience, about which few knew more, or were better able to express, than the late R.S. Thomas. Reading his poetry is like living the parable of treasure in the field: weary hours of working the ground only to stumble upon something indescribably beautiful. In his poem, Folk Tale, he describes...

Prayers like gravel
xxxxxflung against the sky's
window, hoping to attract
xxxxxthe loved one's attention
I would
xxxxxhave refrained long since
but that peering once
through my locked fingers
I thought that I detected
the movement of a curtain.

While this aspect of prayer will certainly appeal to anglers, for the rest of us it is extremely useful to be reminded that whenever he or she prays alone, the believer joins the gathered prayer of the whole church, past and present. Less a telephone, more a radio station, into which we tune. Like several friends I could mention, Christ is mysteriously present in his Body: the prayer of that body exists to carry and sustain each member.

We learn to pray at that moment in our solo performance when we dare to launch ourselves from the stage onto the sea of hands waiting to hold us up.

This truth – a fitting theme for All Saints tide – lies at the heart of the Anglican pattern of prayer known as the daily office, and, ears notwithstanding, gains renewed meaning in charismatic prayer ministry. It is no less true of the few dry words we can usually muster.

However, not only does our private prayer become a chorus, but it enters the very prayer of Christ on our behalf. Even more mysterious than his presence in the Body is that of the Son before the Father where, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews "He lives for ever to intercede for us". At times when we are simply unable to pray, we are given Christ crying out for us in the Garden of Gethsemane; the Holy Ghost groaning with the weight of the world's prayers; the Father receiving them all.

Should you wish to discover more, two short books put this refreshing message with welcome clarity. The first is Michael Ramsey's Be Still and Know, oddly out of print in England but available online, and James B. Torrance's Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. Failing that, you could give me a call. Only, please, don't speak too loud.
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
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