a review and an invitation
Since lockdown, I have been hosting prayer together using Zoom on Mondays for silent prayer and Wednesdays for prayer that I lead in what I hope is an open, meditative, and contemplative atmosphere. My aim is to help people become present to God who is always Present.
In September 2010, I started on an 8-week, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) class. My father had died on Easter Day, I was struggling to hold it together as a hospital chaplain, and, though I was blind to it then, my marriage was about to end. I had long wanted to do one of these courses since dipping into Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, but when I signed up for it two months earlier, I had not anticipated that this course would frame the nexus of disintegration that brought 2010 to an end.
Wednesday by Wednesday, I turned up at The London Shambhala Meditation Centre in Clapham for an evening of teaching, simple physical and meditative exercises, and group sharing. I told the teacher a little of the dismantling of family life. I felt held by the group. I took the homework seriously. I absconded to the hospital library each day to practise the given mindful exercises and to write. I continued to pray first thing each day. I listened to friends. I came to a few decisions that gave me scraps of agency in a situation where I felt helpless.
One grace in all this was that I never once questioned God’s presence with me. This is what I believe: life is hard, at least at times; it is how it is; it is not a test or to teach us a lesson; whatever shit goes down, in the very worst of times, God remains present with us and in us even if anxiety overwhelms our grasp of this.
10 years on, events that in one way feel distant come close as I recall and write about them. Loss is loss. To recall this time is to touch into a place inside me that is no longer raw but remains tender. This is the lot of human being, is it not? No one escapes times when things fall apart. We shelter spaces within us full of memory and sadness.
As lockdown started in March last year, I was touched when my mindfulness teacher and her colleague decided to offer free, twice-weekly, 30-minute mindfulness practice sessions on Zoom.
I joined the first one and emerged energised and enlivened. And then I thought, “I could do that!”
Since April, I have been hosting prayer together using Zoom. I started out leading prayer, once a week for 30 minutes. After a while, a few people asked me for a time of silent prayer. Since then a variable group has been meeting every Monday for silent prayer and every Wednesday for a prayer time that I lead in what I hope is an open, meditative, and contemplative atmosphere. My aim is to help people become present to God who is always Present.
Prayer together by Zoom has been happening for 9 months now. When I started out, I thought I was offering a space for people to pray together during these times of uncertainty and separation. While this is true, there has also been a number of processes for me.
The first was settling down into the rôle of leading prayer, using fewer words, trusting more in God and the silence. I have been able to settle into the sense of God’s presence with us and no longer feel a separation between leader and led. I have grown to value these times of prayer for what they give me, helping to cement my own practice of prayer rooted in the body, with a deepened sense of God’s Presence, while being able to monitor the atmosphere and sense what I might say next. A broad smile appears on my face as I see people turning up into the Zoom prayer-space. I love seeing those who come to pray together, the sense of connection among us over large distances, and I feel held in prayer myself.
It turns out that the Holy Spirit is not hampered by separation, screens, or by electronic communication. These are media by which She connects us – whether in Christian meditation and contemplation or Buddhist spiritual practices adapted for ‘secular’ westerners.
It also turns out that we are the Church. Zoom prayer has become a place where we pray together for and as the world. We pray together in this time of separation and isolation, of uncertainty and anxiety about the future, not only for those of us who turn up but with the sense that our prayer flows out into the world and partakes of the prayer of the world.
For myself, I have found a three-movement form of prayer. It starts with “Here I am”, presenting myself to God in all my mess, with an assertion of the fact of incarnation and presence, “a place where God is happening,” as Rowan Williams says. This often brings me to the articulation of a desire, a want or a need, perhaps for that day, or perhaps as a deeper longing. And then I open myself to God-and-the-Universe, not exactly asking but allowing the “Here I am”, the desire, and the openness to be offered to God. (Those who are Ignatian spirituality geeks may recognise elements of the Preparatory Prayer, the desire, and the Suscipe that permeate The Spiritual Exercises.)
I’ve never really got the power of praying together before. I’m such an unbeliever – and an introvert! I hadn’t anticipated the gifts I would get. I am deeply grateful.
If you would like to join Zoom prayer, the prayer times are 8.30 – 9 am UK time on Mondays and Wednesdays.
It is open to everyone.
There is no commitment.
There is no need to be on time or stay the course. It is all right to come late and to leave early.
I tend to mute people because noise artefacts on Zoom can disturb the prayer.
The Zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4146424950?pwd=OW5KL1ptMDF2d0lyVlZ5cWdDbWtjZz09. Or click this link for more comprehensive Zoom details.
Please feel free to dip in.
Happy New Year
Today is the first day of 2021. I don’t know what specifically to pray for. There is such beauty in the world, and such suffering and uncertainty. I wish you blessings for 2021 and pray that we may each open ourselves to God’s love, grace, and desires for us.