MAGAZINE NO. 143 [ AUGUST 2018 ]
"We find it hard, personally and communally, to allow space and time for periods of withdrawal and silence"
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INSIDE THIS ISSUE
SET POOLS OF SILENCE - by Sarah Bachelard
PRAYER AS DISMANTLING - by Frances Mackay
THE WOUND OF PRAYER - by Sarah Bachelard
DOUBTING FAITH AND DESOLATE HOPE IN THREE POEMS BY RS THOMAS - by Rob Hadfield
LAMENT - by Alex Nelson
LITURGY OF LAMENT
HOW COULD YOU NOT HAVE KNOWN? - by Margaret Christiansen
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: THE GREAT DISRUPTOR - by Quentin Grafton
PSALMS FROM THE VALLEY - by Jorie Ryan
DAVID BENTLEY HART'S THE NEW TESTAMENT: A NEW TRANSLATION - Reviews by Linda Turton
CHRISTIAN WIMAN'S MY BRIGHT ABYSS: MEDITATION OF A MODERN BELIEVER - Reviews by Frances Mackay
EREMOS INFORMATION AND MEMBERSHIP
Welcome to our winter issue where we shall be exploring some of the dynamics and theology of prayer.
How do we pray if, as Val Webb has said, ‘[a] Divine Being outside the world orchestrating events to favour some and not others, and interfering with natural laws no longer makes sense’ (in Rosalind Bradley’s A World of Prayer)? How do we pray when we question any notion of persuading a ‘reluctant’ God to do the right
thing by someone or something? Why do we pray? What are we hoping for when we pray? What sort of God are we praying to? Is prayer just a private matter, or does it have social and political implications? Even a prophetic role? These are some of the themes that will be addressed, directly and indirectly, in the following articles.
The first three articles are from of a series of reflections exploring the dynamics of prayer that took place at Benedictus Contemplative Church, Canberra, in Lent 2018. In ‘Set Pools of Silence’, Sarah Bachelard addresses the relationship between contemplation and action in the life of faith, not just for individuals but for communities. Contrasting Jesus’ rhythm of alternating withdrawal and engagement with the contemporary preference for action, she warns, ‘This squeezing out of the contemplative dimension – as if it were some kind of dispensable luxury – leads to the drying up of the well-springs of action’.
Do you ever wonder what the proliferation of television programs about some ‘renovation rescue’ or ‘complete makeover’ is saying about the modern psyche?
In ‘Prayer as Dismantling’, the destruction of the temple becomes a metaphor to explore the notion of prayer as ongoing transformation, enabling us to offer a more hospitable space to ourselves and the Other within and around us. This piece also invites us to explore some of our ambivalences about, and resistance to this process.
Related to the metaphor of prayer as dismantling – they both involve vulnerability – is the notion of prayer as ‘wound’, which Sarah Bachelard explores in ‘The Wound of Prayer’. She asks, ‘Are we willing, so to be wounded in prayer, that through us, God’s love may pour out for a wounded world?’
Rob Hadfield reminds us why many of us are grateful to RS Thomas, 20th C. Anglican priest and Welsh poet. He says that Thomas ‘provides authentic companionship for contemporary pilgrims’ through his articulation of ‘the human experience of longing, of desolation, of genuine seeking, of continual waiting’. It is in his later poem that he can say: ‘But the silence in the mind/is when we live best, within/listening distance of the silence/ we call God’.
The next two pieces on lament are a challenge to move in the direction of solidarity with others in their suffering. Drawing on Björk’s rendition of John Tavener’s ‘Prayer of the Heart’, Alex Nelson’s reflection invites us to see that the archetypal experience of lament is not to despair, but to hope that our cries will be heard. The ‘Liturgy of Lament’ that follows suggests ways of enacting communal 4 EREMOS lament, including an acknowledgement of our complicity in some of the structures that support exploitation of people and the natural environment.
When the news of Cambridge Analytica’s alleged influence on both Brexit in the UK, and Donald Trump’s success in the US broke, Paul’s references to ‘principalities and powers’ came alive for me. Admittedly, using behavioural profiling to influence elections is not new, but somehow the internet offers unprecedented opportunities for such pervasive and hidden manipulation and disruption.
Quentin Grafton’s ‘Artificial Intelligence: The Great Disruptor’, takes us into a world that seems far removed from the contemplative space of prayer. Yet Quentin emphasises the need for practices that encourage a sense of who we are spiritually, if we are to counteract the dehumanising and disrupting aspects of the world of artificial intelligence.
‘How Could You Not Have Known?’ is the question Margaret Christiansen asked herself as she engaged in the prayerful creation of her first icon. She concludes that it is easy not to know, when there is no need to know because we are in the position of privilege.
Jorie Ryan’s ‘Psalms in the Valley’ reminds me of William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’. Even though she confesses at one point to experiencing ‘everything in tumult’, in the end, all questions, all longings, all consolations are somehow ‘held’ in this reflective space.
Finally, there are two reviews. Linda Turton’s endorsement of David Bentley Hart’s The New Testament: A Translation is unequivocally enthusiastic. She says that reading this book was like reading the New Testament for the first time because Hart’s literal translation had released these early texts from the doctrinal overlays of other translations to put her in closer touch with the intentions of the original writers.
In my review of Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer I wrote that ‘this is an intelligent’, elegantly literary, and profoundly moving book – courageous in its search for an authentic faith and a language with which to talk about this search’. I am so grateful for the companionship this book offers. Although not specifically about prayer, the book is itself a prayer.
Enjoy these winter offerings.