Over the next fortnight, Matt will be posting about some different prayer practices to help us continue our exploration of prayer and fasting. The posts will be short and, for the most part, practically-focused.
The Examen, based on the writings of Ignatius of Loyola, is a practice of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to discern God’s presence and God’s direction for us. The aim of Examen is not to label actions as good or bad, but to discern the impulses that underlie our actions throughout the day.
There are a number of methods for the Examen, but here is a simple one: Read more
Anyone is welcome to come to church.
Anyone is welcome to come to our church at Hope.
Black, white, Tongan, Korean, Anglo, student, retired, gay, bi, straight, depressed, confused, excited, addicted, uncertain, young, old, child (actual or at heart), loud, noisy, shy, radical lefty, devoted conservative, local, tourist, or wanderer by. Come along on Sunday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. Most days there’s something going on and people around.
You are welcome.
You are welcome if you already follow Jesus or if you want to try it out.
You are welcome if you follow another religion and just want to share together.
You’re most welcome if you’re uncertain about any sort of faith and just want to talk.
You are always welcome.
I pray, that in this way, we are always inclusive — arms wide open to anyone and everyone. But if WE are to be inclusive, then we can never lose sight of who WE are called to be. Or to put it another way: it’s all well and good to be inclusive, but what is it that we are including people in?
We are called to be the Christian church — a community fashioned, shaped, and formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. So, we will pray and sing, and read the Bible, and use words from Scripture that might sound funny in our society. And we will strive to explore them together and make sense of them (and sometimes get it wrong). We’ll share in communion and find it a mystery.
And the more we explore the scriptures and this following of Jesus, the more we discover that we are called into a particular rhythm and a peculiar shape as a community that won’t be like everyone else.
Because it is the content of discipleship that determines the shape of the discipleship community. It is the person of Jesus that gives us the way we are to live.
That means we practice confession and forgiveness — this grace is central to Jesus. That means we look to the poor, the meek, the humble, and the oppressed first — just like Jesus. It also means we should hold each other accountable to pray and fast and to read the Scriptures, just like Jesus. And we listen for the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. And so much more.
As a community as we are shaped by these habits, we find our peculiar identity. There is no being the church without striving for and leaning into these habits and practices. In that regard, we are a community of exclusion.
I will happily continue to be friends and neighbours with people from almost all creeds and faiths. More than that, I will always seek for in-between spaces where I willingly put aside my own certainties to be alongside others, to learn and be changed.
But to be in the church is to yearn after the life of Christ together. I will never expect or demand that everyone hold this same yearning. But I will pray and live for a church that does.
Consumer culture has shaped us into a people who have almost no limits on our desires.
Indeed, our current political system treats purchasing more and more things as a right—nay, a responsibility!— one that ensures the economy is successful.
Political philosopher Charles Taylor describes this cultural mindset that has captivated us in the West:
Everyone has a right to develop their own form of life, grounded on their own sense of what is really important or of value. People are called to be true to themselves and to seek their own self-fulfilment. What this consists of, each must, in the last instance, determine for him- or herself. No one else can or should try to dictate its content. (The Ethics of Authenticity, 14).
For those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus, this is a problematic cultural setting. We are called to die to self (Rom 6:4–8; Gal 2:20), not to elevate our own desires to the position of supreme importance.
And yet our churches are filled with people who, having been taught by our culture to follow their own hearts, look no different to the society of self-fulfilment that surrounds them.
The truth is this: Read more
As a congregation we’re taking up the challenge to pray and fast for the next three months as we listen for God’s message to us. There’s a range of ways you might choose to engage with this challenge – after all, we are each in difference spaces and rhythms of life. Wherever your life is up to though, there is a way to step into prayer and even into fasting for you.
I’ve taken up the habit of reading and praying over Psalms every night (well almost every night if I’m honest). At times it’s a hard slog and I wonder what these poems and hymns have to say to me; and at other times my spirit soars as these words bring me closer into the presence of the Holy Spirit. The nature of the habit and practice is to keep at it, regardless of how “effective” or “enlightening” each experience feels.
If this is something you’d like to take up, there are a range of ways into this practice.
- This article is one of the simplest and clearest starting points for praying the psalms that I know (hint: start by saying them out loud to yourself).
- For a bit more depth, these two classic books on the practice have been important to me over the years. Thomas Merton’s book is an absolute gem, and Walter Brueggemann is at his insightful best in his book.
- One of my old theology professors used the psalms as a guide to journaling. He would start by reading the psalm, then sitting in silence for a few minutes. Then he would write the psalm out slowly by hand. Only after he had done this would he then allow his brain to run wild with thoughts, images and phrases that caught his attention – letting the cascade onto the page and seeing where it led him. I imagine it was a mind dump that gathered up biblical images along the way to the page.
- For something different, our friend Dr Ben Myers compiled an anthology of the best short passages about prayer over at his Faith and Theology blog here. You may find some sparks of inspiration to get you moving into prayer.
Finally, check out some of the incredible musical work of Sons of Korah – who have spent many years putting the psalms to song. I know for myself, and several others in the congregation, that their rendition of Psalm 130 has been a spiritual foundation stone.
It has been a fruitful period of learning for us as a church to consider holiness. Not as a special virtue for us to aspire to; but as a fundamental calling and marker of all who would follow Christ. And therein lies the major clue – it is primarily not connected to our existing virtue or skill. Holiness is, in contrast, a recognition of our lives being transformed by Jesus of Nazareth. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
More like Jesus, less like the world.
More deeply into life, less focused on ourselves
That’s what holiness points towards.
More recently, we’ve begun to study the sermon on the mount from Matthew chapters 5-7 as a framework for our continued reflection on holiness. The passage for this Pentecost week is from Matthew 6 and deals with prayer and fasting. There is much to be pondered and lived out in this passage. One of the things that strikes me anew is that Jesus doesn’t ask if you fast, but instead says “when you fast”… Fasting has long been considered a core practice of the Church, but one that for a variety of reasons has become less and less familiar to us.
Today, we’ve put before our congregation that challenge of taking up a small weekly commitment to prayer and fasting. Each person and each family will choose to tackle this in their own fashion, wrapped into their own rhythms of life. However the challenge remains for all of us to find a way into this discipline.
As a way to assist you in approaching the discipling of fasting, we’ve attached a couple of resources to spark your thinking.
First up, this is a great summary of a wonderful book, “Fasting: the Ancient Practices” by Scot McKnight. Both the book and the summary are great at kicking off thoughts and possibilities around this spiritual practice.
Secondly, here is an important, if basic Patheos article on simply tips in starting fasting.
Next is an article by Richard Foster that got my thinking and praying going on this sometime ago.
And last, but most exciting, is this resource created by our great friend James Aaron. Spiritual Disciplines week 3
I pray that these are helpful starters for you as we explore together what it means to listen more intently to what God has to say to us.
Yesterday I spent the day in prayer in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office. Along with my companions I refused to leave, unless we had an assurance from the Prime Minister that the detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island would be closed, and those held within them brought to Australia. We spent five hours in prayer and yearning.
As the office closing time came close we shared in communion together. As police began to gather around us, we sang and prayed, read excerpts from the Nauru Files, and heard the story of a Messiah crucified between two thieves. We gave thanks for a God who never holds creation at arm’s length but is present in the darkest places.
And we broke bread together.
This is the body of Christ shed for you.
This is the blood of Christ poured out for you.
Receive what you are, become what you receive: the Body of Christ.
If there was ever a place to be turned upside down it is at this table, this meal, this meeting with God. Here is God’s companionship with the world: broken and transformed. Here is God’s love for the world sewn deep into the fabric of God’s body.
One incident from the Nauru Files which we read has immersed itself within me:
ON MORNING BUS RUN[REDACTED] SHOWED ME A HEART HE HAD SEWN INTO HIS HAND USING A NEEDLE AND THREAD. I ASKED WHY AND HE SAID “I DON’T KNOW”. I NOTIFIED [REDACTED] AS SOON AS I GOT OFF THE BUS AT OPC1 AND SHE PROCEEDED TO TAKE[REDACTED] TO IHMS. [REDACTED] IS [REDACTED] YRS OF AGE. 25th MAY 2015
He shows me his hand, palms outstretched as though pleading, beckoning to me.
Look, his eyes speak. I have written love onto my hands. I have scratched it in, sewn it deeply. I ask him why, but he simply shakes his head, eyes full of sorrow.
He does not know.
But I know.
This boy has marked himself for the love that has eluded him. He has not been welcomed to table, he has not found sanctuary, no hope has been held out for him. The thread pierces my heart.
Before my eyes this small boy is transformed, and I see in him the Christ at whose table I sit. It is as though I am in the place of Thomas, reaching out to touch the sewn-heart scars in his hands.
Does it hurt? I dare to ask.
Yes. He replies. These scars hold all the pain of the world.
I want to take him in my arms and hold him. I want to tell him that everything will be alright.
But it isn’t alright. It isn’t ok. And it won’t be until love is sewn into our hands more deeply than with thread.