I went for supervision this morning and took this photo with my iPhone of a leaf on Paul's patio floor.
It hasn't got a thing to do with the words that follow,
I just like it.
In July I am going to take some annual leave and we are going to visit my daughter Bridget in Qatar. There is an itinerary sort of planned and there have been lots of excited texts passing back and forth between us and the Middle East because we still don't have an internet connection and can't email or skype. Last night was time for finalising tickets and all went well except for one small detail. Or to be more accurate, two small details: passports. We couldn't find them and we couldn't book the flights without them. Our house is cosily furnished but still the garage is filled, wall to wall, corner to corner, floor to about waist high with boxes, boxes, more boxes and yet more boxes and somewhere in the middle of all that junk were two passports. It was needle in the haystack stuff; well, I admit the passports are bigger than most needles but then again the garage is bigger than most haystacks. We looked and opened boxes and shuffled the contents about and opened more and restacked and generally made the confusion worse. We looked for about three hours. I wondered if they were in a bag I had left in the St. John's parish hall and at 11:30 pm went and had a look. They weren't, but while I was away on the other side of town Clemency sat on the bed and prayed. Without any words forming in her head, she then stood up, went to the linen cupboard, reached in to the stack of pillowslips behind the stack of towels and halfway down it, there they were.
So what's going on here? In the middle of making sure the planets of the solar system whizz around in the approved fashion, and keeping the universe on track vis a vis the task of producing life and consciousness, and answering a zillion prayers going up simultaneously in every known language and from every known belief system, the Lord God Almighty is keeping track of our passports and taking the time to let Clemency know that they are where only God can see them. Is this what prayer and its answers amount to? Well, in a word.... yes. This is of course, not as preposterous as it first appears. If God is God then God is infinite. Which means God has an infinite amount of time in which to do things. Which means that God has an infinite amount of time to devote to each and every single thing in the universe, including each atom and all the planets and Clemency and her passport; and plenty of time for God to whisper in her ear about where to find lost stuff. There's a more complicated explanation, of course, but if you don't want to follow it, stop here. The simple answer will do, and you won't jeopardise your spiritual health by taking it as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
God, or so God said to Moses, is what God is. God is the truth, and to draw close to the truth - any truth - is to draw close to God. And the truth is, I put those passports in the linen cupboard. I remember now, though I had forgotten last night. Our move was conducted over about a fortnight. During that time we were between two houses, ferrying stuff back and forth. On one of many trips, I had taken the passports out of their box and put them, for safekeeping, into a place which was going to be settled, secure and (ahem. blush) easy to remember. I told Clemency when I did it. When she put the linen in there she must have seen them, though maybe not thought too much about them. The human brain is a wonderful instrument but it is finite. That little piece of knowledge was simply swamped by the myriad of other bits of knowledge and decisions and anxieties competing for synapse space in that frenetic fortnight. When Clemency sat down and invoked God she placed herself, still and open before all that she held most holy. In that place of openness all the dross faded away and the information she needed bubbled up from her unconscious without even needing to alert her to its presence; she simply stood and acted on it. This is, I think, the heart of prayer. It is not the production of words but the cessation of them. Prayer is stopping the babbling machine which runs constantly between our ears and in that place of silence being present to what is: that is, to the reality of he world, to the reality of ourselves and to the reality of God. There is the added dimension, of course, that Clemency was concentrated on this one problem, as was I and as was Bridget who knew and prayed about the passport problem from half a world away. In the silence, that concentration of consciousness probably had some effect.
In the long run, prayer is about awareness and all the various techniques in prayer have to do with reducing the factors in our lives which constantly keep us from being aware. Which all sounds a bit complicated so perhaps you had better go back a paragraph of two and take the phenomenon of prayer at face value. God hears and God answers, and that's enough understanding to be getting on with.