JULIAN MEETING – 7th January 2019
Our true value as individuals lies in the fact that I am my unique self, that no-one else who has ever lived, or who ever will, can be in exactly my relationship with God, or reflect his love back to him in exactly the same way. For ultimately that’s what life is about: it’s about learning to stand in your own space and discerning in its unfathomable depths a power greater than yourself who invites your attention; and not simply your attention but your love. And it is that kind of giving attention that we call prayer. I sense that I have within me that which is the very ground of my existence and yet somehow ‘other’ than me; of finding God beyond and within; and of how this changes everything that being a person means.
There is in each of us a Self that lies deeper than our conscious ego, that still point of your being where you are most truly you, so that the journey of prayer is largely a journey inwards. Not that prayer is self-analysis. Quite the reverse: it is a way of becoming detached, of escaping at least momentarily from the constant clamour of self. It is the way we begin to shift the centre of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. Prayer is about learning how to become still, open and receptive to the now, the present moment in which alone God is to be found. It is a kind of observing, a way of seeing very much allied to contemplation as practised by monks down the centuries and by Mother Julian in the 14th Century, who recommended that we simply listen to God. Giving attention to God is really just a way of accepting what it means to be a person, or more simply, what it means to be. Iris Murdoch wrote that ‘prayer is properly not petition, but an attention to God which is a form of love.’
The starting point of prayer is to realise that it is not about words: it’s about listening. It is about becoming still, remaining still, waiting, not being afraid of silence. If you are going to watch birds with any kind of seriousness you have to be prepared to wait and watch with great patience and remain still. If you are going to let a painting speak to you, you have to respect its silence and its stillness. It has demanded an intensely concentrated act of seeing on the part of the artist and it isn’t going to give up its secret at a hurried glance. Birds, paintings, music, books, people: we have to learn to go at their pace and tune to their wavelength. What we receive is related to what we give. Giving attention to God is no different, though much harder. For we are so used to doing that learning to be is like learning a foreign language. And we mustn’t expect to feel much. What counts is simply being there.
Prayer is seeing, noticing, not just the unusual, but quite ordinary things and people in our everyday lives and learning to say thank you for them. Prayer has been defined as a state of continual gratitude. If I am to pray effectively I must first of all know at gut level that I walk through the world as one who is loved, whatever may be happening to me, and that every moment, even the worst, can be used by God. And secondly, I must learn to give attention to each moment as it comes – this person to be seen, that tricky letter to be written, this humdrum task to be done – that is difficult, and most of the time we forget. But that, and that alone, is how we are called to be. Not what we are called to do, but how we are called to be. Attention givers. For that, when you think of it, is not a bad definition of love.
The next Meeting is on 4th February 2019 at 7.30pm in The Rectory