Prayer as opening up…sermon for AdelParish church, Easter 7 and the start of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.
Acts 1: 6 – 14
I wonder – if you clench your fist – what does it mean to you?
- anger perhaps – keeping people at bay…
- demands – beating the table to be heard…
- clutching tight to something we want to keep to ourselves…
Apparently the ancient Assyrians used the same word for prayer as that for unclenching a fist.
Prayer has been on my mind this week. We’re in Ascensiontide – the 9 days between our celebration of Jesus ascending back to the Father, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In our reading we heard how the tiny, early church spent those days ‘devoting themselves to prayer’.
Because of this, since 2016, our Archbishops have invited us to make these days a special time of prayer. Their movement ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ has spread to other churches and around the world.
Later, I’ll suggest some ways we can be part of that wave of prayer. But first I’d like to spend a few minutes thinking about prayer itself – so, back to that clenched fist…
A few of us have started a discussion course looking at the Lord’s Prayer. In the first session we spent time thinking about why we pray. We thought that it’s to do with opening ourselves to God…and in this context I find that clenched fist quite helpful.
Unclenching a fist allows us to let go…
- we can offer to God our anger, our hurt, and especially our desire for revenge. May be we’re not ready to forgive; some hurts go very deep. But perhaps consciously unclenching our fists begins to free us from things that are stopping us from growing, that separate us from God.
- we can offer to God our demands. If we hold them a little less tightly, we can look at what we’re asking for, and we might change our minds about what’s really necessary.
- we can offer to God the things we want to keep to ourselves. This might be wealth or possessions…most of us could be more generous than we are…
…I think though, that our clenched fists more often hold on to things we don’t want to admit to, places we’re scared to open up to God’s light and love.
If prayer is unclenching our fists, then it is perhaps the process of letting God into the very heart of who we are. And that’s not easy. We hold fast to what we know – even if we’re not proud of it.
We know our faults, our failures, but sometimes it’s easier to think ‘that’s just how it is with me.’ We feel safe with what we know – even if what we know isn’t life giving. We cling to it, because letting it go means accepting the possibility of a different and unknown future.
Because once we have unclenched our fists and let go, we sit with open, empty hands. Hands that are ready to receive.
Letting go, of even those last layers of selfishness, leaves us in some ways, empty. And once we’ve emptied out some of the anger, the wants that preoccupy us, the things we’re ashamed of, we’re left with space.
Many great Christians have recognised that space within themselves as a longing to encounter God…a space that’s in all of us, if only we can uncover it. If we can truly unclench our fists, they suggest, praying becomes letting God himself inhabit our lives.
This is one of the many mysteries of faith that is hard to put into words…and as is often the case, I find myself looking to poets to help. R.S. Thomas – a Welsh poet priest writes of the change in his prayer as he aged…
‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer.
As though you are deaf, mortals have kept up their shrill cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.
It begins to appear this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference, the consciousness of myself in you, of you in me…’
For me, that journey from talking to God, to just opening up my life to let him in is not easy…I guess it’s a life’s work. But I have found that picture of a fist unclenching a really powerful one this week.
Those disciples, waiting, probably fearfully, in the upper room, knew only that they were waiting for a gift from God. It seems to me that in ‘devoting themselves to prayer’ there must have been some opening of hands, some letting go of what had been. So that, come Pentecost there was room in their lives for the overwhelming presence of God as Holy Spirit.
Over the coming week, Christians all around the world will be making a special effort to pray for God’s kingdom to come. We are invited to join them.
There are many resources online, a prayer journal, an interactive prayer adventure map for young people – check out the website; or download the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ App.
But if, like me, you are wearying a little of sitting at a computer, there’s also chance to use our beautiful churchyard as a place of prayer. There are prayers at various points on the benches; a prayer trellis at the porch, where prayer requests can be left, and shared; a prayer garden of beautiful painted stones; there will be bags of prayer crafts for children left out each day…
…do make use of this ancient place of prayer – and encourage others to do so too.
Or maybe you would just like to find a comfortable chair in a quiet spot…clench your fists…then slowly unclench them…offering everything to God. Then sit with open hands and an open heart. You may just find that you are more relaxed, less anxious…but there is always the possibility, as those first disciples found, of being surprised by the presence of God.