By the Rev. Dr. John Paul Westin
Bishop David Edwards, addressing the members of our recent Diocesan Synod in Fredericton, spoke about the central need for us to deepen our experience of prayer. He said “we need to take opportunities to learn how to pray. Prayer is about building our relationship with God; it is an ongoing conversation, not a shopping list or an emergency call in times of trouble. We each need to take courses, go on retreat and read about the development of our prayer life. And most of all, pray! If in our parishes we can learn to pray together and for each other then we will lead richer more harmonious lives.”
Our prayers should go as deep as our souls and yet many followers of Jesus experience dryness and difficulty in our prayer life. The Spiritual Development Committee, acting on the Bishop’s Charge, are offering a way to help Anglicans across the diocese find refreshment and empowerment in their life of prayer. The way is through the ancient Christian spiritual discipline (or practice) of meditative prayer. We are encouraging parishioners everywhere to take on the spiritual discipline of prayer this Lent, through reading and working through the book Meditative Prayer by Richard Peace.
Peace is the Robert Boyd Munger Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation in the School of Theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. A prolific author, Peace has written, co-authored, or edited over 80 books and resource guides, and his books have been translated into over ten languages. Meditative Prayer, though first written in 1998, has retained its freshness and insights for new generations of people seeking to deepen and broaden their experience of prayer and was reprinted again in June 2015. It is laid out in eight very clear and easy to follow chapters, allowing the reader to explore various methods of Christian prayer through the centuries, and experience the reality of God’s presence and communication in each.
Spiritual disciplines are simply ways to open ourselves to God. They help us become aware of the many ways God speaks to us and provide us with ways to respond to God. This book explores and explains how the historical disciplines and perspectives of the Christian faith can deepen both our walk with God and our community with others. In today’s society we are often handicapped in our spiritual growth by too narrow a horizon when it comes to spiritual practices. Each generation suffers a kind of collective amnesia, forgetting the practices and perspectives that nourished countless followers of Christ in centuries past. Rediscovering these skills is one way to respond to our culture’s (and our own) deep spiritual hunger.
In the Introduction to the book the author writes, “While it is seemingly preposterous for us to suppose we can interact with the God of this universe, Scripture repeatedly invites us to do that very thing. Prayer is not a minor idea tucked into the cracks of the text; it is central, normative, and expected. Why is it, then, that our prayers are so often dry and difficult? In Meditative Prayer, you’ll discover those ways of prayer that make use of your mind and imagination, that address your needs as well as strengthen your spirit. By drawing from a number of different sources-from Scripture, from wise Christian men and women who have gone before, and from one another-this study guide will enable your soul to drink deeply from the inexhaustible well of prayer.”
Coralie Losier was part of a study group at Stone Church that used the book last winter. She comments on the effect it had on her own prayer life, “I refer to the Meditative Prayer book often. I find the teaching on Centering prayer (which Bishop Marsh reinforced) and the Examen most helpful in that they seem to lead naturally into worship and blessing. Chapter 4 on Meditative prayer is something I’m quite drawn to and planning to focus more on in the coming months. This study has been a good starting point for all these types of prayer.”
Though you can use this guide for a personal journey of prayer, it is ideally suited for exploration with a small group of like-minded friends. That is the way we intend for it to be used throughout our diocese this year as our Lenten Study Book. All the parish clergy in the diocese have received a copy of the book and have been asked to lead or at least organize study groups around it in every parish. It is easily purchased online.
It is our hope that this fine little book will be used as a catalyst by the Holy Spirit to inspire and renew the life of prayer throughout the Anglican Church in our province. Look for notices in your church bulletins about Meditative Prayer study groups or ask your clergy about when and where it is starting up in your parish.
-John Paul Westin is the Vicar of the Anglican Uptown Churches in Saint John