Fulcrum review of ‘Time to Pray’

Time to Pray

by the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England

Price: £12.99

Fulcrum review by Sarah Cawdell

"Time, give me more time," squeals Bilbo Baggins in desperation as the hungry Gollum desires the answer to a riddle much less than a bite or two of the scared hobbit. And so say all of us - well you might not, but I hear that cry in varying degrees quite often. Of course we all have the same amount of time, and apparently, on the whole a choice as to how to use it, more or less. Some choose to give time to peace and quiet, to thoughtful meditation, even to prayer.

One of the strongest voices in my research amongst the experiences and desires of non-church people is a plea for the church to be a place of quiet and stillness in the busyness of the post modern world. A local project also unearthed the value in having the church buildings open as a place of refuge from noise and things to do. There is nothing new in that, but how can the church offer silence amidst the cacophony, and stillness in the apparent chaos of the present disco dance of life?

Part of the answer lies in the state of our hearts of course, for as we carry in us the peace which passes understanding we are attractive to those seeking stillness for themselves. The Russian idea of poustinia is of real peace being demonstrated not in a hut in the garden, or a small room in the house, but in a place in the heart where stillness and peace can be found. If we can find ways to pray, and thus to carry with us the peaceful centre of a life being made whole, then I believe that as individuals and as the body of Christ, in buildings and in people we can offer salvation - in the sense of being made whole- to those who are crying out for that adventurous security in their lives.

Time to pray then is fundamental. And this gem of a small book, offering developments in daily prayer, can be used to create moments of peace in any life seeking points of stillness at the centre. It is an offering from the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England, and is made up of the first and final parts (Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer) of the UK's best selling prayer book for 2005, Common Worship: Daily Prayer.

Prayers such as one of Benedict of Nursia can only help to refocus our minds and hearts at an apposite moment in the day:

O gracious and holy Father,

give us wisdom to perceive you,

diligence to seek you,

patience to wait for you,

eyes to behold you,

a heart to meditate upon you

and a life to proclaim you.

Of course we all pray differently, using different styles and practices at different times. Time to Pray offers a liturgy which can fit in to any time of day, and within that some ancient prayers which are worth learning by heart as they can stand alone when our own words fail us. Some words of St Patrick's breastplate for example, are always an encouragement:

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word,
Praise to the God of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The book could be valued both by a small group learning to pray together, and by individuals wanting five minutes prayer at the lunch hour, or a brief focus on the train home. Talking recently with a curate, who is also a secondary school teacher, we discussed the occasional conflict in groups between Christians who like to pray ex tempore and those who prefer the structure of liturgy. It is to be hoped that the security of the basic structure can take us out of time (ex tempore) and into that eternity of heaven, by offering the security of liturgy alongside the freedom for additions and enhancements.

This is not a book for those who like constancy, who find themselves glad of the familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer that float so readily to the top of my mind at the mention of Matins and Evensong, along with the whiff of incense or college chapel. It is a post-modern publication full of choice and variety, but once recognized for what it is can be treasured appropriately.

The addition of Night Prayer (compline) and some key psalms serve further to enhance this slim volume and the helpful introduction, and advice on how to use the liturgies, should calm the anxieties of anyone just beginning to pray. It is designed for lay people especially, as a way into a simple office, but is also particularly suitable for clergy as a 'travelling version' of Common Worship: Daily Prayer.

All in all a commendable offering, practically bound and beautifully presented.

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