Prayer as Counter-Culture
written by Rev Gary Heard

Inner city life has an implied urgency. From the time of waking until returning one’s head to the pillow at night the constant sound of movement and activity fills the air. Whether it be the sound of trams and cars, the movement of people to and fro, or simply the general hubbub associated with the city, it is hard to escape the snare of activity and find a quiet place. It is not only counter-cultural to be still, it requires a concerted focus and intent. It is as though life were caught up in an ever-flowing stream: the simplest act is to allow it to dictate the pace. Inertia results in constant movement - if not of body - at least of spirit and heart.

Such constant stimulation can be fatal to relationships, which are nurtured in the balance of activity and stillness, of conversation and silence. When stillness and silence is so easily torn from us, we can find ourselves to be impoverished. We find ourselves restless and unsettled, oblivious to the true cause of our discomfited state. Finding activity less satisfying, it can be tempting to search for something more stimulating, something fresh, when our true need is stillness and silence.

In this context we find the call to prayer to be both radical and counter-cultural. Inasmuch as we understand prayer to be associated with stillness, its difficulty is increased for us, as the first phase into silence is associated with an increased awareness of the noise surrounding us, and an increased clamour from within. Voices which were silenced beneath the day’s activities now surface, seemingly ewith increasing pitch and volume. The first step into silence seems to be backwards: a cacophony of new sounds and distractions.

And yet these are the first steps in renewal: the first swimming strokes upstream. Having made the decision not to be carried along with the tide of decibels, we discover the pressure of those noises which have traveled apace, now continuing to push us as we determine to stem the flow. We find ourselves weak in the battle, often succumbing to the irresistible surge, yet with continued perseverance, we learn to negotiate the currents and rips, and find the peace-filled space, first for a fleeting moment, then in increasing measure.

As we reflect on prayer over the coming month, let us determine to stay the course. Though the early days seem fruitless and sometimes violent, be reminded that the space we seek is not an empty one, but one filled with God’s presence. We yearn not for a vacuum, but a moment filled with the Spirit of God.

For it is He who said, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jer 29:13).

June 26, 2005
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