Weekly Reflection 30th August – 5th September 2009
Posted on: Friday 28th August 2009
Have you been on the London Eye? Embarking and disembarking is particularly thrilling because the wheel never actually stops, turning so slowly that all but the egregiously lame and halt have sufficient time to step on and off when their pod reaches the bottom of the cycle. I expect Health and Safety will outlaw this in due course, and we’ll have to be loaded on in crash helmets and knee pads to the wailing of klaxons, but until then, bon voyage. It reminds me of those Paternoster lifts which you still occasionally find in old buildings. Paternosters were a chain of open compartments that moved slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers could step on or off whenever they liked, pretty smartish, for the compartments continued on their daily round indifferent to their athleticism or lack thereof. They were called Paternosters for they recalled the continual cycle of Our Fathers offered when the faithful prayed the Rosary, another unbroken cycle that has continued for centuries. For us, on the man-ward side of God, the power of prayer lies in its unbroken rhythm, a rhythm sustained by those doing the praying without regard for mood, or season, or the price of eggs. But this traditional view of prayer grows more and more obscure in a culture which thinks praying is an add-on, something to do while walking the dog, or driving to work, rather than an activity which merits our complete and undivided attention for itself alone. Also, our assumption that authentic communication means giving voice to our individual emotions with as much sincerity as we can muster has crowded out prayer’s objective character. I think this only dawned on me at theological college when every morning and every evening, come rain or shine, we met to offer the prayer of the Church to God (with, admittedly, an opportunity for improvising towards the end: Father, we know how much you are pained by people hogging the Marmite at breakfast…) Much of the prayer we offered was in plainsong, Gregorian Chant (named after St Gregory the Great), and sung by monks and nuns for well over a thousand years. I can’t think of anything which better focuses our hearts and minds on the things of God, and which better realizes our obligation to pray unceasingly, than its austere beauty. The monk who led plainsong at my college was more pragmatic about it: offering prayer, he said, should be like stepping on and off the bus (rather like the London Eye). Gregory’s feast falls this week, and to mark it we are offering a beginner’s course in plainsong at the Wednesday Evening Service at 6.45 p.m. on September 2nd. Do come along if you can – you won’t be made to do anything embarrassing – and there’ll be refreshments of superior quality afterwards. Deo Gracias!
Fr Richard Coles, Curate.