Ryan’s February 2022 Pastoral Letter

An invitation to pray with me through Lent

Rev’d Ryan Sirmons, Minister sirmons.urc@outlook.com

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. –1 Thessalonians 5.16-17

Friends

Starting on Thursday, 3 March, at 12pm, I invite you to join me each weekday for 10 minutes—no more than 15—in prayer during the season of Lent. Here’s why.

One month into the new year, I am beginning to realise that I don’t know how to pray as I ought. This struck me mid-January when I went on a silent retreat and tried to pray, but words would not come. I walked up and down hills and along a glorious seaside; I pondered a full moon rising above a glistening sea; I read scripture and stayed quiet by a small fireplace. Yet when I stopped to pray, my words felt hollow and ‘full of dust.’ They felt driven by ego. I felt ashamed of what I was trying to say in prayer, and therefore lost and more than a little alone. Before I left on retreat I had prayed with one of you, and that prayer felt really real, as it were, fresh and free of dust. So I know prayer can happen. It just wasn’t happening in this place I had gone in order to pray. And often my daily prayer practice feels similarly ‘dusty.’

Do you have trouble praying? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do. Whether you do or don’t, perhaps prayer—and more prayer together–is what we need in this moment. And maybe you can help me and others learn to pray as we ought.

I remember when I first learned to pray. I was in my grandparents’ cottage in the summer. It was bedtime. The three of us knelt at the side of my bed, and they taught me to pray the prayer Jesus taught us, The Lord’s Prayer, with ‘trespasses.’ They named all of the people they cared about, and the names of those who were lifted up in church on Sunday. Every night we did the same thing: we said prayers for our family and friends, and then closed with the ‘Jesus Prayer.’ 

Perhaps that’s all I need to do in prayer and I just need to keep doing that. But upon return I listened to a podcast where the American pastor Brian Zahnd, whose book Beauty Will Save the World is one of the my go-to resources, confessed that he, too, had trouble praying. He turned to prayer books following a dream that advised him that he did not, could not, know how to pray properly. His vulnerability about this was helpful to me. It made me realise that maybe I, too, need guidance in praying.

So this Lent, my commitment is to try to pray. Our elders’ study will be on hold during Lent so we can all focus on prayer. I’m hoping you will join me, every weekday at 12 o’clock on Zoom, for a prayer. They won’t be original prayers. They’ll come from a prayer book. I’ve listed below some of the resources I’ll be using, but no need for you to collect those in order to join, though if you cannot join because of work or other commitments, perhaps you’ll find something from those resources useful in sustaining this practice of prayer.

I close by sharing a prayer by the Jesuit priest Thomas Merton, which starts with that confession I needed to hear when I found it upon my return from the retreat: ‘I have no idea where I am going.’ May God bless you and keep you. I’m grateful to God to be on this journey with you!             –Ryan

 

The Merton Prayer        

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

‘The Merton Prayer’ from Thoughts in Solitude Copyright © 1956, 1958 by The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani.

Prayer resources for Lent

Zoom link for weekday prayers, starting at 12 o’clock on Thursday, 3rd March:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88243237218?pwd=RDYwbDNRbUNwclhPdFV0cjY4cm9Fdz09

Meeting ID: 882 4323 7218

Passcode: 807983

If you prefer to dial in with a telephone, click here for a phone number:

https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kmd5XEgAr

Daily Prayer App from the Presbyterian Church (USA):

https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pcusas-daily-prayer-app-upgraded-with-helpful-features/

Links to download the app using whatever type of smartphone system you use are included here.

Daily Devotionals from the United Reformed Church:

https://devotions.urc.org.uk/todays-daily-devotion/

There’s an option to subscribe to their daily podcast, which I try to listen to every day.

Books

Claiborne, Shane, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (2010). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Press.

Lewis, C.S.: How to Pray: Reflections and Essays (Reprint 2020). New York: William Collins.

Martin, James: Learning to Pray: a guide for everyone (2021). New York: William Collins. 

 

Zahnd, Brian: When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes (2022). Grand Rapids, Michigan: InterVarsity Press. (Not so much a prayer book, but a reflection companion during Lent).