In the school of prayer with Michael Mayne


 

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! And that makes all the difference.

 
To quote Michael Mayne from Alleluia is our Song: Reflections on Eastertide, “Our struggles haven’t ended, nor has the world changed, because it is Easter Day. And yet because of Easter, everything has changed, all is different, because we have met Jesus and he has said ‘Peace be with you!'” (p. 13)
 
I first discovered Michael Mayne through his book, Learning to Dance. As with so many of his books, it is peppered with quotes from books that shaped him. This Sunrise of Wonder, written as a series of letters to his grandchildren, is no different.

 

Here are some extracts from This Sunrise of Wonder, from a chapter on prayer entitled “Prayer as giving attention to God”.

For the most part I let Michael Mayne speak in his own voice, with references to a mystic or two, for good measure. Check out the quotes in context to learn more about his influences.

 


I

“My value lies in the fact that I am my unique self, that no-one else who has ever lived, or who ever will, can be in exactly my relationship with God, or reflect his love back to him in exactly the same way. … ultimately that’s what life is about: it’s about learning to stand in your own space and discerning in its unfathomable depths a power greater than yourself who invites your attention; and not simply your attention but your love. And it is that kind of giving attention that we call prayer.” (p. 279)

II

“There is in each of us a Self that lies deeper than our conscious ego, that still point of your being where you are most truly you, so that the journey of prayer is largely a journey inwards. Not that prayer is self-analysis. Quite the reverse: it is a way of becoming detached, or escaping at least momentarily from the constant clamour of self. It is the way we begin to shift the centre of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. … Prayer is about learning how to become still, open and receptive to the now, the present moment in which alone God is to be found.” (p. 280)

III

“St John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, said that the heart of prayer is giving ‘loving attention to God’; and certainly the starting point of prayer is to realize that it is not about words (or not much of the time); it’s about listening. It is about becoming still, remaining still, waiting, not being afraid of silence. … Birds, painting, music, books, people: we have to learn to go at their pace and tune to their wavelength. What we receive is related to what we give. Giving attention to God is no different, though much harder. For we are so used to doing that learning to be is like learning a foreign language. And we mustn’t expect to feel much. Feelings are not what count. What counts is simply being there.” (p. 282)

IV

“Jean-Pierre de Caussade was an obscure eighteenth-century French priest who wrote anonymously a book called Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, and the heart of it lies in the phrase by which it is best known: ‘the sacrament of the present moment’. He begins with the New Testament assertion that God’s nature is unchangeable love, that he loves us at every moment of our lives and ‘can no more stop loving us than the sun can stop radiating heat.’ It follows, he says, that if God’s loves come to us at every single moment then he is with us in the moment that is now. If we don’t find God in the actual world around us, and in ourselves at this moment, then we can’t expect to find him in our so-called ‘spiritual’ times of prayer. Therefore it is to this moment, and to this moment alone in all its singular nowness, that we should give our attention, so ‘that every moment of our lives’ becomes ‘a sort of communion with the divine love’.” (p. 286-7)

V

“I have never seen this day, all it contains, before and I shall never see it again, nor will I ever again be exactly the self I am now. It is quite literally the only way we can know God, in the here and now and by living this moment fully. It is also, of course, the only hope we have of ever changing how we are, with the possibility of redeeming the past or affecting the future. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made,’ says the Psalmist, ‘let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ … If I am even to begin to live like this (and the kind of prayer I have spoken of is the most effective way of learning it), then two things are necessary. First, that I really do come to know at gut level that I do walk through the world as one who is loved, whatever may be happening to me, and that every moment, even the worst, can be used by God. And, secondly, that I learn to give attention to each moment as it comes – this person to be seen (repeat, seen), that tricky letter to be written, this humdrum task to be done … and that is difficult, and most of the time we forget. But that, and that alone, is how we are called to be. Not that we are called to do, but how we are called to be. Attention givers. For that, when you think about it, is not a bad definition of love.” (p. 288-9)
 

Some practical advice

“You can’t sit still if you are uncomfortable. … Only when the body is at ease is the mind at ease. … How you breathe is also important. Stillness is achieved by the stilling of our agitated restless minds and bodies. Most of us breathe much too shallowly most of the time, engaging only the upper part of the lungs. So it’s good to begin by very gently giving attention to our breathing for a few moments, until we are breathing in and out in a smooth unbroken rhythm and our body is calm and centred.” (p. 283-4)

“Because our mind is so full of thoughts and sensations the quiet repetition of a word or familiar phrase is one of the simplest and most effective ways of practicing the presence of God. Words like ‘Abba’, the word Jesus used to address the Father, or the words, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’, or the Psalmist’s ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. There is the Jesus Prayer which has been said for centuries and is one of the greatest treasures of the Orthodox Church, the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. … It is repeated, quietly and slowly, over and over again as a way of bringing us to be in God’s presence with no other thought than the wonder of God being who he is and us being who we are. … To say such words, repeatedly, means that they gradually become part of you and may then well up from within you quite outside your formal times of prayer. … But perhaps best of all is to take the Lord’s Prayer. It does not really matter if occasionally you get no further than the opening two words, provided your understanding of the words ‘Our’ and “Father’ is a fraction deeper as a result.” (p. 285)
 

quotes from This Sunrise of Wonder by Michael Mayne, 2008 edition
 


 
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