prayer and the absence of god

13 09 2016

How do we pray when we don’t feel like praying anymore? Why should we pray when we feel like we are hurling our words down an empty well, and all we hear are the echoes of our own sadness?

Stop praying? Give up? Pray something different?

God sometimes answers prayer in a straightforward way. We ask for something, he says yes, and we get what we asked for. Happy days.

God sometimes does not answer prayer in a straightforward way. Like we say to God please can I have £20 and he says yellow, and we walk off looking confused.


Part of the problem is the way we talk about prayer.


We talk about prayer being answered. Put this in a different context and see how strange it sounds. When did you last have a chat with your friend? Did they answer? Have you spent time with your family recently? Brilliant, did they answer?

Prayer is much more profound than answers. That type of prayer treats God like a divine Siri and church like a subscription to Amazon Prime – put your order in, wait for it to arrive. Grumble at any delay or delivery charges.

But then life happens, and no matter how much we can deny it, we know God does not operate like this.

But it was never like that.

A truth: God is.

Whether he gives us what we want or not, he is. He is above our mood swings, our doubts – we do not destroy God by not believing in him, or being angry with him.

Another truth: God wants us to talk to him.

Prayer is the word we give to the thing we do with our family and friends – conversation, hanging out, spending time, getting to know. The way that you can get to know how your friends and family will think, that is what we can do with God. he knows us, and we can know him, begin to think as he does.

Which is not something we do so that we can get what we want fro him when things go wrong, like sucking up to your boss so you get a promotion or the best desk or the shift you want.

But what about the times when we are angry and disappointed and he does not save the people around us from illness or despair or death? Yes, they are tough. Those are the times we wish we could build up credits with God, and cash them in for good health.

There is no cashing in. But it is ok to be angry.

I know despair, I know anger. I know the feeling of deep sadness that only the death of a loved one can bring, like constantly falling from a great height and never landing.

Where is God then? In the valley of the shadow of death he is with us. I firmly believe that.

Most of the time.

Giving us strength, hope, raising us from despair. But not always saving us from it.

Does that help you? Does it help you if your son is diagnosed with cancer, or a friend commits suicide? Or if life is just rubbish?

Maybe it helps to know you are not alone in feeling that God is absent. Maybe it helps to be given permission to be angry.

The Bible is full of lament, that pouring out of grief and anger and questions that happen when life goes wrong. In fact, if you want a metaphor, a picture, for how you might feel sometimes, see Lamentations. The clue is in the name.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones…
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked…
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help…
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust… (from Lam 3)

God is. And we pray.

Not just for what we want, but to know the heart of God.
Not because we want God to micromanage our lives.
Not because we believe we have a divine right to health, wealth and happiness.
But because God is.

Jesus calls us to persistent prayer. Yet knowing that the purposes of God – and of life – are greater than the well-being of my life or yours. Which can be hard to hear in these times of selfie-sticks, instant gratification, same-day delivery and the importance of my personal happiness.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (from Lam 3)


sacred static

5 11 2013

The sacred static is the noise you hear
from the heads of those so attached to how things
never were.

The sacred static is that which hasn’t always been
but feels like it ought to have been
and if we tell ourselves it has then we will believe it.

The sacred static is the sound of dust falling
onto things that once moved with life
but now feature in a museum of an imagined age.  

The sacred static preserves memory like the ashes of a loved one
in a golden urn upon the shrine of how things were
that cannot be moved or questioned.

The sacred static is the sound you hear 
when you ask the question:
so how about this worship we do that doesn’t reach anybody
and hasn’t for years; shall we do something different…?

Sacred static drowns out creative conversation
and the faith of our children’s children
with it’s fear of all but the most familiar.

Sacred static is like staring at the telly in the old days
when it went off air but you were so lonely
you just kept watching the meaningless dots.

Sacred static holds things as they are
nailing them to the floor and
claiming them as eternal
yet ensuring their mortality with the very same nails.

Sacred static is all that has been and cannot un-be. 

The sacred static is nothing to do with moving pews
or updating hymnbooks  
but everything to do with safety and familiarity 
and being anchored in a bewildering world of change
where it is ok to change homes, jobs, supermarkets, TV’s and partners
But do not change my church.

The sacred static is the sound of the Spirit
breathing out for the last time.  

This lament was inspired by a conversation with a friend who is a vicar in Cornwall, and is exactly that: a lament. I do believe there is hope, and the church is doing new things in Cornwall. But sometimes you just need to lament. 

turn my back

9 05 2011

I turn my back on you
The Lord Almighty
I turn my back.

I turn my back because I can hear the pain
yelling from behind the closed front door.
I turn my back because the sadness seeps out of the cracks in the driveway
spreading from under the abandoned car
and trembles in people’s eyes behind every prolonged blink.

I turn my back because though I know you are not here to make us feel better
you could at least make a goodwill gesture.
Perhaps just a cough.

A cough from you could change our world.

I turn my back on you
The Lord Almighty
I turn my back.

I turn my back because people are to be cherished
and I see little evidence of cherishing.

I turn my back because a family should be together
and I see togetherness fractured by brokenness.

I turn my back because I talk of you changing the world
and I want to see it
and yet I can’t even let you change me.

Because that is too hard.

You should do it without my help.

I turn my back because I am angry.
I am sad.
I am clutching at straws.
I turn my back because everywhere circles the enemy in
in giving up.

I turn my back on you
The Lord Almighty
I turn my back.

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