In the school of prayer with Angela Ashwin

Books by Angela Ashwin
3 books by Angela Ashwin from my library

 

Angela Ashwin teaches us how to write beautiful, evocative prayers that connect with our everyday experience. But she is also an advocate for using “borrowed words” to enrich our (prayer) lives.

Companion

I first came across Angela Ashwin through her book, A little Book of Healing Prayer: my companion during the 5 days I spent at my mother’s deathbed. How comforting to have Angela Ashwin and others lend me their words while in the “valley of the shadow of death”.

One of the prayers seemed particularly apt – my mother was ever the seemstress – and I included it on the funeral service sheet:

O living God,
draw all the fragments of my life
into the bright mosaic of your love;
weave all the tangled threads of my desires
into the tapestry you are spreading,
like a rainbow,
on the loom of the world;
and help me celebrate
the many facets
and the dazzling colours
of your peace.

written by Julie M. Hulme
from A little Book of Healing Prayer by Angela Ashwin, #64

Ministry of “borrowed words”

A few years later, while on a trip to Edinburgh, I came across The Book of a Thousand Prayers, compiled by Angela Ashwin. I immediately bought two copies, one for myself and one for a friend. Prayers from this volume regularly make it onto the blog. (Maybe you’ve noticed and been inspired to buy a copy of your own.)

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to The Book of a Thousand Prayers (p.11) that explains the value and ministry of “borrowed words”:

We do not always need another person’s words when we pray. But there can be times when a prayer by someone else expresses our concerns and desires better than we could do ourselves and becomes a source of inspiration and strength. Or we may ‘grow into’ a prayer which has tremendously high ideals, such as the one by John Wesley: ‘Lord God, I am no longer my own but yours.’ Even though we have not ourselves arrived at such dizzy heights of self-giving, the very act of using a prayer like this helps us to come closer to its aspirations.

There can also be a sense of freedom in using a set prayer, because the words are given, and we simply let go into their flow and meaning. This is especially helpful in times of stress or doubt. The familiar words of a well-known prayer, or the challenges of a modern one, bring us back to our roots in God and remind us that we belong to the great body of Christ’s people. A written prayer links us not only with its author but also with all the other peoeple who have used it, so that, in a sense, we are never alone when we pray.

We usually think of prayer as an offering we make to God – and so it is. But it is much more. Prayer is God’s gift to us, a banquet of good things to feed our inner life as we respond to the invitation to his feast of peace, forgiveness, challenge and love.


 
To close, a prayer by Angela Ashwin that works as a mini-retreat:

God of delight, Source of all joy,
thank you for making me part of the web of life,
depending on the rhythms and fruits of the earth for my existence.
Help me to be wholly present to you,
now, in this place,
where my feet are on the ground,
and where I am surrounded by creation’s gifts,
from concrete to clouds,
if I have the wit to notice them!

from The Book of a Thousand Prayers by Angela Ashwin, #210


From the blog
In the school of prayer with Anselm
In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew
In the school of prayer with Ann Lewin
 

United by love

(Photo: Irene Bom)

 

I took this photograph of John and Ruth Robertson's wedding plaque when I last visited them in South Africa in 2015. Both have since passed away after a long life of loving and prayerful devotion in God’s service.

I first met John and Ruth the year after they were married, when I was in my 20’s, and they graciously took me (and later my family) into their hearts and prayers.

Ruth and John had been friends for years and when Ruth heard that John’s wife had died, she sent John a letter of condolence. Imagine her surprise when he came to visit her and proposed. Ruth’s initial response was “no”. She was in her fifties and happily single. But then, after praying about it, she contacted John and said, “If you ask me again, I’ll say yes”. So began a new chapter in their lives as instruments of love as a couple.

May you and I be instruments of love wherever God has called us and may we inspire and support others as John and Ruth have inspired and supported so many over the years – also me.


A prayer: Instruments of love

Let us pray to our kind and merciful God that his love for us may animate all we do and that our love may become contagious. Let us say: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

That the Church, the People of God, may never cease to proclaim by its teaching, life and liturgy that love of God and neighbour is the heart of the gospel and that people are God’s gift to us, let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

That people may not lose their hearts in today’s economic systems of profit, efficiency, production and competition, but that they may keep giving first place to human relationships of friendship and respect, let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

That we may have room in our hearts and homes for refugees and strangers, that we may learn to share our goods and ourselves with the little people loved by God – the poor and the lonely and those who suffer, let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

That those who don’t know how to forgive, those who have not experienced much happiness in life or whose longings have not been fulfilled may encounter a bit of God’s goodness in our attention and care, let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

That in our Christian communities we may uplift one another rather than tear down, accept each other with trust and affection, forgive one another from the heart and go forward together in hope and love, let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of your love.

Our gentle God, help us to love you and one another with your measure, that is, without measure,
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 
from Liturgies Alive, Models of Celebration,
posted on re-worship.blogspot.nl.


Related topics to explore to your heart’s content

  1. Resources for the 2018 week of prayer for Christian unity which takes place annually from 18 to 24 January.
  2. From the blog: Prayer sheet on Theme: The greatest is love

 

To keep our hearts in tune

Children learning about God's heart for the world
Children learning about God’s heart for the world (Photo: Irene Bom)
 
 
In October 2017 I visited the Scots Kirk in Lausanne, as part of a Local Church Review team.

At lunch one day I met Geraldine Ewen (82) who has been a part of the Lausanne congregation for 23 … 25 years. She told me about her links with the Salvation Army, through her grandparents. Still today Geraldine occasionally foregoes Sunday worship in her own church to attend the Salvation Army Sunday morning service with the band playing all the lovely hymn tunes.

Here is Geraldine singing one of the songs she learned as a child, and sharing how this and other songs from her childhood continue to do her heart good.

Transcript

Geraldine (singing):

Whisper a prayer in the morning
Whisper a prayer at noon
Whisper a prayer in the evening
to keep your heart in tune

Irene: Tell me the story of the song.

Geraldine: It was Salvation Army that we used to sing it. Yes. I don’t know if it was used by other churches.

Irene: You learned it from your grandparents or not?

Geraldine: Yes. Yes, and from Sunday School.

Irene: Right. Thank you.

Geraldine: But it’s something that has come, come with me all along. And when I go to Bible Study … we have Bible study in Le Mont. One of the girls here, she runs it in her home. And sometimes I just think of a chorus, a refrain, you know.

My grandfather, he used to sing, ‘He came right down to me … He came right down to me to condescend to be my friend. (in a whisper) He came right down to me.’ That’s another lovely one. ‘Condescended to come right down to me.’

Irene: What’s your name?

Geraldine: Geraldine.

Irene: Geraldine.

Geraldine: Geraldine Ewen from Lausanne, yes.


Verse 2 of “Whisper a prayer in the morning”:

Prayer changes things in the morning
Prayer changes things at noon
Prayer changes things in the evening
And keeps your heart in tune


See also: From generation to generation

Guest post: Memories of the hurricane


Beltway, Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit (August 2017)

Another guest post, this time from Brian Turnbow, one-time student on placement in Rotterdam (2007) and later returning as locum during Rev. Robert Calvert’s study leave in 2012.

Brian lives and works in Houston, Texas. After Hurricane Harvey hit the city at the end of August, I thought he might have something meaningful to contribute on the theme of refuge (September’s theme of the month). Here, instead, a post in our remember series, as Brian reflects back on his experiences before and after the hurricane.

Brian writes,

Like most residents in the city of Houston, Texas, I watched the televised news reports of the approaching hurricane at the end of August with a mix of fascination and concern. Should I join the throngs of residents at the local supermarket – with increasingly empty shelves – to stock up on food and water? Or should I drive two hours north to a safer location, get a hotel room, and wait for the hurricane to pass? Would I be able to get back to the city if I left?

Like the hurricane, my memory and impressions of the aftermath are a swirl of images and encounters: two women with no place to stay, knocking on the door of a small neighborhood church; helicopters flying overhead seeking people stranded on rooftops, escaping the rising waters; Good Samaritans in motorboats and canoes patrolling the neighborhoods, in search of stranded residents; my own car under a meter and a half of water.

My apartment, attached to a larger house where my landlords live, became a small peninsula as the water effectively isolated it on three sides from the rest of the neighborhood (the one side that remained accessible by foot led to nowhere). Sealed inside the relative safety of the house for three days, my ears became attuned to an unusual sound for such a large city: shear silence. No cars. No people. No movement. Only an occasional wind.

On the third day, signs of life slowly emerged in the city and the true extent of the devastation became clearer: houses with debris in front of them; abandoned cars, many having floated to their final destination; and entire sections of roadway still covered in meters of water. As my landlords and I ventured out of the neighborhood, we discovered – could it be?! – a small restaurant, open! Within an hour it was filled to capacity, customers and staff grateful for the time and space to gather, eat, and feel human again.

And then the process of rebuilding. Ordinary residents helping each other with food, water, clothing, and shelter. Volunteers moving from house to house helping with salvage efforts. Relief agencies pouring into the city.

When it was safe to return to my office at Fuller Seminary’s branch campus in Houston, we discovered that one of our students had lost everything in the floodwaters and had given birth at the same time. Another was on his way to visit family in Puerto Rico (and would be stranded there for a while after the next hurricane). One colleague lost his car, while another lost everything except his car.

But there’s one memory that stands above all others: the “Arkansas Baptist Men” with an armada of barbeque grills near the First Baptist Church, downtown, serving up pork sandwich plates to passersby. The memory of people taking and eating captures for me the one act that defines the city after the hurricane: hospitality.

Litany and a Prayer

We remember before God all who cry out for peace in the storm.

For those recovering from disasters of earth, wind, fire, and water:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those rebuilding from nothing,
and for those who rebuild the lives of others:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For orphans and the elderly, refugees and the homeless,
for trafficked women, and for all who depend on acts of compassion and mercy for their survival:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those in positions of power and authority,
who direct the flow of relief and aid:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For the ark of your Church, a shelter in the storm:
Grant your peace, O Lord.
 

 
Eternal God,
in the beginning your Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, and now calls us out of the chaos of despair and into the hope of new life.

Give us, we pray, such a vision of restoration and the world to come, that even in the midst of disasters and strife, we would know more fully your peace which surpasses understanding and the depth of your love for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen


Before and After Hurricane Harvey, New York Times

We will remember them


 
Somehow, via via, I’d found my way to Bar3, next to Rotown, a pop podium/bar/restaurant in Rotterdam that I like to visit. Rotown had a concert on that evening, so Bar3 would have to do.

I took out my laptop to work on Joost Pot’s guest post (War and Peace).

“What’s the wifi code?” I asked the bar man.

He rummaged around for some paper and wrote it down for me: JelleVogel (capital J, capital V).

“Who is Jelle Vogel?”, I asked.

“Someone who used to come here often, but doesn’t come anymore. This is our way of remembering him.”


Who are the Jelle Vogels in your life? How do you remember them?

Guest post: War and peace

Loods memorial Rotterdam 32Jewish Children’s Monument, Rotterdam (Source: wikipedia)
 

Each year, since the mid-1920’s, the Scots International Church Rotterdam hosts an annual Peace Service on Remembrance Sunday.

Joost Pot – retired auxiliary minister of the Church of Scotland and long-standing member of this congregation – reflects on his war-time experiences and our abiding need to pray and work for peace.

Joost writes,

I remember, I remember,
the house where I was born

Thomas Hood (1798-1845)

 
I remember. I was ten years old when the war started in the Netherlands on the 10th of May 1940. On that day, without warning, in the middle of the night, the Germans invaded our country. The fighting only lasted 5 days; the German army and air force were too powerful and overwhelmed us. Many Dutch soldiers were killed, and, after the bombing, the centre of Rotterdam was on fire for days. When the government and royal family left the country, the war went on from London with the Royal Navy (also around the former Dutch East Indies).

Please, not that tune

It was not easy in the war to live under an unloved regime. Most Germans knew very well that they were hated. To show their power and impress the population, the solders marched through the streets, singing. They had a complete repertoire of songs full of fighting spirit, sung to their own German tunes. One of these tunes was a Croatian composition by Franz Joseph Haydn. This same tune has found its way into English hymn books as the tune for John Newton’s wonderful hymn, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’. Now you understand why older Dutch church members have difficulty singing that hymn (tune).

No more war

The German occupation lasted 5 years. When they capitulated, they left the Netherlands in chaos, with hunger and starvation, people being executed in reprisal or punishment, the Jewish population almost completely murdered, and so on.

I remember May 1945 when the Germans capitulated; we were free but I knew of many who had been killed, never to come back. That was the start of local Remembrance ceremonies and speeches. We vowed we would all tell the younger generation, ‘Never again war’. But younger generations in some countries are not listening; they glorify war, it seems.

I remember the stories I heard from people who survived the concentration camps and other awful things. What war does to people is terrible, humiliating and cruel. The Bible tells us that a time will come when war will be studied no more and swords will be transformed into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks. (Isaiah 2:4) Jesus taught us to love our enemies and he did not condemn those who crucified him. He taught us to forgive . . .

Abiding legacy

I married Marion in Edinburgh in 1961, and we moved to Ridderkerk (15 minutes’ drive south east of Rotterdam centre) and found our way to the Scots Church in Rotterdam. Like many churches in Britain, we have a Remembrance service on the Sunday closest to 11 November, with a bugler and piper. That same evening we hold our annual Peace Service.

In reference to this long-standing tradition, Mrs Jean Morrison, a minister’s wife, writes in her book, Scots on the Dijk (1981):

“Dr Brown’s abiding legacy to the church is the annual United Service for Peace, an idea, stemming originally from a conference in Stockholm in 1924”.

In this service clergy from different nationalities and churches in the city of Rotterdam are invited to take part in their own language, so underlining the international prayer for peace. The service has a special atmosphere and is very inspiring.

A Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,

As the annual day of Remembrance approaches, we pray for the survivors of war. This is the time that they think of all that has happened – the destruction, their fears, the tragedy, the cruelty, asking why? It all comes back: the pain, the loss. It looks as if their scars get deeper and deeper. Is there no healing for those who once were the brave ones? But You are the Everlasting, the God of Peace, goodness and healing of all the wounds. When will our friends get rest?

Yet, we must confess the shortcomings of the world; its pride, its selfishness, its greed, its evil divisions and hatred. Yes, we must confess our share in what is wrong, and our failure to change things for the better.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Lord, we pray for all who are united in their passion for peace, justice and righteousness.

Lord grant us Your Peace.
Through Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Amen.


Also see From generation to generation

Up to us

How does the theme on a journey resonate with you personally? It’s a useful umbrella for all sorts of things, like “Journey through Lent”, for example.

Here’s one of my “on a journey” memories:

Some years ago now I had the opportunity to write a song for a CD project aimed at outdoor types. Not being much of an outdoor type myself, I was very grateful when a fellow commuter – a thoughtful Dutch man who regularly goes on walking holidays – had a lot to say on the subject.

“Do you mind if I take notes?” I asked.

In the 10-minute train ride from Utrecht Central to Houten on my way to work I gathered enough quality material to seed a whole song.

The CD project fizzled out, but the song has become a standard in the Two Doors Down repertoire, with me on guitar and vocals and Margriet on backing vocals and melodica.

Here’s a video of us performing “Up to us” in a noisy cafe in Dordrecht at our EP release in 2014:


Lyrics

1. Out on the trail – part of the landscape
Sensible shoes and good company
The swish, swish of our bodies in motion
I’m lost for words, lost in reverie.

We’ve got all we need to make a memory
Back to basics, minimum fuss
We know where we are
and kind of where we’re going
The rest is up to us (x2)

2. I do admit that nothing much happens
And I forget what we talked about
We cook, eat, sleep and get on with living
I’m walking on air, I’m on walkabout.

Chorus

3. Reading the map we can see the future
Making our way one step at a time
I’m rich, richer than I ever imagined
All I survey, in a way, is mine.

Chorus

We’re part of the elements – the cold, the heat
I’m thankful for every sensation – even sore feet.

Chorus

Blessing

Lord,
Make me a blessing.
Those that I meet
Make me a blessing.
As I walk down the street
Make me a blessing.
This day, even this hour
Make me a blessing.
It lies in your power
Make me a blessing.
At work and at home
Make me a blessing.
Wherever I roam
Make me a blessing.
That people may see
I am a blessing,
For you are with me.

from The Open Gate: Celtic Prayers for Growing Spiritually
by David Adam, p. 108