Prayers from my teens by Derek Akker
Our church in Clitheroe had invested in converting the old Methodist School into a youth club. It was a brilliant place for the youth to meet. On Sunday evenings activities were more subdued and there was a time of reflection and discussion. At one such occasions we were introduced to the book Prayers of Life by Michel Quoist. He was a French Catholic Priest and writer who worked with young people. The book was first published in 1959 in French and then published in English in 1963. It was the first book on prayer I bought. The book was adventurous, radical and certainly not the prayers I was used to hearing and using. It certainly ruffled a few feathers amongst some of the elders within the church. A book by a Catholic priest being used in a Methodist Youth Club!
I still have my copy of Prayers of Life and thought as I prepared for a prolonged period of isolation it’s was worthy of reading again and sharing it through these pages in the form of a series of short reflections.
The brick, bricklayer and our song
One of our grandsons is learning to lay bricks, carefully mixing mortar and laying one brick on top of another. He has built an Argentinian style BBQ and during the lockdown has found other small projects to keep him occupied. It has been creative and fulfilling to see.
Michel Quoist wrote:
The bricklayer laid a brick on a bed of cement,
Then with a precise stroke of his trowel, spread another layer,
And without a by-your-leave, laid on another brick,
The foundations grew visibly,
The building rose, tall and strong to shelter people,
In photographs above we see two churches, one built in the 20th century, the other completed in the 21st century, both are of brick-built construction but each is different in style and size. The churches are some 430 miles / 700 km apart, in different countries and with different cultures but they share a common purpose, to create a safe and secure venue where a community can come together to worship God and share their faith stories.
We also see members of the European Cathedral Singers after they had sung Choral Evensong at All Saints, Elton, Bury.
The Church is the Body of Christ but it needs to meet in a building, a church to build fellowship and grow. ‘The building rose, tall and strong to shelter people’, but over the last few months their doors were shut and locked, no space for worship, fellowship and the warmth of friendship.
Michel Quoist continues:
I thought, dear Lord, of that brick buried in the darkness at the base of the building.
No-one sees it, but it accomplishes its task and the other bricks need it.
Lord, what difference does it make whether I am on the roof-top or in the foundation of your building.
As long as I stand faithfully at the right place.
<span style="font-size: 1rem;">Lord, I want to stand in the right place.</span>
Lord, help us to see the building as more than a place that keeps us warm and dry.
It is a place than enfolds us in fellowship.
It’s a place where we can reach out and touch the sacred.
It’s a place where we hold out our hands and receive the bread broken us and remember all that you did for us.
It’s a place where our voices ring out with the joyful sound of praise, even if Lord, they are not always tuneful.
Lord, thank you for all those whose ministry is musical whether in the playing instruments or in song.
Lord, our churches were not built to be silenced but to ring out with joyful praise and adoration, to join in the sharing of the sacraments and to learn to love and share your good news.
But we are conscious, Lord, the right place is not the same for all people. Some for whatever reason cannot attend church, some are unable to stand but you create and honour their right place, help us also to recognise and honour their right place. Amen.
Grant to your people, good Lord,
the spirit of unity,
that they may dwell together in your love,
and so bear to the world
the ointment of your healing and the
dew of your blessing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
Click the YouTube link to hear this blessing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eve2y-P-Zjk – John Rutter – Gaelic Blessing
Fr Derek Akker
Prayer Before a Five Pound Note
This is another of the prayers of Michel Quoist I remember from my teens. When I say remember I mean I could recall the essence of the prayer. It struck me because a £5 note was something I saw but seldom held. It was more than my weekly wage in 1963, as an apprentice aircraft engineer. Today it is worth about £88 or €100, according the web page I consulted. It was not an insignificant amount.
I suppose if the prayer was to be written today in would include the Credit or Debit Card and the contactless facility that is available. Personal banking and the handling of money has changed so much since the early 1960s; I did not have a bank account then. While how we deal with personal finance has changed what Michel Quoist wrote regarding the bank note still can speak to us today.
Why not sit down with a cup of tea or coffee, relax, take a few slow deep breaths and pick up a £5, €5 note or your debit card and slowly and prayerfully read Michel Quoist’s prayer. Do not rush, let each line speak to you.
Lord, see this note, it frightens me.
You know its secrets; you know its history.
How heavy it is!
It scares me, for it cannot speak.
It will never tell all it hides in its creases....
Through how many hands has it passed, Lord?
It has offered white roses to the radiant fiancee.
It has paid for the baptismal party, and fed the growing baby.
It has provided bread for the family table.
Because of it there was laughter among the young, and joy among the adults.
It has paid for the saving visit of the doctor,
It has bought the book that taught the youngster,
It has clothed the young girl.
But it has sent the letter breaking the engagement.
It has paid for the death of a child in its mother's womb.
It has bought the liquor that made the drunkard.
It has produced the film unfit for children.
And has recorded the indecent song.
It has broken the morals of the adolescent and made of the adult a thief.
It has bought for a few hours the body of a woman.
It has paid for the weapons of the crime and for the wood of the coffin.
O Lord, I offer you this note with its joyous mysteries, and its sorrowful mysteries.
I thank you for all the life and joy it has given.
I ask your forgiveness for the harm it has done.
But above all, Lord, I offer it to you as a symbol of all of the labours of men and women,
indestructible money, which tomorrow will be changed into your eternal life.
Take care and be kind to yourself and othersDerek
Prayers from my Teens (4)
In his own inimitable style Michel Quoist faces the hard reality of death and he is not shy about bringing his raw feelings or confronting the Lord in prayer. He begins his prayer entitled ‘My friend died last night, Lord’ with a simple statement that ‘It is God’s will that each of his children is born, lives and dies. But we should all die a ‘natural’ death at the end of our lives. Premature death from accidents or illness are not God’s doing, nor are they ‘the will of God’ any more that just a matter of luck.’ He sees these premature deaths as a consequence of how we exercise our freedom and how we exercise our responsibility of ourselves and others. Incurable illnesses are often down to how we treat our own bodies and the lack of cures is down to the need to divert monies, intelligence and energy from ‘inventing ways of killing each other to finding ways ….to protect life and bring it to its full potential’. A point reinforced by Bill Gates in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Easter Day morning. He had warned 5 years ago that the world was not in a good position to face a pandemic and was critical at the funding of military resources and the lack of funding of research to protect the world from pandemics.
The prayer starts with the words: ‘My friend died last night, Lord’. In a short sentence Quoist refers to a life ebbing away from him and his friend’s fight against cancer and the care of his family and medical team.
Quoist then prays:
I’m not saying, Lord:
since that is what you wanted,
may your will be done;
and still less am I saying:
may your holy will be done.
But I’m telling you,
very quietly, very quietly,
because so many people will never understand.
I’m telling you, Lord, that my friend died . . .
And you could do nothing about it;
you couldn’t do what I so desperately longed for,
you couldn’t do what I foolishly hoped for.
Then Michel Quoist has a conversation with the Lord in which he recognises the influences for friends and his own faith journey;
that the Lord:
wants life not death
and that because you love more
you suffer more than any of us
when you see so many of children dying before their time.
. . .
I understood that because of your respect and love for us
you never wanted to take our place
in the battle against illness,
but always offered to suffer with us
and to struggle with us.
Michel Quoist describes his friend’s approach to his terminal cancer. He desired that his medical team strive for a cure. He asked for the courage to suffer, to accept treatments ‘so that others after him might suffer less and even be cured some day.’ ‘He asked for everyone … the joy of living.’
Lord, my friend didn’t offer up his suffering
because he used to say that suffering is evil
and God does not like suffering.
He offered his long and painful battle
My friend, Lord,
didn’t give in to his suffering,
but like you,
Oh my Saviour Jesus,
he gave his life
that we might live.
My friend died last night, Lord,
and I am weeping
but my heart is at peace
because my friend died last night,
but with you,
he gave me life.
(Keeping Hope - Kindle edition)
As we deal with the questions of death and life caused by COVID 19 may we see suffering for what it is, let us NEVER forget that Jesus, the Risen Lord, is there in the suffering.
May we do whatever we can to encourage research for a cure and vaccination for Coronavirus / COVID 19.
In moments of stillness let us prayerfully remember:
All the key workers who work and care for our neighbourhood.
Those in hospital with Coronavirus / COVID 19.
Those recovering from Coronavirus / COVID 19.
Those in social isolation who live alone.
Those with mental health issues.
For our church family.
For family and friends.
The Lord’s Prayer
May the God who raised our Saviour Christ to life
Give us strength to face to days ahead,
knowing that we are loved and precious in the eyes of our Lord.
And the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
As Easter People let us keep hope.
REFLECTION 3: Monday 30th March
While the ‘Prayers of Life’ by Michel Quoist provided me with a radical and refreshing view on prayer, it did not mean I abandoned what I was learning about the way Methodists saw prayer and worship. I learnt that the Methodist Hymn book was much more than a song book. Hymns became prayers, there seemed to be a hymn for every occasion and therefore a prayer for every occasion.
My copy of ‘Prayers of Life’ is looking rather dog-eared and neglected. It is now having a breath of fresh air breathed into it as I entered a long period of isolation and shielding. I have valued returning to this book of my teens and I hope you also find value in the reflections it inspires.
Those of us of a certain age will remember the conventional classroom with a long bank of black-boards. Today the black has been largely replaced by white-boards and chalk replaced by felt pens. In between the movement from black-boards to white-boards there was the green-board.
This change and the role of the scientist caught the imagination of Michel Quoist and inspired him to pen ‘Green Blackboards’.
However, before we start how about making yourself a coffee (other drinks are equally suitable.) Sit and relax, taking a few deep breaths, enjoying your refreshing drink and prepare for an adventure in prayer; be prepared for the unexpected for sometimes it is in the unexpected that we find our Lord.
The school is up-to-date.
Proudly, the principal tells of all the improvements.
The finest discovery, Lord, are the green blackboards.
The scientists have studied long, they have made experiments;
We know now that green is the ideal colour, that it doesn’t tire the eyes, that it is quieting and relaxing.
It has occurred to me, Lord, that you didn’t wait so long to paint the trees and meadows green.
Your research laboratories were efficient, and in order not to tire us,
you perfected a number of shades of green for your modern meadows.
And so the “finds” of people consist of discovering what you have known from time immemorial.
Thank you, Lord, for being the good Father who gives his children
the joy of discovering by themselves the treasures of his intelligence and love.
But keep us from believing that – by ourselves - we have invented anything at all.
(Michel Quoist – Prayers of Life – Gill and Macmillan 1963 pp 16)
Look out of your window or take a stroll around your garden and look for the shades of green and savour the freshness of early summer. Observe how the greens, so often, provide the background to the flowers as they develop and burst into bloom.
In these dark moments allow your senses to be awakened to the vibrancy of the greens and the blooms and give thanks for these signs of new life.
Further while we marvel at inventiveness and the imagination of the human spirit, we pray that they will work to lessen the effects of Coronavirus / COVID-19, and in the longer term that they may work to develop a vaccine. As we reflect on these things let us honour the hand of the divine in all these labours.
You may choose to close this time with the Lord’s Prayer and:
Sustaining God, we receive the fruits of the earth from you. We give you thanks for the smell of the earth after rain, we ask that the rain come as often as it is needed and the warmth of the sun so that plants may flourish.
Lord you are present with us now,
Keep our hearts, soul, mind and body;
And protect us from all that would harm us,
And may we have Christ’s healing and Christ’s peace.
REFLECTION 2: Wednesday 25th March
‘But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard
because of their many words’. (Matthew 6:6-7)
These words from Matthew Gospel have a different ring today; going into our room and shutting the door is not just finding a peaceful place. We are in virtual lockdown with only limited opportunity to leave our home. Of course the words in Matthew were not about a lockdown, they were a counter to the extravagant, exuberant and exhibitionism of some of those who prayed in public. Jesus was calling his followers to something different. It is in what might appear simplicity and quietness that you come before the Lord.
Michel Quoist sums it up thus:
“In the silence of faith,
Before you, Lord
But, Lord, I am not alone
I am a crown, Lord,
For people live within me.
I have met them.
They have come in,
They have settled down,
They have worried me,
They have tormented me,
They have devoured me,
And I have allowed it, Lord, that they might be nourished and refreshed.
I bring them to you, too, as I come before you.
I expose them to you in exposing myself to you.
Here I am,
Here they are,
Before you, Lord.”
(Michel Quoist – Prayers of Life – Gill and Macmillan 1963 pp 114)
Pause for a moment and think of those who have come to mind during the last few days. Just hold the thought of them, picture them and hear their voice. There is no need to hunt for words to say, let your thoughtful silence be your prayer. "Here I am, Here they are, Before you, Lord.”
You may choose to close this time with the Lords Prayer and then:
Our Lord Jesus Christ who is present with us now,
Keep your heart, your soul, your mind and body;
May he protect you from all that would harm you,
And may you have Christ’s healing and Christ’s peace. Amen.
REFLECTION 1: Sunday 22nd March
‘If we knew how to listen to God, we should hear him speaking to us.
For God does speak. He speaks in his gospel; he speaks also through life –
that new Gospel to which ourselves add a page each day’.
A reading from the Gospel of Mark
Jesus likes youngsters
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Mark10:13-15)
‘God says: I like youngsters. I want people to be like them.
I don’t like old people unless they are still children.
I want only children in my kingdom; this has been decreed from the beginning of time.
Youngsters – twisted, humped, wrinkled, white-bearded – all kind of youngster, but youngsters’.
Pause for a moment to reflect on these words. Does it shock you to read “I don’t like old people unless they are still children”?
I was a youngster when I first heard these words, time and age has taken me through all the changing scenes of life, I’m now wrinkled, white-bearded with aches and pains but, and it’s a big but, am I still a youngster at heart and in the eyes of our Lord?
In thoughtful prayer bring before the Lord the youngsters you know, picture them, smile and hold them in your heart.
Now pray that you can reclaim your youth, not so much physically but spiritually and emotionally.
‘Alleluia! Alleluia! Open, all you little old people! It is I, your God, the Eternal,
risen from the dead, coming to bring back to life the child in you.
Hurry! Now is the time. I am ready to give you again the beautiful face of a child,
The eyes of a child . . . For I love youngsters, I want everyone to be like them’.
(Michel Quoist – Prayers of Life – Gill and Macmillan 1963 pp 2-4)
You may choose to close this time with the Lords Prayer and then say:
May the God of peace
bring peace to this house.
May the Son of peace
bring peace to this house.
May the Spirit of peace
bring peace to this house,
this night and all nights