By Canon Chris Palmer
The weather this week has been beautiful. Social media has been flooded with atmospheric pictures taken on early walks of the mist hovering over the river and the sun magically shining through.
It puts me in mind of a photo I took last Autumn, out running early one morning. I’m no photographer, but the combination of the beauty of nature and the ‘golden hour’ (the first and last hour of light that is ideal for taking photos) made for an image that needed no editing. I posted it with the comment ‘Why you should go running at 7am!’ See the photo above.
I’ve often reflected that there is something deeply prayerful about being wowed by the natural world. And there is something prayerful about running (and I’m sure other exercise): the call to be attentive our bodies and feel the exhilaration of stretching ourselves. People who never pay any conscious attention to God or religion still pray after a fashion when they surrender to this wonder and exhilaration.
And those of us who do pray in a more conscious and formal sense need to remember that our dedicated times of prayer aren’t in a special category on their own. Living alive to God flows in and out of all the activities of life; the boundaries between these are blur or non-existent.
Of course, it’s one thing to see prayer and praise in the beauty of nature or the thrill of running. It’s quite another to recognise the prayerfulness of answering emails or cleaning the bathroom. But some of the most saintly people in the church’s life have done just that.
In the seventeenth century, Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite lay brother had duties that kept him in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. He is best known for his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God. He challenges people who think they need special or ‘holy’ means to find God:
“People invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”
And two centuries later, John Keble could pen these words that we still sing:
If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we need to ask,
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.
God is in all things. We just need open hearts and eyes to recognise!