Prayer for the week

by
30 August 2013

Alison Fulford on a prayer that plumbs the depths to look for hope

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Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being. Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow; so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making. Out of the deep I cry to you, O God. Amen.

George Appleton (1902-93), adapted by Jim Cotter (b. 1942)

SOMETIMES, when we pray, it is good to forget about ourselves. In these times of prayer, it is as if we go out of ourselves, and walk about among the people and places that we are interceding for. It can also be that we forget about ourselves, because we are led a little further into God, and are caught up in awe and wonder, praise and peace.

At other times, however, our prayer is a journey within ourselves. There is no one who finds this easy, if it is undertaken truthfully. The prayer that we have this week is based on one by George Appleton, Archbishop of Perth before his translation to Jerusalem, and it focuses on the experience of travelling with-in.

Appleton invokes the language of Jonah and of the Psalms to describe his situation. He speaks of descending "into the deeps of my being", and at the close of the prayer he quotes directly from Psalm 130 as he writes: "Out of the deep I cry to you, O God."

The scriptural image that he is calling to mind is one of being covered over with water, in danger of being sucked down into the place of death, the Pit (see Jonah 2 and Psalm 69). We know that the author is using this image metaphorically, to describe an inner drama. Drowning is an apt analogy for feeling far from God, and suffering such distress that the self feels under threat of extinction.

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So this prayer is allied to a rich tradition. Where it differs, however, is in picturing the lightening of the descent by the candle of the Spirit. As the author goes within himself, he asks God to help him to face the "hidden things": all the memories and hurts that have accrued over a lifetime, and that add to the present desolation.

What is fascinating is that, at the bottom, in the darkest place, where the writer of Jonah or Psalm 69 would imagine the Pit to be, and the end of life, the author of this prayer pictures the "spring of life". He also speaks of a seed; and both of these images suggest new life and growth. By facing the hurts of the past with God at his side, Appleton and Jim Cotter, who has slightly adapted this prayer, hope to rediscover the self that truly reflects the image of the God who made them.

We, too, benefit from turning within and making this journey. Like these writers, we can pray for a candle of the Spirit to guide us. We may also want to invite a travelling companion to come with us, to help us on the way. A spiritual director, perhaps, or someone with therapeutic training can help us to make sense of what we find inside ourselves, and in this way can help to reflect the illuminating light of the Spirit.

This prayer reassures us that whatever lies within is also in God's keeping, and subject to God's healing, life-giving grace.

The Revd Alison Fulford is the Rector of Hickling with Kinoulton and Upper Broughton, in the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham.

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