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Prayer for the week

04 January 2013

Meryl Doney finds a prayer for those who don't do silence


THESE words by Martin Wroe come from the small book When You Haven't Got a Prayer (Lion, 1997). They certainly are a prayer, but, as with many of Wroe's prayers and poems, they are addressed to us as much as they are to God. He has a way of turning things on their heads, playing with words, highlighting our assumptions, and allowing us to rethink our certainties.

They say you're available
on certain conditions. Quiet ones.
That if I can find an air of
It carries that still small voice.

But I don't do quiet, stillness.
I am not tranquil except when 
     I am asleep
And then I am not available
As far as I know. 

So, what's the chance of a still 
     big voice in the noise,
Of hearing you in the roaring 
The screaming mealtime,
The crowded train,
The supermarket queue,
The smoky, throbbing bar?

I know that time you weren't 
     in the fire, the storm.
But everyone's different.
Maybe Elijah was better at quiet. 

You're usually quiet.
I'm usually wired.
If I try for your silence,
Perhaps you could try for my

Your place or mine?
I know they say you're in 
     the country,
But maybe we could meet 
     in town. . .

Martin Wroe (b. 1961)

I know the author. He is wired. The other members of a committee of which he was a member resorted to giving him a football to play with, to keep him from jiggling his feet and distracting proceedings. Yet he is a brilliant ideas person - so wired that he can be relied on to spark off in all directions. He personifies the kind of creativity we cannot do without.

I am sure he is not alone. For every quiet contemplative among us, there are at least as many noisy extroverts. We have been blessed with both. So how is it that we have come to ascribe more spiritual value to one, at the expense of the other?

Does God really prefer the quiet, the secret, the understated, the calm? One glance at creation tells us otherwise. Thunder and lightning, the clash and scrape of tectonic plates, volcanoes exploding, the thundering hooves of migrating wildebeest, rooks settling for the night, piranhas attacking a carcass - it is a cacophonous, exhilarating world.

Jesus may have praised Mary for her attentiveness, but he talked to action-woman Martha about resurrection and eternal life - arguably one of the most important exchanges with a disciple that we have on record.

I know that it is important to give ourselves time to hear God. There is a call to carve out space in a busy life to be attentive to him, and I agree that we need to take this call seriously. But I also think that this prayer is asking us to be ourselves, and not to try to inhabit the "religious" persona that we have been encouraged to adopt. We should be able to distinguish his voice, however it comes to us.

So here we have a plea for a voice in among the everyday noisiness of life. I think that I heard that voice myself, not long ago. I was dashing along a city street, burdened with too much to do, worried and distracted. The words "Come unto me and I will give you rest" popped into my mind. I didn't do anything about it - I didn't have time. But I heard it, nevertheless, and it made a big difference to my ability to cope.

So this is a prayer for the noisy half of the world. Do use it, if that's you.

Meryl Doney is a writer and freelance fine-art curator.

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