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Prayer for the week

25 July 2014

Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff finds that making gestures in the office can be more uplifting than using words


Let my prayer rise before you as incense,

the lifting up of my hands as the

 evening sacrifice.

Vigil Office

Common Worship: Daily Prayer


I THINK that this prayer made it into the draft version of the Common Worship office of evening prayer, but into the final version only of the vigil service. Still, whenever I say evening prayer (not as often as I ought to), these lines from Psalm 141.2 slide into my mind.

Sometimes I do burn incense at my private prayers - although I cheat, and use a stick of incense rather than get out a pot of coals. I watch the smoke curl up to the ceiling, and imagine its carrying up to God my rambling petitions and praise. I imagine my worship's being as delightful to God as the smell is sweet to me. It is a reminder to me that God is waiting for us to turn our hearts to him, and enjoy him, as he enjoys us.

It puts a break on my instinct to treat my prayers as a kind of news bulletin or shopping list. It stops me thinking of my prayers as stuff I must say to God, and encourages me to think of my twice-daily burbling as an offering of myself.

It is not so much what I am saying, but that I am saying it that counts. God waits for us to come to him, to share our day with him, to grieve over our disappointments, and to hold our concerns before him. As we do so, we open up our hearts to him, revealing both the good and the bad, for God to use as he sees fit. It is a "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving", sweeter than any burnt offering.

I have not yet resorted to butchering any sacrifices, but I do sometimes raise my hands. The idea that even the gestures of my body are received by God grounds me in myself. Perhaps we can get carried away by the idea that "I" am a mind, an intellect looking out from this mortal shell of a body. But the body, too, is part of who we are - however vexing or limiting that can be.

My aches and pains are me, too, to be brought before the throne of grace; my digestion and my dexterity are elements of the "me" that I offer the Almighty. My hands, held out to receive the presence of God, make for prayer - every bit as much as my scrabbling around for holy words.

There is an enormous sense of freedom to be had, knowing that my worship is not only thoughts rattling around my head, but the bringing of my whole self to attend to God's glory. I do not have to present God with any specially pious or deep or noble thoughts. I can simply kneel in the presence of God, and be a delight to my maker.

I should say this version of evening prayer more often.

The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff is a prison service chaplain.

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