Prayer is the Therapy: Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

On 10th October the Church remembers Thomas Traherne, a seventeenth century priest and poet whose writings explore the beauty and goodness of God’s creation. Traherne was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and University of Oxford and took holy orders in 1656. During his lifetime his work was largely unknown but was re-discovered in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and has become much admired.

In ‘Centuries of Meditations’ he writes:

“Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels…You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more so, because people are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world”.

How can we start each day with such an optimistic attitude and live the day in our Father’s Palace as if we were among the Angels? It’s quite a challenge in the humdrum of our daily lives.

In Luke Chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus how they should pray. He gives them the words of The Lord’s Prayer, a pattern of praying which emulates the way Jesus lived his life and his relationship with his heavenly Father. We can call God Father because the Son calls him Father. We no longer need to hide from God, who is both an intimate Father God and heavenly Creator God. We can pray modestly for our daily needs, because our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask. If we persist in prayer, we can have the assurance of knowing that “for everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”, as our heavenly Father loves to pour out his blessings on us. We can live in a spirit of forgiveness, ready to receive and offer forgiveness, so that our communities can flourish. And we can pray for help and deliverance when trials and temptations come, just as Jesus did. In this prayer, these few lines, and in his own life, Jesus showed us what it means to be children of God and we can take our own place within his prayer and know that we are children, not of an anonymous God, but of the same heavenly Father as Jesus.

Luigi Gioia in his book ‘Say it to God’ says “prayer is the therapy through which our hearts of stone are progressively turned into hearts of flesh because prayer is simply remaining in the presence of the Lord just as flowers remain exposed to the light of the sun that sustains their life”. And “just like flowers, the moment we stop turning to the sun we start withering”. So perhaps we might like to begin each day with a prayer of thanksgiving, turning our face to the Son. We might like to pray the Lord’s Prayer, spoken very slowly line by line, to ponder the angels in our midst. Perhaps, as we practise this, we can truly enjoy and be grateful for what God gives us each day and share our blessings with one another as sisters and brothers of the same family.

AJ Upton

Chaplaincy Team


The Divine Creative Spark

I have never been to California, but if I ever do find myself somewhere near Los Angeles, I will not be able to resist the temptation to go to a rather run-down suburb called Watts, essentially to visit someone’s back garden. At the end of a cul-de-sac, in a non-descript house backing onto a railway line, there once lived an Italian by the name of Simon Rodia. His profession was listed as ‘cement finisher and tile setter’. He moved into Watts in 1921 and once there he spent every available moment of the next 34 years in his garden building Things. These Things became known as the Watts Towers. The centrepiece is a tower a few inches short of a hundred feet tall. The Towers look like a giant 3D spider’s web. It all claims to be the largest structure ever made by one man working alone. Rodia was offered help many times but he said this: “Nobody helped me. I think if I hire a man he don’t know what to do. A million times I don’t know what to do myself.”

Rodia 2

Every surface of the towers is covered with eccentric, brightly-covered patterns which on close examination include all sorts of everyday objects embedded in concrete. The decoration includes 15 000 tiles, 11 000 pieces of pottery, 10 000 shells, 6 000 pieces of glass, various bits of railway equipment and all sorts of other things.

One day the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department woke up to the fact that for 30-odd years someone had been building 100-foot towers without planning permission or any safety checks. So an aerospace engineer devised a ‘load test’. A steel cable was tied to the tallest tower in an attempt to pull it over. It turned out that the towers are so strong and stable that the test had to end because the Tower refused to fall down and the steel cable snapped because it was under so much tension.

Over the years Simon Rodia gave a lot of interviews and, of course, he was always asked, “Why?” He was only too pleased to give an answer. The trouble is, he always gave a different answer. He seems to have been incapable of communicating coherently, except by building giant Things. There are various suggestions about how best to understand what Rodia thought he was doing. Some people have looked into the life and work of this eccentric and see in him an extreme example of a trait which is in all of us: the need to be creative. One aspect of his story is quite revealing: when Rodia deemed the Towers to be finished, for a time he disappeared. He never wanted his creation to make him famous or rich; his motivation was the pure, fundamental, enjoyable, satisfying act of creating as an end in itself, an inbuilt drive to bring into being something which was not there before.

I first came across the Watts Towers through an account in The Ascent of Man, the history of science which was the brilliant creation of Jacob Bronowski. Bronowski says that Simon Rodia “had learned his engineering skill as he went along, by doing, and by taking pleasure in the doing.”  That’s a good basis for life; we learn best by doing and taking pleasure in the doing.

The Bible begins with two creation stories. In the first of them, in Genesis 1, we read that on the first ever Friday afternoon, we humans were made in the image of our creator. But if you’ve read from the beginning of the Bible, at that point you only know two things about God. The first is that he has spent five days making things. The second thing is that he looks at what he has brought into being and he sees ‘that it is good’. So the most fundamental thing about us, in his image, is that we have an inbuilt drive to create and a propensity to take delight in what is; our fundamental humanity is found in being excited about bringing things into being and in finding joy in what exists … hence we occasionally finding ourselves building giant Things colourfully, magnificently and extravagantly. However, creating is not always about making physical things; for some of us the creative satisfaction is in creating music or literature or knowledge or understanding or insight or community or family; bringing into being something intangible is no less creative. It is worth taking a little time to wonder what exists which would not be there without us; whatever you have brought into being is a reflection of the divine creative spark in each of us which is fundamental to who we are.

Peter Jenner