Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Our home is surrounded by countryside. Over the past few years, the use of the land has changed dramatically. Until recently, most of the pasture had flocks of sheep and much of the arable land was ‘set aside’. This spring there are no sheep and every field seems to be green with winter wheat. These changes reflect the changes in the global food economy.
A little corner of Lincolnshire is shaped by Australian drought and the collapse of the Russian sheepskin market. Our lives are globally and cosmically connected. If this is true for lamb chops, it must true for our souls.
There is something pathetically parochial about much contemporary spirituality with its obsession with self-realization. Much of the current ‘green spirituality’ is at one level motivated by self-interest: NIMBY rules OK! There is a good argument for saying that our prayer life should begin on the other side of the world.
For some people, this happens in a spontaneous way through personal connection and relationships. If this is true for you, the burden of prayer that you carry is a blessing to you and you should engage with the task with all your gifts of body, mind and spirit. But for those of us whose life experience has rooted us to a particular place, I think we should as a matter of discipline look for ways to pray ‘globally’.
An obvious first step is to use the media – printed or broadcast – as a prompt for prayer. Why not cut a picture out of the newspaper and place it in your Bible or prayer book? The news that disturbs you the most might be the situation that brings you to your knees. In other words, we ought to see our access to world news as an invitation to pray. This would be a graceful response to the often bizarre experience of the horror of current events being piped into the corner of our living rooms.
There are several good reasons for a deliberate and prayerful engagement with the wider world in this way. The first is that it must make a positive difference within the economy of God’s grace for faith, hope and love to be put to work for his beloved creation.
The second is the converting power of intercession. If we engage in prayer with poverty or injustice, and if we enter into conflict with the confusion of good and evil, we will be drawn nearer to the heart of God’s love and purpose. These seem to me to be compelling reasons to become global in our prayer time.
I recognize the genuine anxiety that once one picks up the world as a cause for prayer it might never end! I think that this anxiety is ill founded; if we ask the Lord to guide us in our prayer, he surely will. Experience shows that all intercession, if it is offered with total commitment, is transformed into another way of being in God. It is always the case that God takes our prayer and uses it to his own end. But perhaps this is most fruitful if we can begin in the best place. The best place is in bearing the burden of our neighbour in the global village.