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How I Pray

By Ivor Smith-Cameron.

Ivor Smith - Cameron

I am 72 and have been a priest for 48 years. As a child I learnt to pray, both by my membership of the church - in choir by hymn singing, in Sunday school by Bible stories - and at home by sharing in family morning prayers and personal night prayers. I say all this because I have realised in times of 'dryness' and 'listlessness' in different periods and circumstances of life that my early experiences of prayer come back frequently to comfort, strengthen and keep me going. What I had learnt by rote and by habit refreshed my dry roots of prayer in the most unexpected ways.

I believe that the best I can offer to the young is to encourage them to pray simply and sincerely and to talk to God as a Friend. A simple, yet profound habit of prayer carried me through adolescence and university, and close friends at college led me to consecrate my mind as well as my body to God. My Prayer life began to mature, but my earliest experiences in prayer were the grist of the mill God was working on.

In my seminary days I was fortunate to stumble across gems in the spiritual life which widened and deepened my life of prayer. I learned that I needed to find my own way in prayer. I learnt an enormous amount about prayer from Julian of Norwich, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Theresa of Avila and countless others, and, although I became excited by the range of the ways of prayer (Dominican, Benedictine, Oratorian, Franciscan, Taize and so on), I knew that I needed to find my own way in prayer. I found Dom John Chapman's advice most apt. He advised: "Pray as you can, don't pray as you can't, but pray!" I have tried to keep this advice and to pass it on to others. Other people pray in other ways. I do not envy them: I know that I am enriched by them. I go further and I thank God for them, for all of us ascend the ladder of prayer as companions in this journey within. We experience that this journey within is the longest journey and can take all our lives to complete and yet we can fully enter into it within a few seconds.

In the past two decades of my life I have had the joy and privilege of meeting women and men of other faith traditions, and this has been a significant step in widening still further my growth in prayer and deepened my wonder at the sheer incomprehensibility and unfathomability of God.

Let me instance some insights which I have been gifted. From my Muslim friends I have received the truth of the oneness and transcendence of the Divine. Buddhist neighbours have recovered within me a sense of reverence for the earth and all creation, and how to work and live humbly in the beauty of the created order. Hindu companions have reminded me forcibly that God is not a tribal God, but all-inclusive. There is only one God and all have the same God. When tempted to think sloppily about love, Jewish colleagues have reminded me that justice and righteousness are integral aspects of love. I thank God for all these gifts for they have driven me back to explore my own Christian treasury where all these gifts are present, but so many of them have been hidden away, waiting to be rediscovered. My interfaith journey has led to a rediscovery of my Christian heritage. I am now recovering and reclaiming my inheritance. I now know that in prayer I make my journey to heaven, but not without my neighbours.

Asked what he did when he entered his village church and sat alone within it, an old villager said: "I just sits and looks at him and he looks at me, and then I come away". That is increasingly my prayer. I know that prayer is the only thing that I can take away with me when I die. Meanwhile I increasingly enjoy, in the midst of a busy life, active in the concerns of society, a love of silence, adoration and contemplation. The older I get the more I long for and delight in God.

Ministry Today

You are reading How I Pray by Ivor Smith-Cameron, part of Issue 34 of Ministry Today, published in June 2005.

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