The Generosity of Strangers

My husband and I have just returned from ten days’ holiday, which is, incidentally, why I did not write a blog last week – many apologies. We travelled with one of those low cost, no frills air lines and were on the whole, very content with the service. One of the things, however, which is in the small print of the contract, is that if there is too much hand luggage coming on board, the airline is at liberty to put some of it in the hold. Going out to our holiday destination there was no problem. Returning, however, probably with all the extra shopping people do as part of their holiday, there was, and as we waited in the queue to board the plane, the air hostesses came along the row and asked us to allow our hand luggage to go in the hold. For some people this was very frustrating as they had purposefully only got hand luggage so that they could avoid the long wait to retrieve their luggage at the other end. For us it was no problem because we already had luggage in the hold – that was until we realised that we had no label on the one piece of hand luggage going into the hold and that this particular suitcase is so common as to be impossible to identify alongside others on a baggage claim carousel. What to do?
We had been talking, as one so often does, to a very nice young woman in front of us in the queue, sharing the highlights of our holiday and getting on very well. Hearing me say to my husband,
“How will we identify our suitcase? It looks identical to many others.”
She answered, “Tie something round the handle. Have you got a ribbon or an elastic band or something?”
I had nothing. Without a moment hesitation she bent down and took a rather smart wired hair band from her bag and offered it to me. It was just the ticket, white with brown polka dots, easy to tie round, it soon adorned my luggage and created a unique piece. I thanked her profusely for her generosity and the queue moved forward.
But here is the point. A few minutes later, just before we gave up our hand luggage, I saw the same lady struggling to tie a screwed up, old plastic carrier bag round the handle of her carry on suitcase, which was also now going in the hold. The hostesses had asked her at the same time as me to allow them to put her hand luggage in the hold but hearing my anxiety she had given me the very item that would have made her life so much easier, and probably made her feel that her bag was safer.
It is a small thing: a little traveller’s tale. But for me the action was one of selfless kindness and generosity, which happens more frequently perhaps than we notice. It made me think of other occasions when complete strangers have gone out of their way to help me, sometimes at great cost to themselves.
I have left that polka dot hairband attached to my suitcase as a reminder. Every time I get that case out in future I will be reminded of my Good Samaritan and the oft surprising generosity of strangers.


Hospitality

I was challenged the other day to consider the word “hospitality” in a much deeper sense. As the Warden of a retreat house you would think that I comprehend what hospitality is all about and strive to produce it here at Launde Abbey. But the conversation invited me to look again and I realised in the looking how narrow my understanding of the word is.
Hospitality should be a Christian virtue, we are told, particularly towards the stranger. One is invited to give hospitality, a meal, a bed for the night. But the other side of hospitality is receiving. Are we taught that it is a Christian virtue to receive hospitality?
The Church Army has come up with the idea of “Reverse Hospitality” (Can Reverse Hospitality be Effective in Christian Ministry Today? By Jeremy M Sorsie). The basic idea being that instead of inviting someone into your home you receive hospitality from them by being a guest in their home, and thereby provide a situation of meeting where mission might take place. We certainly see Jesus using this technique with the Woman at the Well in John 4, staying with Zacchaeus in Luke 19 and in the many meals he has in peoples’ houses, from Pharisees to sinners and tax gatherers.
But thinking about the phrase, “Giving and Receiving Hospitality,” made me consider that this is even bigger: an attitude for all of life, not just about entertaining or being entertained. When we give someone hospitality at Launde Abbey do we also expect to receive from them? After all here is a unique opportunity to meet someone, not in order to convert them or do anything to them, but simply to enjoy the privilege of encountering another human being. What might I receive from the people coming today? How often have I felt as a parish priest on a pastoral visit that I have received much more from a visit to a parishioner than I have given?
Is hospitality in the end one of the most profound attitudes we can offer life? Is it not about trying to have an open heart and mind to everything that comes towards us, from the bird in the air to the tired, short-tempered person on the phone; how do I practice hospitality with the gifts of others; how do I engage with aging; how do I face failure; how do I handle the fact that one day I will die? What do I receive from this new experience and what do I give. And how do I realise in the end that everything is gift?
If our life and our death is in the hands of God, a gift from God, then perhaps we really should be able to look at even the worst things that befall us and say, “How can I be hospitable to this? What can I receive even from this? And what can I give, even within this?” Christ on the cross is a symbol of profound hospitality, opening his arms to the world as if to say, “I give you all God’s love and forgiveness and I receive all your sin and pain. I do it willingly, because my whole life is about God’s hospitality.”


Distraction in prayer

I remember the moment when I realised that most of the ‘noise’ that bothers me, is on the inside, not outside. The occasion was the first time I ever went on an eight day silent retreat. Obedient to the instructions I was given in advance, I had left all that could distract me at home, no novels, no radio. It was hard. Alone with myself and with endless time between meals I realised two things: how dependent I was on a whole scaffold of diversions, which protected me from spending any real time with myself and shielded me from the boredom I experienced when thrown on my own company; and, secondly, how noisy my head was.
It is only when we try to remain quiet, still and centred that we realise just how unquiet we are. Like a video for ever playing in our heads or a radio left on all night, our minds chatter and chatter, pulled swiftly from one thing to the next. We have imaginary conversations with ourselves and others. We go over old scenarios or future fantasies. We are pulled every which way by our emotions as we follow these dramas played out within us. There are even times of deep desolation as our memory takes us to past hurts which we thought we had dealt with long ago, or present grievances. The darkest of emotions are found here – envy, pride, anger, grief, loneliness and resentment. It engages all our attention and energy. It is noisy and exhausting. No wonder we do everything we can to avoid ourselves! BUT ALL THIS STUFF IS NOT REAL and that is the most important lesson we can learn. What is real is what is here and now, the present moment.
That is why so much prayer is about “practicing” being in the present moment. Trying over and over again when the mind wanders and the legion of voices inside our heads start calling to us, to come back and to attend to what is in front of us; what is in this moment. It is here, in the present, when we still the voices for an instant, when we are hushed and quiet, that we feel a presence deeper than the silence; that we know ourselves as part of something much bigger, much deeper, much more profound. This is a place without walls. We cannot define who we are in this place and we do not need to. We are simply here, now, still, at peace and awake to God.
However much we practice we cannot stay in that place. We always have to come down from the Mount of Transfiguration to the chaotic world below – and that is just as it should be. In my experience distraction in prayer is much more common than these times of wakefulness to the present moment. The conversations inside my head are very persistent. But I am learning that with a little bit of discipline I can chose, on occasions, not to engage with them, however tempting they may be. I can turn from them and just listen to the bird singing outside my window or sense my breathing, or know that I am typing at this moment, and I am back in the present. This is where I am alive and despite all distractions, I would rather spend a little more of my time here…now.


Stories of doubt

Faith…comes only when the outward fact penetrates to the inner heart of man and takes possession of him there — and this is the work of the Spirit. (George Hendry)

Since Easter we have been listening to stories of doubt in our gospels. On Easter Day we had the ending of Mark’s gospel which finishes at 16: 8. The three women are so afraid that they flee from the empty tomb and tell no one the message they have been given. On the Second Sunday of Easter, we went to John’s gospel and read of Thomas’ doubts. On the Third Sunday of Easter we were in a third gospel: that of Luke. We read of Jesus’ appearance to the apostles in the Upper Room on the same day he met the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. Again, it is a story of doubt – and a lot of other emotions. In a few verses we see terror, fear, disbelief, hesitation and distrust. But we also see joy and wonder (Luke 24: 41). It is hardly surprising that seeing a dead man walking, the disciples react as they do. But this theme of doubt continues to run through the Resurrection stories. If we were to read the end of Matthew’s gospel next week (and we are not – it is back to John) when Jesus gives his disciples what is called “the Great Commission,” we would find that whilst the disciples worshipped Jesus, some of them doubted (Matt 28: 17). Doubt continues. But it is to these mixed up and confused disciples that Jesus hands over his mission. He does not seem to be anxious about their doubts.
Personally, I find these stories of confused emotions very refreshing. I think we sometimes teach and preach the resurrection as though everyone was in a very dark place and then they saw Jesus and then everything was fine. Rather it appears that the fact of the resurrection and its meaning had slowly to penetrate into the hearts of the disciples. In Luke’s gospel Jesus twice “opens the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures,” as having always been about him, i.e. about the true nature of God. Although for one or two like Mary Magdalene and Thomas the revelation is sudden and absolute – “My Lord and my God,” says Thomas, when he sees the resurrected Jesus for himself; for others there is a slower growth into understanding. And why would we think it could be other? Now the disciples have to comprehend all that God is in Jesus backwards through the resurrection and the crucifixion. Everything they thought they understood about Jesus; his teaching and actions; everything they thought about themselves and life; all has to be revisited in the light of these world changing events. They are at the beginning of a learning curve that will continue through their lives as they seek to understand and apply all Jesus has taught them.
What is demanded of the disciples (and of each generation of believers) is what Paul calls the renewal of the mind, or in Greek metanoia, a complete change of mind. But this change of mind is not purely intellectual but a deep, life-shifting change of heart and being. The disciples themselves have to undergo a kind of death and resurrection, and it takes time. Nothing will ever be the same again and they recognise it. No wonder alongside the joy there is confusion and doubt. That is real and very, very normal.


Too busy for justice?

I was brought up short and rightly reprimanded by a lady the other day, when I said I had to leave a Lent lunch early “to go back to work.”
“But,” she said, “This is your work. These are your congregation.”
I floundered around making excuses about another appointment, but the comment stuck with me. I saw that I had thought of the Lent lunch as something unimportant, that I had to squeeze into my day between the ever present mountains of administration. Being alongside the nice people who are my congregation wasn’t work: listening, sharing, laughing. It was a hiccup in my day but something I had to do, and I did it as meanly, so I saw after my telling off, as possible. I was unjust in my attitude and in the use of my time and person.
If Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about anything, it is justice. Jesus chose to live and preach his message of God’s love, faithfulness and forgiveness, mainly to the rural peasant class of his time. These were the poorest people for whom life was full of injustice and threat. Into their hard lives, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom values of God: peace, forgiveness, mercy and justice. He had time for them. He was for them. He spoke of a God who was familiar to them through the words of the prophets.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5: 24
Jesus’ fundamental message does not change though the world goes through various epoch and cultural changes. At the moment the Western world is overwhelmed with the idea of 24 / 7, the notion that not only must everything be open and available 24 hours a day, but that we have to work harder and play harder and longer than we have ever done before. There is real anxiety in our culture and most markedly amongst our children. We are charging around working for something, but what? A house in the sun? An escape to the country? A time when we won’t have to live like this? And all the time, as the UNICEF advertisement on television tells us, there are children as young as 3yrs old living parentless on the streets of some of our major world cities. There are young people so disenfranchised and so disillusioned by what our culture offers, that they find the message of IS attractive and at the other end of the age spectrum, the elderly receive the impression through the media that they are a burden to society.
We all need, to speak in American slang, to wake up and smell the coffee, meaning we need to be realistic or aware; to abandon the naïve and foolish notion we have that an over busy life is somehow a moral life, or a more fulfilled life. It is our busyness that makes us blind to what is happening in our world and to us. You need time to see with your heart and your mind as well as your eyes. When we race from one thing to the next in a fluster of anxiety to get things right, we do not see how the opposite happens: we shortcut our loved ones and ourselves as well as the needy people of this world.
Jesus, we read, took time out. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need to do more of the same.


The coming of love

“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Sol. 2:13)

One of the first things that I learnt when I studied Christian Spirituality was that the idea that there is a spiritual and a secular world, God’s world and the rest of life, is entirely false. If God exists then all that is created is of God and loved and cherished by God. If we do not see this we are blind or asleep or haven’t made the connection. If all that is created is of God then everything that delights us physically is also of God and is given to us to bring us more deeply into the joy of our Creator Lord.
As we enter Easter Week, the daily readings designated by the Church at Morning Prayer include, “The Song of Solomon,” a book that has been highly misunderstood in modern times because it celebrates love, Eros, in all its fullness – which of course means physical love, too. Until the Reformation, “The Song of Solomon,” was considered one of the most important and profound books in the Bible. Such writers as the Venerable Bede, Gregory, and most famously, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote commentaries on it. Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross were hugely influenced by it. Why: because for the medieval person creation was an expression of the being of God – all is from God. God pours himself out in it. For these writers and thinkers the description of the love God had for his universe was most closely defined by the word “Eros” or erotic love. Eros is a force, the force or drive that animates all things and which comes from God. But in the Post-Reformation world we have cleaned up God and Christian society. We don’t talk about Eros, we don’t mention sex and so we miss the point the medieval commentators understood, that the “Song of Solomon” was thought to contain the central message of all scripture as the ultimate parable of God’s love for the Soul.
Perhaps part of our inherited fear about this book (inherited, I might say from the extreme prudishness of our Victorian forebears) is that it smacks of free love, but that is not to understand the story behind it. The story, put simply, comes from another Old Testament book, “Ecclesiastes”, and tells of the young king Solomon of Israel, who dressed up as a shepherd boy so that he might go about his kingdom incognito. He meets and falls in love with a simply country girl and she with him, not knowing who he is. They promise themselves to each other. He has to return to his responsibilities and she weeps for him, but one day he visits her part of the country and calls for her attendance on him. She, still not knowing who he is, goes to meet him and finds her beloved. They are married and it is in the profundity of their committed relationship to each other that they realise the full beauty of their love on all levels. It is this that is described in “The Song of Solomon.”
But of course we have not heard the deepest message of this song until we pass behind the description of this purely physical human love, perfect as it is, to read it as an expression of communion between a human being and God, between Christ and his church. And that is why it is given to us to meditate on in this Easter Week. Like the couple in the story in “Ecclesiastes” we have wandered throughout this world to find something, someone, bigger than ourselves to trust and fall in love with. We have seen it in God’s love for us expressed through the Cross and Resurrection and now we long to respond.
Someone has well said, “If you love Jesus Christ, you will love this song because here are words that fully express the rapture of the heart that has fallen in love with Christ.”


Loss of identity

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails: 

Blunt, thick, hammered through 

The medial nerves of One 

Who, having made us, knew 

The thing He had done,
Seeing (what all that is)
Our cross, and His. 
 (C S Lewis)

St Mark’s Jesus is silent on the cross. All the way through the long and appalling hours he says nothing. That is, until the terrible cry of dereliction near the end,
Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
All my life I have found this portrayal of Jesus hugely comforting because Jesus dies, as many people do die, feeling forsaken by God and yet, at the same time, crying out to God. It is comforting because it is real and true within human experience and the author of the Gospel does not evade it. But most of all it is because God in Jesus on the cross has not shirked the final terror and horror of human life; the feeling that finally one has been abandoned by God. How many people over the centuries must have felt that?
There is a famous story that rabbis in Auschwitz once decided to put God on trial – and found him guilty. The Nobel Laureate writer, Elie Wiesel was there. He said, “It happened at night; there were just three people. At the end of the trial, they used the word chayav, rather than ‘guilty’. It means ‘He owes us something’.”
Then they went to pray.
These rabbis, living in a manmade hell, having found God guilty did not turn away from Him; did not say, “I can no longer believe in God.” Just like Jesus on the cross they kept communication open even though what they were going through was inexplicable in terms of what they had understood God to be.
What was it for Jesus to lose his sense of connection with God? We cannot know fully but part of it must have been to lose his sense of identity. For someone who was “One with the Father” there was no Jesus without the Father, and for Christians there is no me without the relationship with God. I am only a person in relationship with others and I never knew who I was until I knew myself in relationship with Jesus. Losing a sense of identity happens to all human beings at one time or another in their life, usually after a big change, and it can be a terrible experience. Who am I now? What has my life been about? Has it all been wasted?
On the cross everything Jesus had was stripped away, and that of course was the point of this horrific form of execution. You are nothing, no one, it was intended to say. Crucified here on a rubbish dump, naked physically, your stress and emotions, your distraught mental state revealed to the world. You are nothing. No wonder Jesus identified himself with Psalm 22.
But I am a worm and not human:
Scorned by others and despised by the people.

This week, every week in the news, we hear of people living through terrible ordeals, their own crucifixions. Where is God, we cry, in all this? The answer is, he is there on the cross, in the midst of the chaos, despair and dereliction, a God who cannot escape, who does not want to escape, the cry of his people. The God, Who, having made us, knew the thing he had done – the God who owes us something, and who has never shirked paying the price.


Heart of stone into a heart of flesh

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36: 26)

 

Many of us look at ourselves and feel that our hearts have grown cold: we do not see ourselves as kind or compassionate and sometimes we feel that we are less loving than we once were.   Quite often we feel that although we have been committed to our Church over long years our faith has grown dull. We may know much more than we did but we do not feel that love has grown alongside the knowledge. God is there but distant and we have grown cold.

Life hurts and the wounds multiply as the years pass. We look out at a world in pain and we feel helpless. We look at ourselves sometimes and feel pretty helpless, too – as the collect says, Oh, Lord, you know that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.

I have on the prayer desk in my office a large stone heart. It is heavy and cold. It symbolises my heart of stone which I wish to become a heart of flesh. But how is it to become this? The first thing I have to do is to take it into my hands. As I hold it in my warm hands of flesh the stone becomes warm. Our hearts have to be held by the Incarnate Christ. At this special time of Passiontide we need again to approach not some vague, abstract God ‘out there’ but the man, Jesus, who became flesh for us to be with us; the one God sent, because he loved the world so much. This human being who goes for us, touches us as no other can do.

In our gospel for Passion Sunday we read of the Greeks who came to the disciple, Philip, because they wanted to see Jesus. We are reminded of the first chapter of John’s gospel where the two disciples of John the Baptist, one of whom is Andrew, follow Jesus. He asks,

What are you looking for?

They answer, Rabbi, where are you staying?

And he answers them, Come and see.

In our deepest selves most of us who call ourselves Christian long to see Jesus; not through an intermediary, not second-hand, but for ourselves. We long to see Jesus. We know that if we see him for ourselves our hearts will burn within us as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We know we will feel his love and that our love will be enflamed in response. But wonderful as this experience might be we need to be alert to what we are actually asking for. Are we asking to love God through Jesus simply for what we get out of it? If we want our hearts of stone to be turned into hearts of flesh, we have to realise that along with that comes exposure to pain, shame, humiliation, rejection and deep, deep sorrow. As John 12: 26 says, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Our hearts became stone for self-protection. Now in this Passiontide we are reminded of what it costs to receive a new heart. Jesus asked his disciples if they were willing to drink the cup he drank, and they, not understanding, said they were willing. Are we?

Every morning at Launde Abbey we, like so many Christians, intercede for the world in all its suffering and for individuals who are sick in body, mind or spirit or bereaved. Sometimes it all seems so dreary and repetitive, so hopeless. As we pray we are reminded of suffering we would sooner turn from – other peoples’ pain and grief, and so often, our own selfish response. It is not at all a comfortable place to be but the call is to remain in that sort of prayer, however, hopeless it sometimes feels.

What was it like for Jesus on the cross, to hang there shamed and humiliated, scoffed at and in terrible agony for a world that did not seem to want, let alone understand what he had tried to give them? Can we see him there? Can we stay with him throughout the next 12 days? Can we look with the eyes of our heart and mind at Jesus, flesh of our flesh, and see his loving response to all who come in need and his commitment to his friends, to the very end. Held by another our hearts are warmed, flesh holding flesh. Held by Jesus, our God made flesh for our sakes, we are warmed more deeply than any other human being can warm us. If we are willing to suffer the cost of opening our hearts to the way God loves, our hearts will become hearts of flesh instead of the hearts of stone.

Mary and Martha Double Life

Mary and Martha are alive and well and both living inside all of us!

It is an interesting observation that if you ever do a workshop with people about Mary and Martha, most will say that they are more Martha than Mary.  And they will admit it as if they are somehow failures for being like that.  But the truth is we need to be both these people.  Martha is the hands and feet of Christ, the active Christian.  Mary is the contemplative, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from him what actions to take.

So we need to be both Mary and Martha to be fully rounded Christians – but not necessarily both at the same time!  In the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of the two women (Luke 10: 38-42) we know that Martha was banging around in the background, whilst Jesus was talking to Mary.  Martha was determined to make her presence and her irritation known.  She made it impossible for Jesus and Mary simply to be quiet together.

Only lately have I realised that Martha is alive and kicking often when I want to pray.  Part of my mind behaves exactly like her.  As soon as the Mary in me tries to settle down to listen to God, Martha starts muttering about all we have to do.  What about that email?  What about that visit you promised to make?  What about the phone call to a bereaved friend?  What about the ‘to do’ list?  Then there is the voice of accusation about all the things I have failed to do, and a rising sense of anxiety as I begin to feel, I must make up for lost time now; I haven’t got time for prayer!  Of course, the Martha in me longs to settle down with Jesus, too, but she is “worried and upset by many things” and can’t help but nag Mary and complain to Jesus.

What can we do about the noise of Martha when we are trying to listen to God?  To have both Mary and Martha in us at the time of prayer is perfectly normal and to have both sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet is ideal – the contemplative needs to be active and the active contemplative.  Some days Martha is very quiet.  But some days she makes such a racket that Mary cannot hear herself think.  It doesn’t matter how long you have prayed or even how disciplined you are about your practice, this is the experience of most of us. But I have found that if I imagine simply sitting at the feet of Jesus and looking at him, and allowing him to gaze at me, my thoughts and emotions are calmed.  Sometimes I simply share with him the thing that is most bothering Martha and then I just wait.  In the silence filled and the pause the anxiety subsides and Martha no longer dominates the conversation.

“Ora et labora” (Pray and work)

Prayer, By George Herbert
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.
               ________________________________
The term, “ora et labora”, pray and work, is not just for monks – but we may tend to think it is!  But surely, you may respond, it is for the superheroes of prayer, the monks and nuns who go about (we think) praying as they attend to their daily routine.  I am sure those called to the religious life, try to do this.  But there is no reason why we should not all practice it.  Lent can be a very good time to try to get into the habit of so living.  Pray and work is a request to all of us to wake up to the present moment whenever we can and be aware of the invitation in that moment to be conscious of what God is offering and how we are responding.
I had an experience of waking up this morning when I was standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil.  For no obvious reason I woke up to the sense of impatience inside myself as I waited and at the same moment, the knowledge that I had “blanked” the rest of the world: the lovely view of the dawn light through my kitchen window and the sense of quietness that bathed the scene; the trees against the sky, the squirrel confidently foraging in the grass under the bird table.  In that moment I was aware both of myself and of God: my hurrying self, always impatient, always rushing to the next thing, valuing some things in my life as important and others as chores to be got through as quickly as possible.  I was also reminded of what is known as the “Slow Movement” which proposes that culturally we should all try to slow down life’s pace so as to experience it more deeply.  I responded.  I remembered God.  I slowed down and gazed out the window, grateful for the loveliness in front of me.  That pause remained with me as I later opened my front door and stepped into the world.  It was a beautiful, lucid Launde morning and it was God’s gift.  It was, in George Herbert’s words, “Heaven in ordinary,” and “something understood,” and as such it was as much prayer as any time spent in chapel.
The experience I describe above is familiar to most of us, I imagine.  Moments of waking into consciousness of what actually is rather than what only is in my head.  We can’t, of course, make these moments happen.  They are always a gift that seems to come from outside ourselves.  But we can help ourselves to so prepare that these moments are more likely to happen.  We do this through the daily prayer of quietness (contemplation / meditation), through “pondering” (giving ourselves space and time to do nothing – to waste time with God),  through the Examen (a daily evening prayer of reflecting on the day we have just had and asking ourselves where God was in our day).  Prayer is “the Church’s Banquet”, as George Herbert describes it, full of rich ways of approaching God and allowing him to approach us, which are not just about the prayer time but affect the whole day.
Prayer is work.  It is sometimes hard and gruelling or dry and unfulfilling but practiced it becomes more a part of ourselves and second nature, so that we are more likely to pray and work.  As this happens our eyes are opened and we see more and more often that God is in the ordinary, the everyday.  God’s voice calling us and calling us to delight in him, in his creation – and strangely enough, even in ourselves.