Tuesday, 25 May 2010

How to pray - eyes closed or eyes open?

On the last evening of the Kirchentag a special service was held to launch a book which two of our friends Sabine Udodesku and Luca Negro have been closely involved in shepherding towards publication.

It's a wonderfrul resource of liturgical texts, each prayer is printed in six languages and an accompanying CD further languages too. It's a great idea, a very practical way of celebrating ecumenism and is one fruit of the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu (where this blog was born!).
Called Laudate Omnes Gentes it includes some simple outlines for prayer services and about 40 liturgical songs to accompany the words in many languages. You can find out more here.

By the time the Saturday night of the Kirchentag arrived I was pretty tired so it was quite an experience to be one of about 4000 people gathered in one of the huge halls at the congress centre and to feel the sense of quiet and prayerfulness as we sang and prayed from our cardboard kirchentag "paphocke". I particularly enjoyed the opening Iona chant "come Holy spirit" which we sang in Geneva this morning and which I sense will become a new favourite of mine.

During the service several religious leaders were invited to share something about a favourite prayer. I particularly enjoyed Roman Catholic bishop Gerhard Feige speaking about the ecumenical experience of praying together in former East Germany. Margot Kässmann spoke last and chose Luther's morning and evening prayers, setting out how they offer a framework and the promise of God's angels watching over us whatever happens. By the time she had finished speaking I had tears on my cheeks, what she said came from the heart, was not over personal yet could speak to many.
This Sunday it was the words of Olav Fykse Tveit, our own general secretary, which came back to me. Standing behind the communion table with my colleague Bernard I realised I was praying the Lord's prayer with my eyes shut. Tveit had spoken simply and powerfully of how when he was a boy he had been encouraged to think that to pray properly you had to close your eyes. Getting more involved in ecumenism has led him to understand that he needed somehow to keep his eyes open to pray - even if only metaphorically - to see others, their need and suffering and to pray with them Christ's final prayer "that all may be one".
Since that tired Saturday night I've been thinking about the eyes open and eyes closed question where prayer is concerned
- do we really see others, their suffering, their joy, their concern?
- how do we hold this complex world in prayer before the God who created it?
Sometimes it is only by opening our eyes outwards that we truly see ourselves, only by closing our eyes that we are able to concentrate on the needs of others. Sometimes to see others, to pray for and with them, I need to physically close my eyes, yet the eye of the heart, the eye of prayer needs to be open.

More about Laudate omnes Gentes: Praying together- resources and songs for ecumenical celebrations here.
Photo: Nadine Malzkorn/2. ÖKT


Mavis said...

Really like your final couple of sentences. Sums up my view on this wonderful topic for reflection

Jane said...

Thanks MAvis
Sorry not to have responded sooner - I don't even have time to visit my own blog at the moment!