A collect came calling

Times change. Dial A Prayer is now a thoroughbred stallion that lives near me, but in the 1960’s it was a machine. A prayer machine that people could phone to hear a daily prayer. This was where my public writing began, as a 12-year-old creating prayers for Dial A Prayer, the machine not the horse.

From the get-go there was a keen sense of fit for me. And it wasn’t just because I was pleasing people who mattered in my life. Instead, it had something to do with words that bubbled up from my interior and my need, or compulsion to be creative with them.

If those prayers surfaced today, I’d smile because they would show how much my younger self was influenced by the evangelical crucible I was nurtured in; impregnated by images of God as an omnipotent, omnipresent and all powerful being. There would be requests for that God to intervene in often impossible situations, like terminal illness.

Many people prayed for my mother to be healed as she lay dying from cancer. None of those prayers had the desired impact. What was transformative though was sitting with mum as we faced into death together and nurtured the awareness of prayer as a cry of the human heart, needing no external response, nor expecting one.

As images and experiences of God came and went through my life, prayer continued to fascinate me. Marrying into a Jewish family opened me to the value of a ritual prayer cycle without the need for religious belief. The woman’s blessing at the lighting of the shabbat candles and the cantor chanting in synagogue still resonate within me.

In my 40’s at theological college I became frustrated that people around the country were being asked to pray for me and couldn’t understand why that was seen as valuable. I set up a discussion group of students and staff to try and understand. There were some great conversations with a range of views and confusions not so dissimilar to mine.

Over the intervening years as a priest and chaplain I’ve led the standard ritual prayers that often have a timeless quality, which I love. But I’ve also created many, some written and others spoken. For formal services, funerals, weddings, baptisms, ad hoc rituals or helping someone articulate what they’re experiencing through illness or death. What has mattered is that those prayers are grounded in the ordinary realities of everyday life.

As I stepped back from formal church involvement and into coordination of hospital chaplaincy, the demand for and opportunities to create prayers diminished. But every now and again, in response to a life experience, I’d find myself writing one, or perhaps it was a poem. It inevitably felt like pulling on an old glove that knew the shape of my hand.

Then, unexpectedly, a friend emailed asking if I would write a collect for Te Pouhere Sunday. This is the day that the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand celebrates its Constitution / Te Pouhere. I wasn’t sure I could remember how a collect was structured so instructions with the classic formula followed, along with the bible verse to base it on.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3: 28

That’s liberating truth but it’s hard for 21st century people in the Western world to appreciate when they’re backing away from Christianity. To realise how subversive and revolutionary the Jesus story was in Roman times. That there could be a way to live other than the violent, tightly gendered, and structured society people found themselves trapped in 2,000 years ago. And according to Tom Holland in his book Dominion our much beloved concepts of, ‘secularism, liberalism, science and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed’.

Somehow it felt as though my life, that irritating mystery to be entered into but never quite understood, was spiralling. Circling round and around my core, also deeply rooted in the Judeo/Christian seedbed. Then spiralling again to take in my Jungian explorations that have opened an appreciation of the unconscious and the collective unconscious from where Jungians say all God images emerge from.

Lionel Corbett, doctor, Jungian analyst, and writer suggests that by paying attention to the unconscious in one’s life that our own unique personal myth can develop. The result is freedom, ‘from remaining unconsciously trapped in the mythic tradition in which one was raised, which is usually based in ethnicity or the religion of one’s forbears’. [1]

This infers that the individual spiritual pathway matters most, rather than the collective. I can intellectually argue for a combination of both, but it’s true that I’ve progressively moved towards the individual way. Processing the profound hold that my inherited religion has had on me, whilst drawing from my unconscious through dream work to find a new pathway that is connected to, but not constrained by the collective.

That process allows me to appreciate the beauty and possibilities the tradition has beyond its own confines. So, it was important to write a collect that could breathe in a church environment but remain consistent with my developing Jungian ideas about God. To reflect an appreciation of the Self, which could be described as the integrating force of the God image within me, spiralling around finding its own reality as I find mine.

Thomas Cranmer, who created many of the original Anglican collects, would understand because he tried to make spiritual matters accessible in his time. So too did Leonard Cohen. He did it by weaving his Jewish tradition in and around the vibrancy of his life to make Hallelujah one of the most recognised and loved spiritual songs of our time.

Tangling with prayer was the lifeblood of both poets and I suspect it’s mine too. Thomas and Leonard are hard acts to follow but given I know that a prayer machine can morph into a racehorse, there’s hope for me yet.

[1] The God Image from Antiquity to Jung, p97.

3 Replies to “A collect came calling”

  1. Hello Sande,
    I read all of the writing you posted on your blog and love it all.
    It is an interesting comment about Holly’s process of healing. I didn’t know what I was signing up for, but it would be great if that outcome could be achieved. Our conversation seemed to rip off a scab in my psyche, and I haven’t been the same since. Sitting with all that happened in my life.

    1. hi Garry
      Apologies for the slow response. The system forgot to tell me you’d posted this.
      Absolutely pleased that Holly’s course is having this impact. Hope you tell her!
      She does say that it’s about finding the healing author within so …. all good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.