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The Prayer Seeker
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I can think of no other way of expressing it. I used to love to pray. No, that’s not quite
true, it sounds too intellectual. In my twenties, praying consumed me for a long time. I
used to carry it around with me like a precious gift I’d only barely begun to open. Back
then, I could happily spend hours with God, sometimes talking, sometimes listening,
sometimes doing nothing at all but waiting, but I knew it was there. That feel in the gut,
that sense of
it’s impossible to describe until you’ve felt it for yourself. I used to
love it, used to long to be alone simply so I could pray like that. Do you understand what
it is I’m trying to say?”
Michael glanced up at John, meeting his steady gaze for the first time since he’d
begun his explanation. The vicar nodded, his expression solemn.
“I think I do,” he said. “Please, go on.”
Michael did so, as if he’d been waiting for that calm and measured confirmation to
release the next part of his tale. “Then, as I entered my twenties more fully, all that
slipped away for a variety of reasons, as I suppose these things always do. In any case, I
left the church I was with. It was a difficult process and a painful one, and it’s not
something I talk about often. After a while, I met the woman I married – and then later
divorced – and the things that had once seemed so very important to me slipped away. I
felt as if there was no longer a structure suitable for them, though I know that’s no real
explanation. At the time it didn’t seem to me like a falling away, but a taking on of other
things. Things that left less opportunity for prayer or the desire for it: my wife, for one;
setting up a marriage; a new job; moving here, to a different part of the country. And
perhaps I found a satisfaction in those things that I’d once thought could only be found in
God, I’m not sure. Anyway, I didn’t join another church – I didn’t wish to. It was only
after I got divorced that I started to drop into the odd service here and there, as you know.
But I never wanted to get involved and I still don’t, which is something you already know
but probably not the reasons why. Religious structure brings back too many unhappy
memories, and I don’t want them. I imagine it’s true that the day has enough trouble of its
own. All of which meanderings brings me to now. I want to try to rediscover my prayer
life, the one I used to have, not in church, but privately where it most seems to matter. I
want to dedicate the time I have to exploring it. You no doubt think I’ve made an
astonishingly large and selfish change to my life and that countless other discussions
should have been played out both in my mind and in conversations with others before I
did this. But the thing is done and I still don’t believe it was wrong. I don’t think I ever
will. What I realise is that I can’t do everything I’m hoping to do on my own. I do need
help after all so my question is this: even though I’m not a regular member of your
congregation, John, please, will you help me?”
When he’d finished speaking, Michael leant back in the chair. He hadn’t realised
he’d been sitting forward, intent on what he was saying. He glanced at the vicar and was
pleased to see that the man looked neither bemused nor scornful. In fact he looked as if
he was considering what Michael had told him with all due seriousness.
“I think,” John said, when the silence was comfortable once more. “I think that it
isn’t necessary for a man of prayer to be a regular man of the church, though perhaps the
bishop wouldn’t thank me for saying so. What you’ve described to me is a serious
endeavour, and a very admirable one, and needs to be treated as such, both by you and by
those around you. It seems to me, Michael, that something you should consider is what’s
known as spiritual direction. Does that mean anything to you?”