Much as is to be expected in the role Bishop John has a pretty packed schedule, such that he pretty well went straight into doing the lecture from the car, having driven down from a meeting in Oxford. It is perhaps a measure of the kind of person you need to be to do the job that even with having to drive all the way back to Oxford, he still made the time to chat to various of the parishioners, and also to take a look at the Church building itself.
The topic chosen for the lecture was related to one of Bishop John’s many books, How to Pray. As he said, with the somewhat limited time available in a lecture format, he barely has time to scratch the surface of the subject, so he gave us an overview of what he believed prayer should be.
He started by talking about how many people actually pray. In many cases people who would generally say that they have little or no faith may at key times in their life pray. By way of an example he talked about journalist John Diamond husband of celebrity cook Nigella Lawson who documented his battle with throat cancer through his newspaper column and book, and who at points talked about prayer.
From there, Bishop John talked about how we move into a deeper prayer life by looking at what prayer should be. His example was that it should be like a relationship – the example he gave being a marriage relationship or close friendship.
During any such relationship, there are various ways in which people communicate. Firstly there is just the sort of ‘getting on with it’ communication, basic stuff relating to any sort of relationship. Along with that, the other common level of communication is just chatting, the kind of ‘how was your day?’ type talking – nothing particularly deep.
The third way in which people communicate in a relationship is more deep talking – the serious conversations that any two people will have from time to time. At this point Bishop John quoted a statistic that the average couple only actually did this for the equivalent of two minutes a day.
The final form of communication Bishop John highlighted was non-verbal communication, whether that be kissing or hugging, or other ways that people communicate non-verbally. As he highlighted, the non-verbal is generally the most trusting and intimate level of communication between two people in a relationship.
The reason for looking at a human relationship, is by way of a model against which our prayer relationship with God should be – there will be ‘getting on with it’ type prayers, chatting, and then deep talks – but equally there will be non-verbal moments – you can see the influence of TaizÃ© on Bishop John here as he particularly values the power of silence.
From there Bishop John talked about different ways people pray. Whilst some people value silence, and quiet prayer, for others it is difficult to handle – so others can pray through art, or through music. Some find they only truly experience God when walking through amazing scenery, or through sights such as the spectacular sunset that many around the area saw a couple of days ago – there are many different ways to pray, and no wrong way.
All in all it was great evening, and seemed to be well enjoyed and appreciated by everyone who attended. Bishop John has a very personable presentation style – certainly it doesn’t feel like you are being preached ‘at’. He is pretty relaxed – note he quickly took off his jacket whilst speaking to us – and punctuates his presentation with numerous examples drawn from a good mix of sources. As a parting gift to Bishop John the parish presented him with a number of bottles of wine. Apparently he can blame his secretary for the number, when Rev Richard phoned up to ask what wine Bishop John preferred, her answer was â€œLotsâ€?!
Amusingly, when presented with the bottles, Bishop John said that he’d happily come back any time!