A lot of conversations that I have at the moment seem to include the phrase these are strange times. And indeed they are, as large parts of the world live with lockdowns and social distancing. But there is another strange thing that is happening, at least in the UK where I live. People are turning to prayer. This week a survey came out showing that 25% of the population have watched or listened to a church service during this time of crises. That is a far greater number than those who normally visit a church on a Sunday. More surprising still is that the number tuning into online church is highest among 18-24 year olds. The same is true for prayer. One in twenty British people have started praying during the Coronavirus crises, and again, it is younger people who are leading the way. In a so-called secular age and at a time when church and faith was meant to becoming more irrelevant what is causing this seeking out of faith and faith communities?
I think that there are at least three important reasons. Firstly, the best of Christianity and church life has always held personal spiritual practices- like prayer and worship- alongside practical service of others. Jesus himself summed up all of Gods requirements in two phrases: Love God and love others. This is the heartbeat of our Cinnamon movement where people who have been touched by the love of God live lives of loving service to others- especially the most vulnerable. Whether it is providing food for the hungry, companionship for the lonely or support for those with health needs, the church all over the world is at the forefront of bringing help and hope. From small villages in rural Africa to high rise urban developments and everything in between, you will find churches expressing their love for God by practically loving others. In a time of global vulnerability that is just the rock for which many are searching.
Secondly, there is something amazing about prayer. Especially when times are hard, and fears are close. When we are feeling so overwhelmed that we don’t know what to say, that is when we discover words that people have used for thousands of years when they don’t know what to say. The ancient prayers of the churches and the saints, the liturgies and the songs give us words when we are struggling to articulate our fears or joys or sadness. And these words give us comfort and help us understand ourselves, and they connect us to the one who is beyond us and our experience. Who is bigger than us. They connect us to the God who has been waiting for us.
Finally, there is a particular sort of prayer that people of faith have practiced for thousands of years when facing pain and disappointment. It is called lament. It hasn’t been that fashionable recently. We live in a world that tells us to look on the bright side, be positive, get over it. And so we try to be those positive people- until we can’t. Until the pain and disappointment and fears are too overwhelming. That is when we need to discover lament. In lament we pour out our souls to God. All the anger, frustration, hurt and fear. We don’t hold back or be falsely polite. We do not hide from our fears and pain we tell God all about them. We own them. We ask God to hear us, to take our burdens to comfort us and bring us hope. In a time of such fear and uncertainty no wonder people are turning to prayer.
By David Westlake, Board Chair of Cinnamon Network International
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