Living with a prayer plant

September 23, 2020

A few months ago, I received a lovely surprise: a plant through the post. I remember opening the cardboard box desperately trying to remember if I had recently ordered something! I unwrapped Maranta Leuconeura, also known as the Prayer Plant. The next day was quite traumatic: I discovered the leaves were in a serious droop. A quick check of my Prayer Plant found the soil to be moist, so it wasn’t due to a lack of water. A frantic search on the internet discovered that this was normal ‘behaviour’. During the day the leaves of Maranta Leuconeura droop downwards, but at night they lift up and even fold. To some this has looked like the closing of hands in prayer, which explains its common name.

However, I’m not too sure about that description. I guess it’s all about your perception of spiritual matters, as it seems to me that the ‘prayer’ happens the other way around. When my plant droops during the day, it looks like it is in the middle of humble supplication. As I received this gift during the UK Lockdown, it almost seemed as if the plant was interceding during the worst moments of the Covid-19 crisis.

My Prayer Plant reminds me of another gift; this time of a picture given to my Mum. It is a print of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann. I need to be honest: I don’t like it. I don’t think it is my Mum’s cup of tea either, but it was gifted by a friend who passed away some years ago. The picture reminds Mum of her friend. Why don’t I like it? Well…it’s all a bit too nice. The picture shows a Jesus who is serenely praying, completely oblivious to all that is going on around him. One version of this event records Jesus as being in anguish.[1] Hoffmann’s depiction doesn’t feel real, that this really is a man coming to grips with the knowledge that he will soon be executed. Perhaps, again, it all comes down to my perception of spiritual matters. Do accept my apologies if you think Hofmann’s painting is a masterpiece!

Personally, I much prefer to study my prayer plant than to look at Hofmann’s painting. My drooping plant does look like it is wrestling with mighty issues in prayer, humbly looking to God for his action in a troubled world. It also gives me a picture of what Jesus may well have felt like in the Garden of Gethsemane. My plant gives me hope, because it reminds me that prayer can sometimes feel difficult; that there is too much on my mind, which I am struggling to express. Seeing Jesus troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane reminds me that God is not oblivious to the suffering of humanity. Though our troubled thoughts may overwhelm us, God is still on our side, listening to our anguished cries.

Sometimes, a low mood tempts me to ignore prayer. Thankfully, my prayer plant reminds me that my intercessions are not hindered by how I feel. Whether I droop in difficult supplication, or lift my arms in thankfulness, Maranta Leuconeura reminds me that all prayer is worth pursuing.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

[1] The Gospel of Luke 22:44

Lockdown take two

June 29, 2020

Could you endure another lockdown?

With lockdown easing, taking our first tentative steps into a freer brave new world has been exciting. Emerging from hibernation has had a kind of first-day-back-at-school feel – we’re all excited to see each other. And we’ve wondered how we got through it?

So you can imagine why the people of Leicester may be a little jittery this week with the news of a possible regional lockdown looming! In the US, Texas and Florida are already shutting down again. So just how do you get through another lockdown?

In a BBC Newsbeats piece last week, 4 people gave us what had helped them endure the solitude, anxiety and uncertainty of the Coronavirus lockdown.

Answer: religion!

I had read elsewhere surveys finding that more people had been praying during lockdown, but I was curious to know what it was, specifically, about people’s faith that had helped them get by. Here is what they said:

Philip who’s Christian said, “It’s the personal connection to God which gives you hope.”

Adrisa who’s Hindu said, “I feel like there is a higher power taking care of me, and it’s reassuring.”

Kasim who’s Muslim said, “When I feel down mentally, I turn to God to feel better.”

Hannah who’s Jewish said, “Faith gives me another side to life and exploring that area has given me strength”, describing the Sabbath – a day of rest – as being a day to reset.

I guess one thing we can learn about the effects of lockdown on the human psyche and spiritualism is that freedom is a spiritual matter not just physical. Peace, hope and purpose seem to be the measured results of physical confinement with God. Echoing the kind of clinical insight of psychologists Viktor Frankl and Carl Yung who could see purpose and meaning was not constrained by personal circumstances.

There’s a personal echo of truth here of lockdown’s mini religious renaissance; I, too, found this small, quiet voice of God calling me back to a more authentic version of myself during lockdown. Have you heard that same voice, too?

No doubt, many of us may be left with an opposite feeling after seeing just this weekend the world hit 10 million cases of Coronavirus. Where’s God in that? One of the interviewee’s comments jumped out at me: “Challenges and struggle have been happening for ages. But religion teaches you God has a plan and it helps to accept reality a lot more”. I thought on this.

It reminded me of the piece of deep painful poetry I once read; words that pierced through the most trying time of my life. With a reputation as a middle eastern prophet, the writer echoes the truism of the words above – that somehow God’s plans for us are not synonymous with our circumstances. And this prophet had some credibility to say such things. Unfairly imprisoned in a pit filled with mud, the biblical Jeremiah writes:

“My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”[1]

These words come from some of the most well-known biblical verses. They talk about a God who doesn’t protect us from suffering but protects us in suffering. This God seems to be more consistent with my observations and experiences. Yet, this same Bible goes further and claims that God himself came to us as Jesus, sharing in our suffering, to tell us about his plan of compassion and love. A message of hope that can see us through a second lockdown, maybe?

If you’d like to know more about where God is in a Coronavirus world, please check out John C. Lennox’s short book with the same title.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Lamentations 3:20-23
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Resurrection

April 13, 2017

If Easter is about anything other than a welcome break, then it’s about the amazing story of Jesus Christ: how Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.

More than it’s about chocolate bunnies, parties and rolling your eggs, it concerns hope beyond suffering.

Yet, would you believe it, a recent survey among professing Christians in the UK revealed that as much as 25% of us don’t accept the Resurrection as an historical fact? Although we may hold core Christian beliefs, the Resurrection is not necessarily one of them.

Excuse me if this doesn’t sound open-minded enough, but surely the Resurrection is the key core belief of the Christian’s faith. Paul, a first-century educated Christian thinker who saw through the fallacies of religious legalism and of pagan superstitions, realised and taught that, if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then there’s no point to faith. In fact, no point to anything because without the resurrection, there’s no hope of something better to come.

What we need in this troubled, uncertain world more than anything else is the certainty of the Resurrection. We need to rise with Jesus to a new life of freedom, peace and harmony.

Let’s celebrate this weekend, and have fun with family and friends.

But, above all, celebrate the Resurrection – without it, there is no hope.

james.henderson@gracecom.church