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What makes a good prayer?

Posted on 31 August 2011, 14:05

This is an extract from my book, Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth. The conversation is imagined but the words of Jesus are not; they’re all his.

Intro: Jesus took part in synagogue worship, which used formal prayers; but apparently also went off to be alone in the mountains and desert. He’d disappear early, before the demands of the day. So I was eager to know: what makes a good prayer?
SP: You recently lost your temper.

JN: Don’t judge and you won’t be judged.
SP: It wasn’t meant to be a judgement; but then again, perhaps it was.
JN: With whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you.

SP: I understand. But what interests me most is the cause of your rage. You went into the Temple here in Jerusalem, saw people buying and selling things and assaulted them with both word and whip.

JN: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ I said, ‘but you have made it a den of robbers!’

SP: So you flung over the money lenders’ tables and kicked over the chairs of the dove sellers. And how very similar your words were to the prophet Jeremiah! Centuries before he too had stood in the Temple, and said, ‘Do you think that my Temple is a hiding place for robbers? I will drive you out of my sight as I drove out your relatives!’

JN: As I say, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.’

SP: The Temple had lost its identity as a place of prayer, and prayer matters to you, teacher. But then unlike most people, you have a profound trust in your heavenly father.

JN: See the birds of the sky who neither sow, reap nor store food in barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than these birds?

SP: With such limitless trust prayer must be both easy and delightful.

JN: Or consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t toil, they don’t spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.

SP: Your eyes are never far from creation, teacher. Indeed, I sometimes think it’s your scripture even more than the scriptures themselves.

JN: And if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today but tomorrow is thrown in the fire, then how much more will you be dressed,  you of little faith?

SP: We learn from what we see and hear, and I suppose some of us had bad teachers of prayer; people who replaced simple trust with something else like pomposity, fear or self-righteousness.

JN: Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

SP: Tax collectors know nothing about the prayer. I know you like to speak well of them but I’ve never met a nice one myself, and I’ve met many nice Pharisees.

JN: The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men.’

SP: Not a good start, I grant you. We’ll call him Proud Peter.

JN: ‘I thank you that I am not like other men - extortioners, the unrighteous, adulterers or even such low-life as this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I receive.’

SP: It seems Proud Peter must feel superior to others to make himself feel good. He must always have a list of people less good than him. 

JN: So then see the tax collector –

SP: - who we’ll just call Low-Life –

JN: - standing far away. He won’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

SP: Which he is, because all those tax-collectors are on the make. 

JN: Do not condemn and you won’t be condemned –

SP: - OK, OK -

JN: - yet I tell you, it was this man –

SP: - Low-Life? –

JN: - who went back to his house having made God smile, rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled but they who humble themselves will be exalted.

SP: Is that so? Then it’s not so much the act of prayer which is important, but the attitude we bring to prayer. If we’re full of ourselves, it’s an empty experience. But when trust is there –

JN: - ask, and it will be given to you.

SP: You do keep things simple, teacher, even if it’s simply impossible. 
JN: Your father in heaven knows your needs.

Conversations With Jesus of Nazareth by Jesus of Nazareth with Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online books stores.
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Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth - Jesus of Nazareth & Simon Parke

 


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Meister Eckhart and the birth of God in us

Posted on 21 August 2011, 1:28

(This extract is taken from my Conversations with Meister Eckhart published by White crow Books. The conversation is imagined but Eckhart’s words are not; they are all his own.)

S.P: Perhaps we’re ready now to consider detachment.
M.E: It is the highest virtue.
 
S.P: So you say. So if detachment -

M.E: - or disinterest.

Eckhart was not shy of interrupting if he wanted to clarify something.

S.P: If these things, detachment or disinterest, are the highest virtue, that must mean you put them above love?

M.E. He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing: detachment.

S.P: That’s a striking claim. What do you mean by it?

ME: Human perfection consists in becoming distant from creatures and free from them; to respond in the same way to all things, not to be broken by adversity nor carried away by prosperity, not to rejoice more in one thing than another, not to be frightened or grieved by one thing more than another. You could not do better than to go where it is dark; that is, unconsciousness.

S.P: This is a radical detachment. Shouldn’t we at least attach ourselves to some kind of holy knowledge?

M.E: We must sink into oblivion and ignorance. In this silence, this quiet, the Word is heard. There is no better method of approaching this Word than in silence, in quiet: we hear it and know it aright in unknowing. To one who knows nothing it is clearly revealed. Now you will object!

S.P: I must object, yes! For aren’t you saying that human salvation lies in ignorance? Yet ignorance makes fools or brutes of us, surely?

M.E: This is transformed knowledge; not ignorance which comes from lack of knowing; it is by knowing that we get to this unknowing.

S.P: So we use our knowing to take us to unknowing?

M.E: The pupils of St Dionysius asked him why Timothy outstripped them in perfection? Dionysius said, ‘Timothy is a God-receptive man. He who is expert at this outstrippeth all men.’ In this sense, your unknowing is not a defect but your greatest perfection and suffering your highest activity. Kill your activities and still your faculties if you would realise the birth of God in you.


S.P: Interesting. So is this the unknowing of innocence, perhaps? A return to some former time that we have now lost; a time before we existed even?

M.E: Let us be eternally as poor as we were when we eternally were not.  Abiding in him in our essence we shall be what we are.  We shall know God without any sort of likeness; love without matter, and enjoy without possession.  We shall conceive all things in perfection.

The poor in spirit take leave of themselves and of all creatures: they are nothing, they have nothing, they do nothing; and these poor are not - save that by grace they are God with God: which they are not aware of.

I am aware how dangerous these words are. Margaret Porite, who was executed, had said something almost exactly the same; that the soul ‘knows only one thing: that she knows nothing, and wills only one thing: that she does not will anything.’ I keep this to myself however, as Eckhart continues: 

I said once that whoever possesses the world least, actually possesses it the most. No one owns the world as much as they who have given the whole world up.

Conversations With Meister Eckhart by Meister Eckhart and Simon Parke is available from Amazon and all good online books stores.

 

 


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Vincent Van Gogh in London

Posted on 12 August 2011, 16:26

After the recent riots in London and beyond, it seems appropriate to publish an extract from my book, Conversations with Vincent Van Gogh, published by Whitecrow.

The conversation is imagined but Vincent’s words are not. In this extract, we talk about his stay in London. He took such delight in the city; but experienced sadness there as well:


V: Oh, and I remember Acton Green. It was surprisingly muddy, but was a beautiful sight when it began to grow dark, and the mist rose and one saw the light of a small church in the middle of the green. And to the left were railway tracks on a rather high embankment and at that moment a train came, and that was a beautiful sight, the red glow of the locomotive, and the rows of lights inside the carriages in the twilight. To our right, a few horses were grazing in a meadow surrounded by a hedge of hawthorn and blackberry bushes.

SP: It seems you never stopped walking in London.

V: And Hyde Park at 6.30 in the morning! The mist was lying on the grass and the leaves were falling from the trees, and in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street lamps, that hadn’t yet been put out; and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and the sun rose red in the morning mist.

SP: I’d like to stand where you did.

V: From there, I travelled onto Whitechapel, that poor district of London which Dickens writes of; and then travelled home for part of the way on the underground railway, since I’d received some money from Mr Jones.
 
SP: Did you have friends in London?

V: The Gladwells were my friends.

SP: You’d known their son Harry when you were in Paris.

V: Yes, and I remember visiting him when he was home for a few days. Something very sad had happened to his family. His sister, a girl full of life, with dark eyes and hair, 17 years old, fell from her horse while riding at Blackheath. She was unconscious when they picked her up, and died five hours later without regaining consciousness.

SP: Tragic. 

V: I went there as soon as I heard what had happened. It was a long walk to Lewisham, from one end of London to the other. On my arrival, they had all just come back from the funeral. It was a real house of mourning and it did me good to be there. I had feelings of embarrassment and shame at seeing the deep, estimable grief; for these people were estimable.

SP: And you caught up with your friend Harry.

V: I talked with Harry for a long time, until the evening, about all kinds of things. And we walked up and down on the station, talking; those moments before parting we’ll probably never forget.

SP: You felt close.

V: We knew each other so well. His work was my work, his life was my life and it was given to me to see so deeply into their family affairs, because I loved them. Not so much because I knew the particulars of their family affairs, but because I felt the tone and feeling of their being and life.

SP: You found it hard to say goodbye.

V: We walked back and forth on that station, in that every day world, but with a feeling that was not every day.

SP: That’s a nice way of putting it.

V: They don’t last long such moments, and we soon had to take leave of each other. It was a beautiful sight looking out from the train over London that lay there in the dark, with St Paul’s and other churches in the distance. I stayed in the train until Richmond, then walked along the Thames to Isleworth. That was a lovely walk: on the left, the parks with their tall poplars, oaks and elms; on the right, the river reflecting the tall trees. It was a beautiful solemn evening; I got home at a quarter past ten.                                                                     

SP: And then life took you back to Holland; but with many memories.

V: I remember looking out of my windows one night, onto the roofs of the houses one sees from there; and the tops of the London elms, dark against the night sky. Above those roofs, one single star; but a nice big friendly one.

SP: You like stars.

V: And I thought of us all – the family, friends – and I thought of the years of my life that had already passed, and of our home, and the words and feeling came to me: ‘Keep me from being a son that causes shame. Give me your blessing not because I deserve it, but for my mother’s sake. You are love and hear all things. Without your constant blessing we can do nothing.’

SP: A closing prayer, as the curtain closed on London; and rather different adventures beckoned. 

Conversations With Van Gogh by Vincent Van Gogh with Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.

Conversations With Vincent Van Gogh

 

 


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Spirits and Crime by Carl Wickland – Habits, desires and inclinations are rooted in the mind and remain with the individual after he is freed from his physical body, until they are eliminated by the will. The spirits of many criminals, murderers, those who were executed or are seeking for revenge, remain indefinitely in the earth sphere and often endeavor to continue their former activities and to carry out their evil designs through controlling the bodies of mortals who are sensitive to their influence. Read here
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