Rowan Williams on Prayer

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Another fascinating interview from the folks at Nomad, this one with Rowan Williams (Overcast). From the episode description:

What actually is prayer? What happens when we do it? What difference can it make, if any, to the events and circumstances we find ourselves in? Should we expect to sense God in prayer, or perhaps even hear him communicate to us? And if so, why do so few of us ever seem to have these sorts of experiences?

For many of us, these questions, and others like them, have led us to a place of disillusionment and prayerlessness. And yet we still yearn for the deep, rooted, holistic connectedness that prayer promises.

The episode is called “The Problem of Prayer” but I think of it more as “Prayer after Faith.” It was fascinating to hear a whole episode on a practice so basic (my one year-old daughter bows her head and says “Amen!”) yet so enigmatic to many of us who have moved beyond the faith of our childhood. Tim states it well when he says: many of us go through some sort of faith deconstruction and, while we may come back around on a number of things, prayer can be left out. There's a lot here to address that. Namely, allowing the Divine to work on you in silent contemplation.

I listened to this three times over the last couple of months before linking to it, just to make sure it was as good as I thought it was on my first listen.

Two more bits that stood out to me:

You don’t go to prayer saying “come on, tell me something.” You go and you say, “Ok, this time is yours. I’m going to try to clear my mind and let you be you for a bit.” And I hope when I get up from that, some balance will have shifted a bit…my judgment, my perception will be that little bit less selfish, that little bit less stupid than when I started (18:45).

On what difference prayer might make to personal circumstances:

First of all, blindingly obviously, it changes you…

The other thing is much harder to get clear. We don’t fully understand how God brings about anything in the world…Now God has made a world in which there are free and fairly intelligent people as us. We can make a difference of a different order. And what if part of the difference we can make is praying. Here’s a situation…(25:29).

He also goes on to talk about being close to the twin towers on 11 September 2001 and seeing the first responders at work, as well as a good bit on the practice of silent contemplation.

Postscript on Nomad 3.0

Nomad is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. Once again, it’s undergoing some change: one Dave (Ward) for another (David Blower). The banter was still good. David talks about his face hurting after the interview with Rowan Williams. And Dave Ward will be coming back occasionally. It seems like it’s only good news for the future of Nomad.


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