Praying in the shopping mall

March 20, 2010


 It started yesterday, when meeting with a good friend, who I know has been through a period of  emotional and spiritual dryness over the last year, as well as some personal struggle. We met in a local shopping mall- Meadow Hall – and talked about a number of things that interest us as friends and younger men, seeking to make sense and find a pathway through modern life. Our meetings over coffee are also a great time to let off a bit of steam and laugh about the more absurd and neurotic elements of  being a contempory Christian. I should add that neither of us are beyond humourous criticism in this respect either. So laughing at ourselves and eachother is part of the ritual!

After coffee, we decided to go outside the mall and sit in the spring fresh air and to pray together. I began telling my friend about my blog – Dark Nights … White Soul. He liked both sides of the title: Dark Nights and White Soul.  The periods of darkness, suffering and aridity can behave like the purgative effects of fire that purify a contaminated substance and separate the dross from the pure material. So, perhaps a Dark Night could indeed lead to a whiter, purer soul?

We sat down on a bench and after chatting a little began to offer eachother up to God in a kind of simple, open, conversational devotion. We closed our eyes, sat side by side and began talking quietly and in ordinary language to the God. I must admit that these times of prayer with close friends and family that I implicitly trust are very precious to me. I love, in particular to find a discreet spot in a public place and to in a ‘spiritual’ sense bring my friend or family before ‘the throne of God’. For those who have not experienced such things, it may be difficult to understand.  It is a bit like an advocate presenting a worthy and needy friend to a King in a royal court or perhaps as  in ancient days, like a priest offering up a vulnerable animal sacrifice to a divinity. So, I and my friends and family offer to the Divine a fellow human being in a time of need. There is something about stilling oneself. It is a kind of letting go of being in the driving seat of one’s life and acknowledging  that instead we need help…help that goes beyond the kind of assistance one can ‘buy’ in normal society. It is an openness to a larger force – a holy spirit that transcends and completes our imperfect and damaged society.

We talked with God for perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, taking turns to be adovcates or representatives for one another and the other people on our hearts. We prayed for eachother as well as,  family, friends, our city – Sheffield, our generation and others, our country, our planet, our world. It must be strange to read about, if you have never experienced such a thing. Yet,  recent surveys of people in Birtain by David Haye and Rebecca Nye, suggest that many people who are not religious have had spiritual experiences and at times of their lives pray. I think while it is true that for some people the idea of praying to a god or the God, is foreign and strange, at the same time  it isn’t helpful if religious followers claim a monopoly on the spiritual. God and prayer is open to anyone, regardless of creed or lack of it.

This period of sitting quietly together in the fresh air outside of the consumer haven of the shopping mall was liberating and refreshing to me. I felt a new sense of peace and a clearer insight into my situation. My friend’s words had encouraged me. It was wonderful to let go of my ‘ego’ , to accept my need for help. To allow a spiritual peace to guide me and free me from my own obsessions and determination to be the one calling all the shots in my life. As I have written about in an earlier post – two great thinkers about religion described the religious experience in ways that I find myself feeling in these simple times of conversation and prayer with a friend. Frederich Schleiermacher referred to religion as a sense of  complete ‘dependency’ on the Divine. Yes, that’s how I feel. I let go of being my own boss and allow a transcendent force to envelop me, inspire me. I let myself fall into that Presence, not unlike letting go of the edge of the swimming pool and setting afloat on the warm, soothing waters. Rudolf Otto described religion as a sense of the ‘numinous’ – that is a perception of the Divine Presence. Yes, I feel that too. Something bigger, something far more wonderful than I could ever fully imagine, something invisible touches me and seems to re-energise my life.

I find these encounters with friends and with Presence  to be like oases in my life, that keep me going on my daily journey. They keep me hungry and thirsty, longing for ‘more’. It’s so nice to find God alive in a shopping mall. Where consmerism seems to rule, there is still place for friends to meet and chat and ask for the help  and company of the holy One.


One comment

  1. Still looking out for your blog. I like the photos and the range of your topics. Prayer in Meadowhall is interesting. I too have prayed in Meadowhall, ususally in the midst of the action, on a bench or in a cafe on my own. Occasionally people have joined me and shared something of their own life and problems, unaware that I have temrarily submitted my time to them, just as a casual, sympathetic stranger. Odd? Well, if so I have appreciated the uncomplicated kindness of such listening from time to time myself. By the way has the irony of the popular misnomer ‘MeadowHELL’struck you? All the more reason for a little prayer perhaps.

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