Les Mis 2: Prayer Bring him home

Jean Valjean is a praying character.
I think it would be hard to find a lead character in a popular novel, musical or movie
who prays as much as Jean Valjean.

In some productions, the first words we hear from Valjean are a prayer of desperation:
I’ve done no wrong, sweet Jesus hear my prayer!

He prays in times of personal questioning –
Sweet Jesus, what have I done – become a thief in the night, become a dog on the run

He prays when his life is drawing to a close –
We’ll be looking at that one in a few weeks’ time

And of course he prays one of the most famous stage prayers of all time – Bring him Home.   Why not watch and listen to it – sung by Evan Kirby

If you are anything like me your relationship with prayer may well be  – strained at times.
It may not be, but don’t feel alone if you and prayer don’t always seem hand in glove.
I think it is possibly the case that I have just a little bit too much of a perfectionist in me –
there is a tad of control freak here and there.

And I think my problem is that God doesn’t get I right often enough.
To be perfectly honest, I get a bit tired sometimes of helping God see
where God has got it wrong again.

I found 2 writers rather helpful this week in trying to put some thoughts together about prayer.

2 writers, of course, other than Victor Hugo, who gave us the wonderful quote
Certain thoughts are prayers.
There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees

The first is the Canadian writer and priest Henri Nouwen.
The depth of Nouwen’s writings and reflections
has meant that his influence will long outlive his early death.

In one of his most profound works – “Open Hands” –
he makes some wonderful observations regarding prayer.

The first is the difference between praying with clenched fists or open hands.

Nouwen notes that praying is no easy matter.
It demands a relationship in which you allow someone else to entre the very center of you.
He comments that it is really hard to receive a gift if you have clenched fists..
And he thinks of clenched fists not so much in terms of anger an violence,
but more in terms of fear of letting go of something that we are scared to lose.

It is a long spiritual journey of trust, he says.
For behind each first, there is another one hiding.
Much has happened in our lives to make all those fists

What am I holding tightly in my clenched first?

The second is the difference between praying with little faith and praying with hope.
Nowen comments we tend to do more asking, or wishing, than hoping in prayer.
As I mentioned, there are all sorts of ways that the world is not right
(we looked at that a little last week with Fantine’s lament)

And many of us know how it should be fixed.    I certainly do
Nowen’s reflection is that as we don’t trust our faith to grow, as we keep it a little faith,
we cling to the concrete reality of now, and then add our specific wishes about fixing bits.
He talks of this prayer as having a Santa Claus naïveté about it.
And when we don’t get the presents we wanted, there is disappointment
and it becomes easy to fall back on the idea that “prayer just doesn’t work”

Nouwen’s alternative is to pray in hope –
an attitude where everything stays open before me
When we live with hope, Nouwen says,
we do not get tangled up with concerns
for exactly how our wishes will be fulfilled
We may have just as many desires,
but ultimately it is not a question of having a wish come true,
but expressing an unlimited faith in a good giver.

Nowen contrasts :       You wish that … but you hope in…

And the third is the notion of acceptance.
As Nouwen says – whenever you pray, you profess that you are not God,
nor do you want to be God and that you haven’t reached your goal yet.
This attitude is difficult because it makes you vulnerable.

This is where I think that Michael Leunig has some more wisdom to offer us.
Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist (who is also a UCA member)
who is regularly offering sublime wisdom

Leunig’s symbolism of prayer is a person keeling before a duck
He comments that it is a clear depiction of irrational behaviour – an important aspect of prayer.

“The kneeling man knows, as everybody knows that a proud and upright man cannot talk to a duck
The man kneels.   He humbles himself
He comes closer to the duck.  He becomes more like the duck
He does these things because it improves his chances of communication with the duck.
He goes on to ask – “How do we search for our soul, our god, our inner voice?
How do we find and treasure this hidden life in our life?
How do we connect to this transforming and healing power?
It seems as difficult as talking to a bird.”

Prayer is the little ritual which recognises the inner life and attempts to connect to i
It is a do it yourself ceremony where the mind is on its knees,
the small ceremony which calls on the soul to come forth.

Or as Victor Hugo says, Certain thoughts are prayers.
There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees

You might like to spend some time considering Jean Valjean’s prayer again this week
Evan’s singing of Bring him home will be on the Kippax website and fb page shortly
And maybe between Victor Hugo, Henri Nouwen and Michael Leunig
our own prayer life may become a little more open, a little more hope-based
and maybe even resemble someone kneeling before a duck

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