So, continuing my journey into liturgy you may wonder why I am looking at praying in tongues… Well let’s go back a bit…
Like many people I grew up attending traditional village churches, so I also grew up reciting formal liturgy, which, as many find, quickly becomes second nature. I found myself from a relatively early age reciting the words, not needing a book in order to know what to say. For many this is a huge comfort but for me over the years I have found it really difficult. I would often find myself drifting off as I recited the words and not really thinking about what I was saying. Perhaps that is partly why I now find myself more comfortable in a charismatic church with more of a sense of freedom in that respect (although it is fair to say The Point does have it’s own style of liturgy).
Now I should note that my faith then was not what it is now, and I accept that had it been I may have felt differently. However over the last few years, going through discernment and studying, I have experienced and worshipped with many variations of liturgy, have undertaken daily prayer and encouraged myself to try new forms of more formal liturgy. At times this has actually been a joy as I have found new words that I have prayed right from the heart, but at others the old tensions have arisen again and I find myself frustrated. It has been a journey of, to be honest, love and hate.
Recently, I had a chat with my Vicar about this who noted a conversation he had once had in which it was suggested that formal liturgy could take the same role as praying in tongues. So just as the liturgical words we repeat become second nature so that we don’t really know what we are saying on occasion, when we pray in tongues we equally are not aware of what we are saying. In that sense with both, we are simply being obedient to God and his presence within us.
Challenged…? I was.
Of course our formal liturgy has developed over the last 2000 years in the life of the church, but the origins of current Anglican liturgy are found in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer which was a seminal work, aiming to enable the average person on the street to meet with God without distraction. The Bishop of London notes that it offered the:
‘possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street’
Interesting… couldn’t we say exactly the same of praying in tongues?
In fact 1 Corinthians 14:2 notes
For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God
a prayer language focused from the pray-er towards God. Of course this is less corporate than formal liturgy, it’s a personal, heart cry to God alone.
From my own and others experience of praying in tongues, often people don’t know what to pray, but that they feel God’s guidance into what he wants them to pray. In this sense then there is an element of being removed from the prayer itself, but a willing obedience to pray as God leads.
When joining in the liturgy in a church service, we are also acting in obedience, using the prescribed words to reach out to God, both personally and corporately. There can also be a level of removal from the prayer, as the mind is not engaged in thinking of words to say, but simply in repeating them or reading them.
Let me clarify, I’m not trying to argue for one over the other, it’s more an exploration into prayer that has helped me…
Both aim to enable an encounter with God. A friend recently told me that he attends a BCP service every week and has done for years. Of course after so long, he knows the liturgy for this service very well and says that that it enables him to enter into meeting God without distraction as he doesn’t need to read the words or hold a book. The very thing that I find frustrating!
I was very fortunate recently to have the opportunity to meet up with David Pytches to talk about liturgy and prayer. We talked over this subject and he was an absolute mine of information. Something that particularly stood out, and I suppose it’s obvious, was that he talked of the importance of intention. He noted that whenever we come to worship we do so with the intention of worship, our hearts turned towards God. Perhaps that is a key role of liturgy: to enable our intention to worship? When I turn to prayer, it is usually without prepared words, but with an openness to being led by God. There are of course times when words fail me, when I feel unable to pray, perhaps when burdened or anxious. It is then that words of liturgy can be vital, enabling us to enter intentionally into prayer or worship when our own minds fail. Likewise, can the words of praying in tongues, in a different way of course, be perhaps just as vital, when we cannot find words for ourselves? For me, yes, absolutely vital!
I wrote about intention last year when I was thinking about prayer doodling. Could it be that my creativitiy was a prayer to God? I believe that if we give all to God – in whatever form our prayer takes – that’s what counts. So whether we are praying words we’ve spoken 1000 times (or more), going off in some crazy language, just uttering a few basic words, or colouring on a page, I think God is more concerned with the heart, not the thing itself. After all 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God is more interested in the heart, not the outward. And I love this from The Message version:
Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good;
God probes for what is good. Proverbs 16:2 (MSG)
So then, where do I end up? Perhaps with no more answers than to say again, that all our prayers are valid! We are all different and I think then it’s understandable that we should reach out to God in different ways. And more and more we are finding ‘church’ done in different ways, so perhaps it’s important to keep asking questions like these as the traditions change and the church embraces new ways of worship.