Monday 14 March: Lent 2011

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You are encouraged to pray the prayer, pause, read the scripture, pause, read the reflection, and then pray the prayer again.

This prayer comes from Fursa (died 650), an Irish monk who did much to establish Christianity in East Anglia [more].

The Breastplate Prayer

May the yoke of the Law of God be upon this shoulder,
The coming of the Holy Spirit on this head,
The sign of Christ on this forehead,
The hearing of the Holy Spirit in these ears,
The smelling of the Holy Spirit in this nose.
The vision that the people of heaven have be in these eyes,
The speech of the people of heaven in this mouth,
The work of the Church of God in these hands
The good of God and of neighbour in these feet.
May God dwell in this heart,
And this person belong entirely to God the Father.

May the coming of the Holy Spirit on this head

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Ancient believers did kneel to pray, but they mostly used the posture known to Jesus – standing with arms raised wide, head high, eyes raised to heaven.

What significance do we find in such a place and posture for prayer? Physical environment and posture matter because we are physical. Praying in a chair or on a soft bed can often lead to slumber rather than spiritual energy and alertness. A body knows that sitting or lying down means that it is time to rest. A body standing, by contrast, is a body ready for action. Some have spoken of the life of prayer as being a ‘conversion of attention’.

Though, later, we will invoke our hands, feet, shoulders, heart, eyes, ears and nose, it will be to something beyond ourselves that we will commit them all. Our attention is not fixed upon ourselves but on the God to whom we give ourselves.

When a Christian stood with arms outstretched, his or her attention was fixed on the passion and death of Christ, on the sins he bore on the Cross for us and on the life he laid down for us. It was a physical way of lifting the believer’s mind to something way beyond itself, to become connected to the love of Christ, and the aching of his limbs.

Our prayer is to fix the attention of the whole body on Heaven, God, Church and neighbour. It is selfless prayer.

When Christ stood in the Jordan River and the Holy Spirit rested on his head, the result was an anointing with power to do the works of God and transform the lives of those around him. It is with such an outward focus and motivation that I will look to heaven and say:

‘May the coming of the Holy Spirit be upon this head.’


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