Archbishop Rowan Williams on ‘Pause for Thought’ – Terry Wogan Radio 2 Tuesday 18 October 2005
Archbishop Rowan uses a surprising and yet helpful image to help understand prayer which I draw upon from time to time:
I think it’s really dangerous if you think you are an expert on this one. But it is something that people ask about from time to time and sometimes it’s the surprising images that help people.
I think here about sunbathing. I’m not much of a one for sunbathing myself; too much lying around and I get fidgety and a bit guilty. But there is something about sunbathing I think that tells us more about what prayer is than any amount of religious jargon.
When you’re lying on the beach or under the lamp, something is happening, something that has got nothing to do with how you feel or how hard you’re trying. You’re not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating. You give the time, and that’s it. All you have to do is turn up. And then things change, at their own pace. You just have to be there where the light can get at you.
Now people often get the impression that prayer is anxiously putting on your best clothes, and finding acceptable things to say in the right sort of language, generally getting your act together – oh, and concentrating, of course. But when in the Bible Jesus advises his friends about how to pray, he tells them not to worry about any of this. Just say, ‘Father’, he tells them. Just be confident that you’re welcome as you would be at home. All you need to do is to be where the light can get at you – and in this case, the light of God’s love.
So you give the time and let go of trying hard (and actually that’s the really difficult bit). And God is there always. You don’t need to fight for his attention or make yourself acceptable because he’s glad to see you. And he’ll make a difference while you’re not watching, just by radiating who and what he is in your direction. All he asks is that you stay there with him for a bit, in the light. And for the rest, you just trust him to get on with it.