In his Lenten 2023 book Godforsaken, Archbishop Cottrell reflects in Week 2 on scriptural prayers.
He speaks of the Old Testament Psalms, which fascinate and amaze me when I think of how they still bring together the prayers of countless millions of Jewish and Christian people today, as they have over many thousands of years before.
The Psalms offer us a sense of identity in our relationship with God, because these beautiful prayers delve into the depths of every emotion known to humankind. It is through the Psalms we can open our hearts to God in whatever state it may be, happy, sad, desperate, anxious, hopeful, lonely, or like Jesus, desolate. He called out to God in his desolation on the cross using the words of Psalm 22.
The Psalms are an excellent place to begin for those who yearn for a sense of belonging and identity. It may take a while to acquire the taste, but living with them adds another layer of belonging and uniqueness to our lives, so it is worth the effort.
Psalm 23 is my all-time favourite. For sad reasons, but it gives me strength in sorrow. This Psalm is often read at funerals, and it is a tradition in my family to have that Psalm read then. This gives me great comfort and hope because it somehow encompasses all the generations of my family, both living and dead, in the words and the assurance that God is always there to love and protect us as a shepherd protects and guides his lambs.
Another favourite scriptural prayer of mine is the Lord’s prayer. I learnt it at Sunday School and in the school assembly service we used to have every day before lessons started.
It has been said that this is the most perfect prayer we can pray. It is the one Jesus gave his disciples when they asked him how they should pray, and I find so much wisdom in each part of it. Although, as a child, I just felt it was the way to connect with Jesus, but as I got older, the deep wisdom in the words began to emerge, which developed spiritual depth within me. Even today, things jump out at me from the prayer I had not previously considered.
Although both Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are used in worship and praise, I have found that when there is nothing else to say, when all hope seems to have been lost, they also offer something rather than nothingness. These prayers invite us into another place during times of desolation and despair.
Because of this, they can add an important spiritual dimension to our lives, particularly in times of trial. They can equip us with something intangible that cannot be seen with our eyes or touched with our fingers; it can only be felt in our hearts.
Archbishop Cottrell’s book ‘Godforsaken’ is available online or from your local bookshop.