Yesterday I led a day on prayer for thirty-five women. Today I am presiding at a baptism for a 10 month old little girl who goes by the delightful name of Tygr (pronounced tiger.) I found myself thinking about Tygr when talking to the women about prayer and about Jesus’ saying that only those who receive the kingdom of God like a child can enter it.
At ten months Tygr is a delight: full of curiosity and energy. She was fascinated by the big iron pokers that we have by one of the fire places at Launde Abbey and by the fir cones in the unlit fire. Her attention was grabbed by the coloured glass paperweights but even more attractive were the boxes of jigsaw puzzles, which had to be rescued. Every now and then Tygr would go a little too far for her abilities and there would be a bump and the beginnings of a cry, but she was easily distracted and back into her world of endless curiosities and delight.
Some time ago I learnt two things about prayer from two different sources. The first thing I learnt is that prayer is the most natural thing in the world. The second is that all prayer is praise. Put these two things together and you have a child’s response to the world as a place of utter delight and interest.
We make prayer such a work. We screw ourselves up and shut ourselves down and forget that what prayer is in its simplest form is response to the love of the God who made us and saved us. Children pray but we just don’t see it as prayer. We don’t call it prayer.
I have written before of my father’s experience as a five year old of lying out beneath the sky in a field of bracken and feeling such love coming to him and such love flowing out of him that he remembered it all his life. Many of us have such memories – but we don’t tend to call them prayer. We have all watched small children dancing with sheer delight and joy, revelling in the natural world around them, living utterly in the moment. They don’t have to be speaking words of praise. They are praise. They are delight. They are gladness. They don’t have to comprehend who God is as a separate entity to themselves and pay lip service. They are in God. Nothing divides them. They are life.
What is more, of course, they trust. When Tygr sat down suddenly on her well-padded behind and was slightly shocked, she squealed and instantly her Mum was there and a second later Tygr had forgotten all about it. Tygr could take on the world because her Mum was there. As far as Tygr is concerned her Mum will always be there. Mum won’t be but God will be. That is the trust we need to practice.
Prayer is natural as a response to the gift of life and praise naturally follows. Children know this instinctively. Adults forget. Much of our maturing as Christians and as people is about learning to unlearn all that is false and unhelpful in our prayer life and about returning to that place where we can delight in all that has and is being given to us and simply say thank you.