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Burnt out prayer

Burnt out prayer

I am writing up against a deadline which has already passed. I am reaching back towards it from the wrong side, which can never work. The words are difficult to render, although I know that the cross was harder, and that my charge is clear.

In the basement of the church a smoke alarm is pipping every 30 seconds. I bought it a new battery, but I cannot for the life of me get the cover off to fix it. My office is nearly as far from the source of the sound as I can get within the building, but it is not far enough.

My nerves are frayed, my spirit refuses to settle, knowing, as it does, that twice every minute I will be reminded of my failure to maintain and protect the mortal fabric of this place, that my phrases are as jumpy and fragmented as the air splitting more than one hundred times an hour with that alarm. There is no smoke, there is no fire, there are no words.

I wonder if I can pray.

I begin by listening for all of the things that are not the smoke alarm, nor my anxiety.

I listen to the clock, ticking. Time, the first creature of God, that made a beginning from which to measure all else. The clock speaks to me of our Creator.

I listen to the traffic, all the people driving products of inspiration and engineering and trial and error, lots of error producing pollution and accident and injury, but also connecting, returning families to homes, transporting patients to hospitals. The traffic speaks to me of humanity, flawed, fallen, beloved.

I listen to the birds. They thought a week ago that it was spring, before the last hard freeze. Their ardour is unquenched; they are quick to seize any moment of sunlight to resume their hopeful song, their lust for life broadcast. The birds speak Resurrection.

I hear the pipes of the old church knocking, the ghost in the machine. They speak to me of the Holy Spirit.

I hear, strangely far away, the alarm, still shrill. It reminds me of myself, demanding attention, seeking juice for my tired spirit, new life for my depleted soul. It reminds me of this prayer.

I need help to change the battery. I cannot for the life of me get into the thing.

The clock and the birds continue to speak to me of God.


The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio, and the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 1 April 2020). She blogs at over the water : rosalindhughes.com

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