St Dunstan’s

Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England

St Dunstan's James Tomkins 2

James’ Message

Dear Friends,

An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring the beautiful scenery that surrounded him. "What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself. As he was walking along the river bank, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. To his shock he saw an eight foot grizzly bear charging towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing. His heart was pumping frantically and he tried to run even faster, but tripped and fell on to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but by now the bear was right on top of him, raising his right paw to strike.

At that instant the atheist cried out "Oh God, help me!" Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river ceased moving. A bright light then shone upon the man and a voice came out of the sky, "You deny my existence for all of these years; teach others I don't exist; and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to rescue you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?" The atheist looked directly into the light and said "I suppose that it would be hypocritical of me suddenly to ask you to treat me as Christian, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?" "Very well," said the voice. The light went out. The river ran again. The sounds of the forest resumed. Then the bear dropped his right paw...brought both paws together...bowed his head and spoke: "Lord, for what I am about to receive, help me to be truly thankful!"

Prayer is the bedrock of the Christian life. It's not restricted to words we say in church, but can be addressed to God in any place, at any time, for any situation and towards any person. The greatest prayer ever written is undoubtedly the Lord's Prayer. This often features in stained glass windows or frescos in cathedrals and churches around the world. This prayer has been translated into thousands of different languages, and Pope Francis recently caused a stir when he called for the translation of the phrase about temptation in the Lord's Prayer to be changed. He considered that the current wording "lead us not into temptation" is not a good translation, because God does not lead humans to sin. Instead he suggested that it would be more accurate to use the phrase "do not let us fall into temptation".  

When we pray the Lord's Prayer, or any prayer, that prayer shapes us and makes an impact on the world and the people around us. I would like to suggest that each day during Lent, which starts on February 14th, you light a candle and think for one or two minutes about your family, friends, someone you know or a situation that's in the news.  The action of lighting the candle gives focus and intentionality to the prayer.  You then might say the Lord's Prayer at the end, to draw this time to close. In doing so you'll become part of the long standing Christian tradition and the prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples to say almost 2,000 years ago.

With all good wishes for Lent,