The first hour lasted for ages. It was cold. The seating was not exactly comfortable. The people around me talked while those taking part enacted their ritual and well-practiced actions. There were things going on which would seem strange to uninitiated.
No, not church… it was good to be at county cricket again after so many years.
And that first hour… That stage in a new experience when the unfamiliar lingers long, before the later moments rush by too fast… That first hour provided an unexpected presence of peace. I wanted it to last forever.
Depending on whether you are Indian or English it may or may not seem appropriate, but I am of course by far the first person to draw parallels between life and a game of cricket.
During our lives we can often be on the receiving end of the occasional googly, the random bouncer or find ourselves either stumped or caught out. We might even be like England (or indeed Somerset who I was watching last week) and suffer a complete collapse.*
But there are also those occasions when we strike a well-deserved boundary or even a six. All the same, in the traditional long game there are times when it’s all rather uneventful – although some may feel their life is more like the fast and furious T20 or The Hundred.
We talk of the long-lived as having had ‘a good innings’ and reflecting on my stay at the crease so far, moments of sheer happiness (hitting a six perhaps) are fairly few and far between and often short-lived. But I am content to play the game until the umpire calls stumps. There is peace in that contentment even when someone or something nearly runs me out.
Life is a long game. And so is prayer. If we approach prayer in the spirit of only having a set number of overs we find ourselves caught and bowled quite quickly. Prayer is not a test match.
Prayer is a long game and, in the same way the fielding side stays on the pitch for the whole innings, is a case of enacting ritual and well-practiced actions.
Ready. Waiting. In position. Responding.
I was reminded recently that in his book, You are the Beloved, Henri Nouwen puts what I’m getting at much more eloquently by using a totally different metaphor:
Dear Lord, today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love…
O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.
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*This post was published on the day England lost the fourth test match against India – and coincidentally, Somerset fell to a second consecutive defeat by an innings… hey ho.