An article by Trevor Miller
On a recent visit to Roslin to see Brother John, my spiritual director, who along with the late Roland Walls, was a founding member of the Community of the Transfiguration, we talked about the significance of those spiritual influences that had shaped our formation and spirituality as respective Communities. One strong influence on Roslin’s way of being was the example of the former French soldier, Charles de Foucauld, whose life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries. He became a Trappist Monk and a hermit in the Algerian desert and following his death his followers established the Little Brothers of Jesus to keep his values alive. I mentioned how many of the influences on Roslin had in turn found their way into our own lived spirituality as Northumbria Community, not least their regular use of de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment which became our Day 4 meditation in Celtic Daily Prayer.
We talked about how challenging this prayer was and that many people found it hard to say the words. Indeed I had quite recently talked with a minister closely associated with Roslin who simply and honestly said ‘I can’t say it’. It reminded me of those good folk I often encountered as a pastor, who felt they were not worthy to take communion or share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, because they were sinful and not good enough.
This is, of course, an understandable error caused by misrepresenting ourselves as unworthy rather than realizing that it is because we are unworthy that we can come in Jesus Name at his invitation because He is worthy through his death and resurrection for us. Our worthiness comes from Jesus, not ourselves.
Certainly to pray ‘whatever you do, I will thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all’ demands integrity and faith but it is important to understand that what we know as the ‘Prayer of Abandonment’ is not actually a prayer that Charles de Foucauld wrote for any eventual companions, or even one he prayed himself. Rather it is his reflection on the prayer of Jesus’ to his Father, written while he was a Cistercian monk in Syria, as he meditated on the Passion narratives in the Gospel. Brother John explained it to me when he said, ‘it is the prayer of Jesus in his Passion; it is not our prayer.’
It is identifying with the Passion of Jesus, imagining what Jesus went through and the prayers, emotions and desires he expressed to his Father at this momentous time; it is following in his steps, standing in the prayer with him and all who call his Name.
Brother John continued ‘It’s like holding on to the hanging strap while standing on a train or bus, going with the twists and turns, starts and stops of the journey, feeling its every movement.’ We can only make the journey from the Upper Room to Gethsemane, from Calvary to the Empty Tomb and on to Pentecost, by faith, as we are united in Christ. It is the outworking of the scripture “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Our Day 4 meditation has become an important prayer for us as Companions in Community, because we are aware that we can never say it alone. We pray it with Jesus and each other because we want to grow in this spirit of abandonment uniting ourselves ‘in a place of complete surrender’ to His love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, as part of the mystery of faith.
In monastic terms we would speak of renunciation, laying everything down in an acceptance of the will of God and our submission to it, knowing this was the road Jesus has travelled before us. To follow in his steps, is a representation of our surrender to Jesus as we continually say yes to Availability and Vulnerability.
It is particularly helpful to know that whatever our individual or collective circumstances or situation; whether good or bad or downright ugly; whatever twists and turns we may experience in an as yet unknown future, we’re holding on to the Lord of the Journey, moving united in Christ as Companions in Community. So what better prayer can we offer, alone and together, than to embrace the Spirit of Jesus within us and echo His words of faith:
I abandon myself into your hands;
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
I give it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
with a trust beyond all measure,
Because you are my Father.