Coptic Daily Prayers pt 4

The Repentance of Saint Peter, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo
The first three posts in this series were of the section of these prayers that originates specifically in the Coptic Church, but the remainder are far older than that: they are Psalms, and there are four of them.

The first Psalm is one of introspection, repentance, and forgiveness – a chance to get the ugly things out of my system and to reallign myself to God.  Some days this is as far as I get, but I know that I always need to get this far.

PSALM 51 [abridged]

Have mercy on me O God, according to Your loving-kindness;
According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
Cleanse me from my sin;
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Create in me a clean heart, O God
Renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence,
Or take Your Holy Spirit from me,
But restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And uphold me with Your generous Spirit.

For the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart;
These, O God, You will not despise.

Hear Your servant's humble prayer. 


Peter repentance


I have been told that the further you walk with God, the more utterly aware of your own fallen nature you become, and maybe that's true.  But I had always wanted it to mean that I would progressively get harder on myself, due to achieving increasingly high standards in Godly living, whereas the reality is not that I'm getting any more righteous, only more aware of my need for forgiveness.

I can't spend even a few minutes under the weight of sin, which clouds everything and burdens everything and twists me into self-hate.  That's why I need this prayer.

I'm grateful for King David writing it (and having the guts to distribute it for public use, written at the lowest point in his life), for the emphasis on the magnitude of God's mercy, and particularly for the reminder that the worship God is interested in comes from a broken and contrite heart.  He loves and restores us.

Rembrandt.prodigal son detail

Coptic Daily Prayers pt 3

This section comes straight after the Introductory Prayer (previous post), in which God is approached and thanked.  Here, we get on to some detailed requests.  Reflections below.

Therefore we ask, and appeal to Your goodness, O lover of mankind,
That You grant us to conclude this blessed day
And all the days of our lives
In peace and in Your fear.

All envy, all temptation, all works of Satan,
All intrigues of the wicked; rising up of enemies, seen and unseen;
Do cast away from us, and from all Your people,
And from this, Your holy place.

Grant us the endowments and benefactions, Lord, as You have promised,
To trample on serpents, scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
Through the grace, mercy, and love of all mankind
Of the only-begotten Son,
Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


In praying this prayer every day, different emphases and nuances emerge and replace one another constantly.  For example, I have often directed the 'And from this, Your holy place' line to a part of me (eg. the heart, the brain) or to a particular location (not necessarily where I am).  But I'm not in that swing of things just now.

Likewise, there have been (plenty of) times when trampling on 'serpents, scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy' has been like a wrestling match, with the words standing in stark contrast to my inability to trample on anything whatsoever, let alone demonic evil.

At present, it is the asking to reach the end of the day in peace which is standing out to me, particularly because the prayer is not that the day would be filled with peace minute-by-minute, but rather that a sense of perspective and concluding shalom would be reached, whatever is endured along the way.


What is the Future of the Church?

To me, people like Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, and Tom Wright represent attitudes to following Jesus that are simple, humble, wise, and eye-openingly life-giving.  I respect them a lot.

So it's worth noticing their answers to the above question.


Richard Rohr:  The future is ecumenical; discovering the Pearl of Great Price in each Christian tradition.

Brennan Manning:  The future is little communities of mystics who have genuinely experienced Jesus.

Tom Wright:  The future is international; a truly global family, not a western hegemony.  Heart-soul-mind-strength, holistic, and post-postmodern.

And in many ways – I'm attempting not to sound too triumphalistic – this is exactly where Maria and I, and all sorts of other people we know, are at already, and have been for some time.  None of us has our hands on the steering wheel of the Church, and that frustrates us, but to believe that this is what God has been, is, and will be doing is very encouraging.

From A Resident Alien [Letter 11]

Letter 11

The picture above is Charleston, picture-perfect as ever.  When I first came, in 2006, I was here about six weeks; I got about, observed the natives, and felt like I'd seen the place for what it was.

A year or two later (when living in Edinburgh), it suddenly struck me that in my time visiting Maria's family I'd not really met any black people.  I'd seen them around now and then, but I'd never met any.

My guess was that African Americans (ooh get me with the adjusted terminology!) make up about 5-10% of the population, but I decided to look it up anyway, because I'm into demographics and stuff like that.  And when I did it made my head spin: in Charleston, 40-45% of all people are black.  Nearly half. And I hadn't met ANY of them.

Where the frick were they all?

Now maybe I was just wildly naive or whatever, but I had no idea that this is exactly what racial segregation looks like in practice: large, mutually-exclusive populations getting on with their lives in virtually parallel worlds.  Black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods; black restaurants, white restaurants; black churches, white churches.  It's not about hate, just separateness.

Around here, the races are so socially unmixed that sometimes they actually speak different languages: black people (especially amongst themselves) often speak Gullah, a Caribbean-style creole named, apparently, after Angola, where many slaves were brought from.  It's a beautiful language.


So, segregation – albeit informal – is alive and well.  I remember last November having lunch at a fast-food place here called Arbie's (they do curly fries!) and being slightly stunned that the manager was white and ALL the other staff were black.  But no one from here would bat an eyelid at that – it's the absolute norm.

The obvious foundational background for all this is slavery.  Over 40% of all slaves in North America arrived via Charleston, and Charleston, if you did not know, was the place where war kicked off over the rights of Americans to own other Americans.


South Carolina seceded from the United States because white people wanted the liberty to own black-skinned property.  And when the Confederates lost the war, the underlying issues were never dealt with – I've searched and searched and can find no record of any reconciliation work in Charleston, whatsoever.

And I love reconciliation work.  One of the great things about being English is that wherever you go in the world, there is always someone to apologise to (whether Zimbabweans, Maori, or Scots).  I would love to see reconciliation in process here, but it seems pretty unlikely, since people are so accustomed to the situation that they don't even know that there's a problem.

Like me when I was finding all this out, you are probably thinking something along the lines of, 'Those dumb, racist, Southerners!' and there is some validity in that.  But only some.  I researched into the heritage of this place from January to May this year, and one fact became very apparent very quickly: it was all caused by the English.


It was the English who set up Charleston and the state of Carolina to be the seat of commerce for the South.  It was the English who kidnapped, bought, tricked, and captured Africans, and shipped them to America.  It was the English who prioritised wealth over goodness, and turned brothers and sisters into property.

It was us.  It was my people.

Maybe someday there will be racial reconciliation in Charleston, but I have the feeling that it might very well require the English to take the first step, in recognition of what we started.  And that makes me glad that I'm here, because I'd love to be part of that.


When Football Prays

I grew up loving glamorous football stars – Lee Sharpe, Chris Waddle, Jeremy Goss – these were my favourite people in the world.  As a young Christian who loved football, it was pretty demoralising to accept that these two sides of my life were never destined to find a meeting point.  That's just how it was: Football didn't do God – Maradona excepting – and God seemed to be alright about it.

Javier Hernandez Man utd praying
So it's been quite a mind-bending few years, since Maria has dragged me back into the Beautiful Game: Hernandez on his knees before kickoff; pre-match prayer meetings at several clubs; Berbatov reading his Bible in the dressing room etc.  I mean, for Heaven's sake, the last thing Wayne Rooney does before going on the pitch is to go into the massage room to pray!

And this week it has spilled over in a much more public way.  Fabrice Muamba (another Christian, before you ask), had a heart-attack during Bolton's game with Spurs last Saturday.

Defoe Gallas Vandervaat

Within seconds, players were praying, and after a few hours, as the magnitude of the situation struck home, I was reading tweets like these:

Jack Wilshere: 'Everyone keep praying!'
Wayne Rooney: 'Praying for him and his family.'
Kyle Walker: 'Doesn't matter who you support. Doesn't matter if you aren't a football fan. Doesn't matter if you aren't religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.'

The outpouring of support was so explicit in its constant references to prayer that I found myself halfway between continuing to pray for Muamba, and being overwhelmed by the fact that in the middle of a tragic event the footballers of the nations have been leading us in prayer.

Sunderland ChelseaBlackburn



Realmadrid Barcelona

These last two photos: Ronaldo & Messi, neither of whom know Muamba, passing on best wishes.  This is how we – the Church, and Humanity – should react to suffering. 'When one part suffers, we all suffer,' and when we 'bear each others burdens, we fulfil the law of Christ.'

Jesus explains Lent to the disciples

He knows the score.

"So what," I hear you ask, "is the Shahid-Rowe household doing for Lent?"

Well (replied Mr Rowe), we've effectively been fasting for 3 weeks already, due to our Paleo Month, which explains the lack of pancakes yesterday.  Therefore, the idea of giving up even more than grains, sugars, pulses and other non-hunter-gatherer-type* foods is not exactly on our radar, especially since Maria is barely getting enough into her to stay alive anyway.

But I like Lent, and I want to 'do it'.

So what we've decided is to give up the 'giving up' side of the Fast, to sidestep it and instead use this period of the Church calendar to instil certain otherwise-lacking disciplines into our lives.  I won't give you the whole list, but for example, every day until Easter I am going to be spending 20 minutes sitting in silence.  Something I've always planned/wanted to have a go at, but never got round to.

And may God use the season to transform our hearts and lives.  Amen.

silence is wonder