Joy Wanless is a volunteer with CAFOD Salford. She shares about what inspired her to become a prayer-writing volunteer. Find out how you can join her.
Me, write a reflection, write prayers? Not I! I was used to reciting traditional prayers and following liturgies prepared by others. Belonging to the Spirituality Team in Salford diocese changed all that. As I became more interested in following CAFOD stories, learning about the treacherous difficulties of life in many parts of the world and the generosity of CAFOD volunteers, I wanted to fuel their passion by enmeshing the prayer with the stories.
A very moving moment from a story which touched me greatly was at a Water Pilgrimage we planned around the diocese, travelling between the churches. As part of the prayer we gave out pieces of rope and invited people to tie them tightly round their waists. This was inspired by the story of Ayapan who ties string round her waist and drinks hot water to cope with hunger.
“I am very grateful to all those who support us,” says Ayapan. “I remain hopeful, knowing that I’ll be able to last until the next food distribution… I believe that God can do miracles and that things will get better. That’s what keeps me going.”
God doing miracles is what keeps me going too. I feel God so much closer when tuned into CAFOD, prayer and stories.
A miracle I experienced myself was regarding the story of gold mining in El Salvador. I was studying this passage: “They have made themselves a calf of molten metal” (Exodus 32: 7-14) to write a reflection. I found myself passionately praying for justice in the mining industry in El Salvador. A CAFOD news article had informed me of the struggle to prize water over gold. Many people In El Salvador have little access to water, and mining for metals makes matters worse. In 2017 I danced for joy when I read articles saying mining had been banned. “It’s a wonderful moment for the first country to evaluate the costs and benefits of metallic mining and say no,” said Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at Central American University, a CAFOD partner in San Salvador. The decision was made the very week my reflection was published. Talk about God speaking directly!
Uplifted by prayer
So, how did I move to prayer writing? One of our faithful volunteers, Fred Uttley had the generous and original idea of cycling the 22 dioceses of England and Wales raising funds and awareness for CAFOD. The Salford Spirituality team prepared resources for a liturgy to be held in each diocese. One of our groups had the beautiful idea of writing a prayer especially for Fred to be kept in his breast pocket as he cycled. Fred was moved to tears to have this reminder of us holding him in prayer through his country long cycle. He said when he was wet, dispirited or just ready for a rest he would take out the prayer and feel so uplifted by our support and love that he would feel motivated to continue, maybe not so enthusiastically in the pouring rain, uphill hindered by mud, but overall he was!
Shortly after this CAFOD advertised a prayer-writing workshop. Inspired by Fred’s response to our prayer I’d thought I’d go look. Little did I know the morning was preparing and the afternoon writing and reading aloud and editing our work. It was amazing. We used word games, music, CAFOD images of partner stories, views from the window, a table of sensory experiences, word showers and much more to stimulate our senses and imaginations. We worked on a first line and somehow the prayer grew.
The cry of my heart
At the prayer writing workshop I was encouraged to be in the moment. I was looking out the window at a majestic tree, softly shedding its leaves. The leaves were drifting into piles and decomposing as I watched. In preparation for the workshop I had read some catholic social teaching on the world of work. Somehow the rotting piles of leaves spoke to me of the rotting piles of bedding so familiar now on the city streets. I word-showered words and phrases on the topic of rotting leaves, lives, workless, homeless. Words of a praise song kept going round in my head, ‘the cry of my heart’.
As part of the prayer writing workshop we word showered different names for God and these became part of my prayer. Once I had a structure, the cry and response, it began to flow. The prayer was longer to begin with. Re-reading out loud, listening to others’ feedback, helped me to focus it more to what it is now. Though it’s a few years since I wrote it, it still tunes me in to the distress of the lives of those on the streets.
Above all I find peace in preparing for and creating prayer resources. I reconnect with a part of me that can get lost in the business of everyday life. I feel grounded by the stories that inspire, the Scriptures that inform, the catholic social teaching that impels me to action.
If you feel inspired to create I thoroughly recommend becoming a prayer-writing volunteer. Be part of a group that stimulates and sparks. From the tiniest spark rages the flaming furnace. “Go on, fan into a flame the gift God has given you… For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6,7)