In February this year Malcolm Boyd died. He was an American Episcopal priest and a good friend to MCC. He had a rich and varied life - a privileged childhood destroyed by the Great Depression, from working in Hollywood to becoming a priest and supporting Martin Luther King www.malcolmboyd.com. In 1965, he published a book of prayers called “Are You Running with Me Jesus?” The prayer of the title describes how he wakes up each morning, needing to leap out of bed, wash, dress and charge into the day. The final line is “Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me Jesus?”
This book of prayers changed lives. It was written in ordinary language about ordinary situations. There is a prayer about dealing with irritating work colleagues, the simple joy of cooking pasta, prayers about the homelessness and migrant workers. No ‘Thees’ or ‘Thous’, no ancient wordiness or pious emptiness, just prayers from the heart. This was revolutionary. People who struggled to pray, priests and pastors who couldn’t find the words they needed for the situations that they encountered in their ministry, all found expression in the prayers that Malcolm Boyd wrote. He famously read these prayers at a reading in a nightclub, and also performed them at a jazz festival, accompanied by the guitarist Charlie Byrd. Not only were the prayers new and direct, Malcolm Boyd found ways of taking them out of the confines of the church and into where ordinary people were. Boyd talked about his own change of attitude towards prayer “My idea of prayer changed when I realized it would no longer be offered to God up there, but to God here; it was to be natural and real, not phony or contrived; it was not about other things – but these things, however unattractive, jarring or even socially outcast they might sometimes appear to be.”
None of this may sound very remarkable to us, here and now. We have The Message, Greenbelt , YouTube, the Brick Bible (which tells bible stories through Lego http://www.thebrickbible.com/) and so many other ways of expressing our faith. Boyd’s book was groundbreaking and would have been highly controversial or seen as disrespectful by some Christians at the time. It was a freeing and life changing experience for many though. It gave permission to communicate with God in a new, powerful, meaningful and deeply personal way. It took prayer out of the hands of the priests and into the voices of the people – just as Jesus had done. As the Church today, we too need to make sure that we offer prayers that speak about the lives we live and make sense to those around us. We can’t bring light and hope if no-one understands what we are talking about!