"Our Father, I don't care what type of work I do, I don't care if I go into teaching, into social work, even be unemployed, or stay in business. I just want to do your Will."
Tuesday, September 23rd 1975, 10.30 pm.; it was a heartfelt prayer, kneeling at the side of the bed in the hotel room. I didn't expect it to be answered. But it certainly was.
Although I had been a Church goer all my life and had part of my education at Catholic schools, I think that my attitude towards Church and God had been merely one of regarding it as an insurance policy. If God were there it was better to do the right thing. If not the disadvantages were only minor and conformed to an ethical code that made some sense.
What’s the Point of Being a Christian?
Besides, I knew many atheists whom I regarded as better people than the Christians in my immediate circle. They were sincere, they worked for the good of others and they were mostly warm and friendly people. What, then, was the point of being a Christian? This unresolved question, I kept putting to the back of my mind. I found that I disagreed with many of the Church's teachings and would argue strongly against them. The only reason I continued to go to Church was on the principle that "if you join a Club and don't like the rules it is better to work to change them than to walk out".
But business was my profession, I was manipulative - cunning, I suppose, so that people would do what I wanted. I carried this over to our church affairs, believing that a stable parish is one with ordered finances. As chairman of our church council, I had set up a finance committee with a system of parish visitors to raise money for the church.
Then came a crisis. I had been working away from home during the week as a trouble-shooter for a major industrial group. My red-haired boss, Peter, was hot-tempered and had very strong views about the way projects should be carried out. Since the projects were spread all over the country, he had to rely on other people - like me - to analyse and implement the business solutions.
My colleague, Mike, and I were working at a bicycle factory in the Midlands. We had only been working together for a month, but we had discovered that we were the only two Christians in the department. Mike was away on holiday when Peter called in on a Friday to discover how the project was going. I told him what I had been doing for the last few days. I was happy with the progress, but something I said clearly upset Peter. He raged! He fumed! He shouted that he shouldn't have allowed such an incompetent person to be involved.
To this day I don't know what had upset him, but he continued in this vein for an hour before storming off to call on a Site Director.
I didn't get much work done for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon I had organised a meeting to progress the project and, of course, Peter attended. It seemed to go quite well and Peter and I walked back to our office in silence. I said that the meeting had gone better than Peter anticipated and found myself subjected to a further tirade before he drove off.
So I drove home dejectedly that Friday evening. All weekend a black cloud surrounded me as I tried to analyse what was wrong with the project and why Peter had been upset. I failed.
A Trouble Shared is a Trouble Halved
On Monday Mike returned from his holiday and asked how things had been. I told him. He suggested that I should have had more sense than to go into details with Peter. "When you're closeted in a room with someone for an hour it is very difficult to confine conversation to generalities," I said. Mike made a few level-headed comments and I felt somewhat more composed.
By Tuesday I had calmed further and was able to get back into the swing of things. So that evening found me kneeling by my hotel bed handing my job over to God.
As I 'came to' the following morning I found myself saying "Thy Will be done". Funny! I thought, but felt peaceful and was able to put in the first full day's work since the previous week.
I thought no more about it that day, but during the next night I was woken four times, as though my shoulder were being shaken. I woke and each time found myself saying "Thy Will be done", before dozing off again.
My memory of the next few weeks is a little confused, but I found myself waking up - or woken - in the middle of the night and praying. Praying in a way I had never done before; talking to the God who seemed to be there. Sometimes, I seemed to hear answers to questions that I put. We seemed to have a two-way conversation. I had never thought of God taking part in prayer, I always assumed prayer was a human activity!
Or rather, He doesn't play by our rules. My generation of Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible, although a wide range of readings are covered and occasionally explained in Homilies. Before Mike went on holiday, he had invited me along to a Bible study at a local vicarage where a University friend of his was a parish worker. The first time I went, I was embarrassed at not having a Bible with me, so I brought my Bible, and had even been to the group for the second time while Mike was away. So God had set me up for the next step.
The Bible was at my bedside and I had a desire to read St Paul's letters. As I read them - in the middle of the night - I just couldn't put them down. They were written to me, and for me, from this friend who was travelling abroad. Whereas I had regarded his writings as two thousand year old curiosities, I now found a real man corresponding about real things. Moreover, I understood them!
Over the following nights I read the Gospels. During this time, I was spending 2 or 3 hours each night awake, praying or reading. Amazingly, I felt totally refreshed each morning.
Then one evening, with obvious embarrassment, Mike lent me a book called "Prison to Praise". This was about a man who had discovered how to praise God in all circumstances. I took it at ten o'clock, went to bed and read it. It was fairly short and I had finished it just after midnight. The idea seemed novel, but worth trying; so I started to praise God. I lifted my hands to Him in the darkness of my hotel room. Immediately, I felt surrounded by the presence and love of my Father.
Returning the book to Mike the following morning, I said how much I'd enjoyed it. I don't think he believed that I had really read it! During the next few weeks I spent each night at the hotel surrounded by the Glory of God, praising and rejoicing in His presence. At one point I recall saying, "This is the most real experience I have ever had. No matter what happens I will remember this."
“Why are you being nice?”
Meanwhile Jenny, my wife, remarked when I got home one Friday evening, "What on earth is the matter with you, you are actually being nice to me?" Since I didn't really understand, I was unable to find the words to answer her question.
I told no one what was happening, but it came clear to me that God was changing me. The first awareness of this outside my hotel room, was when someone criticised an attitude of the Church. Once I would have agreed, and joined in the criticism. Now I found myself explaining why the church believed and acted the way it did. If I hadn't been the one who was speaking, I'd have gazed open mouthed at the revelation - it was all new to me, too! Although I didn’t realise it then, this was my first experience of the spiritual gift of understanding.
The Mass*, too, seemed different; for I could now come before my Saviour - the risen, living Jesus, and worship Him. I knew that I was part of His family, He wanted me as a brother and had died so that I could be. So now Mass going is a time for meeting with Him and the rest of my family - a family party, in fact!
I Couldn’t Stop Laughing!
Ten days before Christmas that year, (now ten weeks after that first prayer) I was full of the love and joy of God welling up from within. So much that I had to work in a separate office with a handkerchief wedged in my mouth because I was laughing all the time. At my employer's Christmas Party, I was asked to collect from all the women for Lady Bowden's favourite charity. I was in high spirits, collected from and kissed them all including Lady Bowden whom I didn't recognise, thanking her for giving so generously for her favourite charity. I know everyone thought I was drunk. Indeed the following day, a Director remarked how "high-spirited" I had been! I didn't explain, but there is a biblical precedent for that.
Also at this time, God said to me (I don't mean I heard voices, but a loud and insistent thought comes, which is one way in which He speaks to us), "Start a prayer group!" To this I replied, "We don't have that sort of thing in the Catholic Church!" Of course, He soon proved me wrong, and in the new year I invited some members of our parish to join us on a Friday evening for prayer, when I got home. Five weeks later, I arrived home with twenty minutes to go, and Jenny said, "Everyone" (all six who had started to come) "has rung and apologised that they can't come, and I think I've got 'flu - I'm going to bed!"
Outwardly calm, I said, "Fine, I'll pray by myself." Inwardly, I said, "Lord, if I heard You right about starting a prayer group, You'd better show me!" Three minutes later, right on time, three nuns turned up saying, "We've heard you have a prayer group, may we join you?" - You can't argue with a God who answers prayers like that!
Head Hunted – by God?
Then I was offered a job in the North of England. Discussion and interviews seemed to have been going on for some time. I looked in my diary out of curiosity to see how long we had been talking. Remarkably, I found that the original message to contact this company had been left with Jenny the day after I had knelt down and handed my job to God! Then I knew that the job and subsequent move North was clearly part of His continuing plan for me.
* The “Mass” or “Eucharist” is the centre of Christian worship. In it we understand that we are united with the one sacrifice of Christ – his giving Himself on the Cross to redeem all mankind.
This Web Page is My Story