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Sleepy Pope awakens radio opportunity

The Pope admitting to occasionally falling asleep when he prays led to the BBC calling Baptist minister Chris Band, author of a recent book on prayer, for a series of radio interviews 


Earlier this month the Pope admitted to occasionally falling asleep when he prays. Given that he’s an octogenarian and the head of a church of 1.2 billion people we might be forgiven for thinking that this revelation is neither surprising nor particularly newsworthy. However his ‘confession’ was picked up by several national newspapers, including the Guardian and the Telegraph.
The BBC decided that this story would make for an interesting discussion on local radio. And so, whilst I was out one day walking the dog, my wife fielded a call from a BBC employee asking if I would be happy to be interviewed about the Pope’s practice of prayer. The proposed schedule, for the following Sunday, was a rather gruelling set of 15 consecutive live interviews with local and regional BBC stations, starting at 7am with Radio Lancashire and concluding two hours later with Radio Wiltshire.

While nervously eyeing the three talks I still had to prepare for the Sunday services, I returned the call, saying I would be delighted to participate. I have recently written a book on prayer called On my Knees and apparently the BBC ‘found’ me as a result of their google searches, reading reviews on Amazon and good publicity management by my publisher, Lion Hudson.
The interviews themselves presented a wonderful opportunity not only to respond to the Pope’s comments but also to talk more broadly about the importance of prayer. I recounted my memories of a prayer day I took part in while training at theological college. We were given written guidelines that concluded: 'If you find yourself falling asleep, don’t worry, sleep is a gift from God, and if you need to sleep, accept the gift gladly.’ I remember being quite taken aback that I was being given written permission to fall asleep whilst I prayed. But this instruction seemed to chime well with the Pope’s view that falling asleep in prayer made God happy as it is like a child falling asleep in their Father’s arms. My own perspective is that both prayer and sleep are indeed precious gifts from God, but perhaps it’s helpful if they’re kept separate for the most part!
More broadly it was exciting to be able to talk about what scripture teaches us about our posture in prayer; that we can pray standing, sitting, kneeling, lying prostrate on the floor; hands up, hands down; that we can say our prayers, sing our prayers or even remain silent in our prayers. The key is surely to find an approach that works for each of us; as the slogan goes: ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t’. Space was also given in the interviews to talking about matters such as the fundamental purpose of prayer, whether routines helped or hindered and if requests such as prayers for parking spaces were unworthy of God.

On my Knees

I have to say that although the interviews went smoothly, I did learn a few valuable lessons along the way. The first was that even though there would be a degree of spontaneity to the conversations, that good preparation was nevertheless essential. After all, why not give the same time to a radio interview that one would give to a Sunday sermon? Not only did this result in a few pages of notes but I actually took fifteen sets of those notes to the studio along with a marker so that I had a means of keeping track with what I had and hadn’t said in each instance. I also learnt, after the second time my chair collapsed in the middle of an interview, that it is best not to fidget too much on chairs fitted with gas lift adjustment!
I trust that we will all be open to embracing these opportunities when they arise or even to deliberately seeking out creative ways of using the media, in its many forms, to speak of what God means to us. Despite getting up at 4:45am to do the interviews I did manage to stay awake as I spoke about prayer.

But when it comes to our intercessions, perhaps the really important thing is that God stays awake; as we read in Psalm 121:3-4:

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

Chris Band is co-minister of Headington Baptist and author of On my Knees: Rebuilding our confidence in Prayer (Lion Hudson). An example of Chris’ interviews can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05kpqxz (Radio Oxford, 5 Nov, 6pm breakfast show). Please advance the programme to 2 hours 17 minutes. This broadcast is available until the end of November.

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