Sunday, 5 January 2014

B is for Bön and for Barmhärtig

Bön (pronounced boen) is Swedish for prayer, request, appeal, entreaty, plea or supplication. The verb ‘be’ translates as ask, beg, request, entreat, implore, plead, pray, offer a prayer, say a prayer.

As a child I was taught to say my prayers. This activity mainly consisted of asking God to bless mummy, daddy, grandma ... and so on. The fact that I asked God for something must have meant that even at that tender age I believed in some kind of higher or mystical power.

Prayer was not a strange phenomenon to me. Until the age of 14 I was forced to accompany my mother to church on a Sunday. As no choice was presented, I amused myself by inspecting ladies’ hats, perusing the hymn book, or playing silently (and sometimes not so silently...) with my young brother (who was also forced to attend). The vicar’s call to prayer meant bowing one’s head, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, saying the Creed, or receiving the final blessing.

At the age of 14, and the news that mother had enrolled me in confirmation classes, I rebelled. I was a stubborn child, and there was absolutely no way that the theatre of church was going to be prolonged. Mother gave in, and soon after that left the church herself. What a relief that was!

Until I discovered Quakers in my early twenties, I searched for an expression of God that I felt comfortable with. I found this in nature, in our garden, walking in the Yorkshire Dales or locally in the fields close to our house. In the outdoors God has always felt close, and there, prayer has come quite naturally to me – not just as requests, appeals or the like, but also as thanks for blessings received, for the beauty of the surroundings and for the wonders of nature. I often send out arrow prayers – for someone, for myself, for guidance in a particular situation. Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at when he encouraged people to ‘pray without ceasing’. It is being in an attitude of prayer that matters, not the constant petitioning.

Since becoming a Quaker, prayer has been a rather private affair. It is rare for someone to pray, out loud, in Meeting for Worship. A Swedish Friend who died recently was an exception. His legacy of a book of prayers written by him to God, his loving Father, is a treasure to treasure.... and a reminder to dare to pray out loud.

I cannot think of Bön without linking it to Barmhärtig (pronounced barmhaertig), which means merciful, compassionate, charitable. In my own prayers – and indeed in my attitude towards others – I also need to be merciful, compassionate and charitable. If I remember that, I can reflect what God constantly reveals to, and bestows on, me.

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