Praying Earlier Than Thou | A Borrowed Memory of R.S. Thomas

Chuch Hostel Bangor Wales RS Thomas

Chapel of the Church Hostel, Bangor Wales, where R.S. Thomas prayed. Photo from 1994.

Usually my midweek blog features one of my own memories of R. S. Thomas, but this week’s memory is borrowed.

While Thomas was studying classic Greek and Latin literature at the University of Wales, Bangor, in preparation for ordination to the priesthood of the Church in Wales, he lived in the Church Hostel with other theologs. The hostel’s warden was Glyn Simon, later Archbishop of Wales.

Simon’s son remembers:

They had a chapel attached to the hostel, and my father used to get up early to pray there. The only thing was, R.S. would already be there, praying. So my father got up earlier, and R.S. got up earlier and earlier, it became a sort of contest between them. My father found his asceticism quite amusing, and as children we liked him, he had very good-looking features that seemed to have been wrought out of wood.

Thomas was not a conventional pray-person: Not for him table graces that were spoken; certainly not for him the prayer-rants of many radio and TV preachers. Nevertheless he was a man of prayer.

But . . . . not as in the old days did he pray. Not perhaps as he prayed during his praying earlier than thou contest with Glyn Simon. Not perhaps as he prayed when he became rector of Manafon.

Not as in the old days I pray,
God. . . .
……………. I would have knelt
long, wrestling with you, wearing
you down. Hear my prayer, Lord, hear
my prayer. As though you were deaf, myriads
of mortals have kept up their shrill
cry, . . .
……………. It begins to appear
that is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me; . . .

Prayer, then, is an overcoming of the distance between the creature and the Creator. It is a silence, in which God is a presence, not an absence. Prayer is an experience, in which the person praying is aware of being inhabited by God and of finding a habitation in God.

Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:

“Not as in the old days I pray” – “Emerging,” Laboratories of the Spirit, 1.

The prose quote from the son of Glyn Simon is found in Byron Rogers’ biography of Thomas: The Man Who Went Into the West, 99.


4 thoughts on “Praying Earlier Than Thou | A Borrowed Memory of R.S. Thomas

  1. Yes, I love the glimpse, too. Wish I’d been there, willing to get up that early, hiding somewhere to watch the contest. But then I wouldn’t be around to write a blog about it. So I’ll settle, happily, gratefully, for what I have.

    • I could claim that “log” and “wrought of wood” is what I had in mind. Or that I was suggesting that students preparing for ordination are all too often blockheaded. But the truth is that I’ve long preferred the “theolog” spelling (declared acceptable by my OED) to the “theologue” spelling, all because “theologue” seems a bit too highflying for what people thinking and talking and writing theology are, in fact, doing.

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