Here’s something we do at my church: we pray with more than our mouths and minds.
I remember in the earliest days of our fellowship, prayer time was fairly typical to my past church experiences. In our circle (we always worship “in the round”) we would toss out “prayer requests” – you know, someone is sick, or broke up with a girlfriend, or is considering taking a new job, or wants to be a better person. Then we all hang our heads and squint our eyes shut, and stay like that until each of the requests had been prayed for aloud.
This works fine! I’m not trying to put down this style of corporate prayer. But we started to feel that the reason we prayed like this is because that’s how we did it at youth group or home bible study growing up. Was there a form or style of prayer that made sense for us now, for who we are and where we’re at?
We talked together over many weeks about what prayer is about, why we bother praying at all, what ways of approaching God fill us with hope and meaningful thinking about our faith. Turns out that, not surprisingly, many of us feel most moved and connected when encountering art and other sensed experiences – looking at things, holding things, hearing and even smelling things (more on taste later when I write about communion).
In fact, many of us feel the least connected to God and to each other with our eyes closed listening to abstract verbal recitations of information (“We want this, we are thankful for that, etc.”). As a teacher, I’m a fan of the abstract, but moreso I’m a fan of the abstract in the context of the concrete.
So now we pray together in a variety ways, and we usually try to have something tangible to encounter as expression of our prayers.
Often we light candles for each of our prayers, so that we can watch the light from our prayers gather together and illuminate our space.
Or we’ll take a stone out of a bag and add it others, feeling and hearing the clatter of our prayers piling up in the midst of us.
We’ve immersed our hands in a bowl of water as we speak our prayers. We write them down sometimes. Sometimes we don’t say the prayers out loud, but let the silence speak for us. Once we set seed pods afloat. Sometimes we sing to each other between each spoken prayer, or pray aloud while someone else sings.
We’re pretty intentional about thinking and talking through why we try something. It’s important to us that we not try this stuff because it’s new or trendy. If it doesn’t seem to make sense for who we are, then we drop it or change it up for the next time.