Blessed are you Lord our God,
for you come to us and seek to make your home in us.
As we study now,
let our eyes and our ears be open to you
let our hearts find their rest and their joy in you
that we may grow in grace and live to your glory.
Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Prayer and Isolation
Prayer. Most Christians, at one time or another, have asked the question 'how do I pray?' or said 'I find prayer difficult.' This is not a sign of poor spirituality, in fact we are in good company because it's something the disciples asked Jesus: 'Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1). Jesus' answer to this in Luke is what we now call 'the Lord's prayer'. Watch the video for a lovely version of this. Matthew expands this passage and from him we learn that Jesus actually taught his disciples to pray in isolation. Turn to your bible or click the link below to read Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:1-11.
Worship in public and praying in public are different things. It seems at the moment, with the plethora of online streamed praying, that there is a great deal of a modern version 'praying in public' that Jesus, in the passage we have just read in Matthew, seemed to suggest was not the best idea. It is certainly not something we see Jesus doing in scripture. Most often we read that Jesus went into 'a solitary place' to pray. We are now being forced into a solitary place and we can use it to sustain us. We may of course join in online prayer groups however there are many ways we can pray on our own in isolation. For example, we might use a room in our homes as a kind of 'trysting place' (a place where we meet with God). Or we might use every room in the house as a kind of prayer maze: work out which room you feel is the 'heart of the home for you' and make that the centre of the maze. Then, working from the furthest room away from that and going in a clockwise direction, walk around each room of the house and pray for something that room represents to you in your life (for example your bedroom might mean rest; your study might mean work; your child's bedroom, parenting, thanksgiving and prayer for them; the kitchen, sustenance etc). Or you might go outside and use nature to help you pray - many people find solitary walks or gardening the most helpful ways to pray. Remember to keep 2 metres apart from anyone else if you choose this option at the moment. The point is that solitude should help us to pray not hinder us - it's one of the most fruitful things we can do at this time, not only for ourselves but for the world.
Take a moment to think about places you have prayed in your life. Which you have found most helpful? Has this changed at all as you have gone through different stages of your life? Has the way you prayed changed through your life journey? What is most helpful to you at this time, in this place?
Make a note your learning journal or in a diary of your thoughts.
Types of Prayer
Clearly we can't touch on all the myriad ways of praying in a short session like this however, we can begin to explore some of the different types of prayer and ways of praying to help sustain us our lives and especially in this time of isolation.
Watch the video for a quick summary reminder of the main types of prayer found in the Bible.
As I mentioned earlier there are as many ways of praying as there are people because each one us has our own unique relationship with God. However, some methods of prayer can be categorised so let's have a look at a few of these:
This is probably the type of prayer that comes most naturally to us (especially if we're extroverts by nature!). It is the form of prayer used almost exclusively in our worship services and can be either extemporary, set prayers, prayer in tongues, and either done alone or with others.
This is perhaps one of the most powerful but underused types of prayer (and it's not just for introverts though it may be that introverts are most naturally drawn to it). The great mystics of the Christian faith (John of the Cross, Mother Julian of Norwich etc) spent much time in contemplative prayer. This kind of prayer is about being still before God, listening more than speaking and letting our spirit commune with God in that stillness. It is not so much about emptying the mind as filling it with God, not with words but with peace and a sense of God's presence. In the Resources section below you will find a pdf file with links to some good online resources for Contemplative prayer and also some good books to help you explore this method of prayer if you enjoy reading.
We use sung prayers quite a lot in churches – many hymns and choruses are prayers ('Dear Lord and Father of Mankind' and 'Open Our Eyes Lord' spring immediately to mind). Some traditions sing a lot of prayers in the style of a chant (some of the Psalms are prayers and are often sung this way, especially in Cathedrals). One of the most popular way of singing prayers today comes from the Taize Community in France. Started by Brother Roger, the Community attracts thousands of visitors of all ages from all over the world every year. Brother Roger said this about the singing of prayers: 'To open the gates of trust in God, nothing can replace the beauty of human voices united in song.' This beauty can give us a glimpse of "heaven’s joy on earth," as Eastern Christians put it. And an inner life begins to blossom within us. These songs also sustain personal prayer. Through them, little by little, our being finds an inner unity in God. They can continue in the silence of our hearts when we are at work, speaking with others or resting. In this way prayer and daily life are united. They allow us to keep on praying even when we are unaware of it, in the silence of our hearts. To discover more about Taize, visit their website here.
Praying with the Imagination
This is a method prayer which involves imagining yourself as part of a biblical story. You are asked to choose a character and try to see the story through the eyes of that character. This often leads to new understandings of the passage and of ourselves to bring before God. I will never forget the first time I tried this with the story of Mary and Martha and discovered that I was actually very like Martha! In the Resources section below is a pdf file that will guide you through this type of prayer.
This is a type of prayer that is often done at the end of each day. It allows us to lay before God all that has happened during the day, thinking through its joys and sorrows, triumphs and difficulties, successes and failures and laying them before God. An example of how to do the Examen can be found in the Resources Guide. If you enjoy having someone guide you through this sort of prayer, try the Pray as you Go website here. This site also offers short daily guided meditations on a passage of scripture.
Ways of Praying
Spotlight on Doctrine Introduction
Doctrine is a set of beliefs which are central to how we understand (and have received) our faith. It is the product of centuries of discussion, thought and tradition which have been brought together into some sort of unified whole. Think of the creeds we read on a Sunday, or the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection – these are Doctrines. Each session will have a thought about part of a doctrine for you to muse over.
In the Nicene Creed, which we often say services of Holy Communion, there is a line that says Jesus is 'of one being with the Father'. This is primarily a statement of Jesus' divinity but it also a statement of his closeness to God, even while here on earth. There is something of that closeness for us in prayer. Think about a time when you have felt especially close to God and give thanks for it now.
Spotlight on Spirituality Introduction
This is an opportunity to connect our thinking with our hearts and to see how theory is put into practice. There are many different types of spirituality and we all use many of them in our Christian lives. Different spiritualities tend to have different methods of prayer associated with them (for example charismatic spirituality often preferences spoken prayer and praying in tongues, contemplative spirituality often preferences silent, meditative prayer etc). Which spirituality speaks most to you at this time in your journey of faith? Has this changed from other times in your Christian life?.
Spend a few minutes watching the video to help you reflect on what you have learned in this session (it's three hours long so just stop when it when you're ready).
Blessed are you, Lord our God, all things come from you:
from you come our life, this world and all that we have and are.
Teach us to love and respect your creation and give glory to you.
Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Something Practical to Do this Week
Take one or more of the methods of prayer that you may not have tried before and give them a go.
Make a note of how you feel and what you learned from this exercise.
Contemplative Prayer Resources
Praying with the Imagination
Spiritual Exercise &