Stressed? Try Tuning In with Prayer
When I was in my early twenties, my internship supervisor, a pastor nearing retirement, asked me, “Can you teach me how to pray?” Which just goes to show you that lots of people might not actually know “how.” The thing is, I do not think there is one definitive answer. In fact, I think there are as many ways to pray as there are people. I think prayer is going to be different for each one of us, depending on who you are, how God made you, what your particular personality is.
The older I get, the more I realize that my definition of prayer is really just tuning in, paying attention, realizing that all of life is connected. My personal definition is that prayer is relationship, or “communion” (literally oneness with), oneness with that source of strength and peace, which I call God, which we all have within us.
There are formal ways of praying which I sometimes do, like praying written or memorized prayers, like the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer. There is an ancient form of prayer which is called Lectio Divina (Sacred reading). This involves reading a scared text slowly, meditatively, and tuning in or paying attention to the word, phrase, image, which strikes you, then pondering that one word, phrase or image, perhaps journalling what insights might come as you ponder that image. I used to use lectio just with explicitly “sacred” texts. But now I use it with all kinds of things I read: science, history, psychology, etc. All of life can become sacred when we tune into it in this way.
Some people pray what is called “intercessory prayer,” which means praying for people we know and love who are going through a difficult time. Some people pray in certain postures: kneeling or prostrated to show our humility and utter dependence on God. Some people fold their hands, or close their eyes, to remove distractions, and go within. Some people use something tactile, like prayer beads, a rosary, the fringe of a prayer shawl, etc., as any rhythmic, repetitive motion can serve to lift us out of thought and distractions, and help us to tune in to the source of strength and peace within us.
I do all of this. But mostly, I pray with my body. I am a very physical person, active, athletic. That is why I like yoga: it is praying with your whole body. I also used pray while I ran on trails. For the first mile or two my thoughts were racing, focusing on all of the things that were stressing me. But running also is rhythmic and repetitive. After the first couple of miles, the things that stressed me started to fall away. I would tune into a whole other dimension, into the source of strength and peace I call God. I would also pray for people I know and love, and sense a deep communion with them. I would be surrounded by trees, ocean, other creatures, and felt the connectedness, the oneness of all that is.
I am getting older, so I do not run as much. Instead I bicycle. I pray as I ride, feeling the wind against my body, breathing it in, conscious that in every language I know the same word for wind and breath is Spirit (Hebrew Ruach, Greek Pneuma, Sanskrit Prana).
When my son was little we used to fingerprint together. Again, I would feel a connection with that source of strength and peace inside, as my fingers meditatively moved in spirals through wet paint. When we were done, we would hang our masterpieces on the fridge. My friend Ginger, who lived with us at that time, would come home and say. “Wow! That reminds me of death and resurrection.” “What? My finger painting?” I would ask, and brush it off. Many months later, having been through some devastating struggles, yet emerging from these with a sense of a new beginning, I walked into my kitchen and saw that old finger painting in a new light. It WAS about death and resurrection: my own!
So, maybe for you prayer is sitting in silence. Maybe for you prayer is playing the piano, and losing yourself in the music. Maybe for you prayer is cooking, or gardening, or knitting or lovemaking, running or swimming or sharing a deep conversation with someone you love.
Saint Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” Many people say he didn’t mean that literally. But I think he did because prayer is not a bunch of stuff that you do but a state of being you live in, in which you do all that you do. Prayer is tuning in. It is paying attention. As Alice Walker said it is walking through a field of purple flowers and noticing the purple flowers.
This day may you pray without ceasing;
may you see God in all that you encounter;
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 22, 2014
Photos: Linda as Mother Lion, Yellowstone National Park; Morning Prayer in Nova Scotia; Morning Prayer in Cappadocia, Turkey; Yoga in Greece; Running in Nova Scotia; 100 kilometer bicycle ride in Nova Scotia; ancient caravanserai, Turkey; a walk with Jules in Yellowstone National Park; wildflowers in Glacier National Park; taking a deep breath with Sylvie